face of a doubter credit

Credibility should be the pursuit of every business not only for its monetary rewards but also because it is good to pursue and the mark of being the best. The problem is that some businesses do not pursue such high qualities or standards and therefore may not enjoy the same rewards. This post is for those who want to pursue genuine online credibility.

Why credibility?

Credibility is the quality of being trusted and believed in. There are different types of credibility but online credibility deals with the trust and believability of digital content.

Today’s online users are skeptical about information and sources, so it’s critical that businesses and online marketers understand the what, why and how of their web user’s built-in “BS detector.”

Use these points to start an internal discussion about your organization’s online credibility.

Research reveals credibility guidelines

Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab did extensive research in this area to better understand what causes people to believe or not believe what they find on the web and how to use contextual and design factors to influence online credibility.

The study revealed 10 guidelines for building the credibility of a website. But, the more interesting parts of the study deal with how people evaluate online credibility; Stanford has named this the Prominence-Interpretation Theory.

First, the user notices something (prominence) and then the user makes a judgment about it (interpretation). If either of these two things do not occur, then credibility has not been evaluated by that user.


Prominence involves a number of factors, but an illustration might help. When someone goes to a website with a high level of motivation to solve a problem or get an answer, she will notice more things about the site. And when she has the ability to consider and check things out, her level of noticing site elements goes up. In other words, site elements move from being unnoticed to noticed because she is motivated and involved.

Interpretation involves a number of factors and is the way a user evaluates a website element, good or bad. For example, a broken link might be interpreted as the site is no longer up-to-date or that it was not designed well. Either way, this negative interpretation leads to a lower view of credibility from the site user.

If you want to learn more about the study, check out Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab.

Endorsements and media mentions

Credibility also comes from those who already have it:

  • Celebrities
  • Industry magazines and blogs
  • Industry leaders and experts
  • Business partners

A few endorsements from these sources can go a long way, so let people know about them on your home page and other strategic pages of your site. Display the logos of brands, tweets and reputable media quotes who have endorsed you.

If you don’t have these kind of endorsements yet, do what you should to get them.

Online reviews

Online reviews are not the same as word of mouth marketing, but they are close.
There are lots of consumer review sites for restaurants, travel, legal, beauty, plumbing and automotive businesses, but all businesses are being reviewed today, not just consumer industries.

You are probably aware of the popular review sites in your own industry, but the question is how do you handle negative reviews (whether justified or not)?

What if you had a straight forward way to legitimately push down those negative reviews with positive reviews of your brand? This is where customer advocates can come to your rescue.

Customer advocacy is an often overlooked asset. In a previous post I touched on customer advocacy content, but what most businesses need is a customer advocacy strategy and someone to manage it periodically.

In addition to the usual review sites, try a fresh approach. Short video reviews from your fans is very compelling and powerful content if it is strategically placed in front of a prospect who is in the decision stage.

Of course you can implement this yourself but it has some real challenges. Another way is to use VideoGenie’s Self-Serve Option which allows your advocates to create the video at their leisure and then distributes it – essentially user-generated videos. The only down side is the service is pricey and may not fit in a small biz budget.

Proven results

Proven results, it should go without saying, is the reason credibility can exist for a business. What you say about your business is meaningless unless your customers and employees can heartily agree with you.

For some the hard part is aligning the values and culture of a business so that outcomes become clear, for example:

  • The waitress gets a well deserved tip
  • Customer service gladly gives an unconditional refund to an unhappy customer
  • Sales people can disqualify prospects and even talk them out of buying
  • Tech support – in a world of problems they solve them
  • Customer support – when a customer calls they quickly get to a person who will help
  • Employees are empowered and excited at what they get to do

These outcomes speak to what is at the core of a credible company – proven results.

Sometimes businesses pursue credibility only for its monetary rewards, but this is the wrong motivation in my opinion – the cart before the horse syndrome, (“Can’t Buy Me Love”). Credible companies seek to better the lives of their customers and employees regardless and it is often because of this deeper commitment that credibility blossoms and monetary rewards come flowing in.

I mention this because when marketing online, there is an inherent temptation to try to look better than you really are by taking short cuts to appear credible. But online credibility is no different than offline, brick-n-mortar credibility – it really is earned.

A dentist client had spent a chunk of his marketing budget on getting lots of testimonials entered into Yelp, but Yelp disqualified all of his “fake” testimonials and he was left with nothing to show for his efforts.

The fact is he had plenty of genuinely happy customers, but didn’t know how to help them help his business. My team worked with him and recommended a different approach to engage future happy customers to gain reviews.

If your business has a similar problem – you have proven results but your target audience doesn’t know about your credibility, then enable your customers to be online advocates (the first step to online marketing success). If you are short on time or know-how, contact us or another trusted marketer to get that part of your marketing started.

Tom Shivers
Tom Shivers

I'm a ecommerce SEO consultant and President of Capture Commerce. I've managed digital marketing campaigns for scores of clients since 2000 and found that every business is unique with its own challenges and opportunities. When I see that I have contributed to the success of a business by helping them grow, it makes me feel awesome! That’s the coolest thing and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to do this.