Friday, January 7, 2011

Creating Confidence for the Consumer, A Secret Ingredient of Internet Success

Hello and welcome back from the holidays!

This Christmas, has certainly been a period of time where we have seen more and more consumers online comparing products and services, doing their research before making their purchases.

With this level of competition increasing, online retailers must make consumers feel more comfortable on their web sites, instilling confidence in order to support sharing personal and financial information and ultimately completing purchases.

This will be key to reducing abandonment rates at the checkout, or actually any part of your website, and increase your website conversions. Consideration of attention to this area of your website will also support our Search Engine Optimisation activities driving targeted traffic to your website, as well as adding in some recommended features that increase your site saturation (additional content pages), and Local Search potential.

What we are interested in is instilling trust with our website consumer. Giving them the confidence from your website that the interactive experience is going to be successful and hassle free, that they are going to get what they expect from the transaction, and that their data, be it email address or credit card details are going to be looked after securely.

If you have one now, or are considering in the future, adding in a shopping cart to your website for direct online purchases, ensure that you encourage the user to provide their credit card details via a secure encrypted interaction. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates vary in quality and strength of encryption, and provide the means to encrypt important client data during the transaction. For ecommerce sites consider using an EV (Extended Validation) SSL certificate, as this generates a green URL bar in your web browser, providing a very visual indication that this component of the website and transaction phase, is moving into https (not http mode) - the 's' being secure. Note that EV certificates do cost more than standard SSLs, but have been shown to significantly increase confidence in the online buying cycle. Associate this with clear information / logos indicating that you have a secure site will help with the visual recognition right from the beginning (Consider clearly showing what payment methods your website accepts from the beginning eg. Credit Card Types). If you would like more information on this topic please just let me know.

Even without the need of a shopping cart process, there are some simple components that you can include in your website structure to provide confidence and integrity.

Firstly, what information have you supplied on your contacts page? Many web users get quite frustrated when they can't find a simple email address to communicate to your business. Yes, I know you might have a nice looking submission/feedback form, which is great... but, what if the user wants to email you through a scanned document or picture, or similar? Some users will try emailing to default or standard expected email addresses to the business eg. admin@ sales@ info@ so a sensible tip is to have your IT guy create a 'catch-all' that captures emails sent to any address variation and sends this through to a specified account (albeit via a virus and spam check first!) so that you can receive and monitor potential communication from clients.

On the note of email addresses, it looks a lot more professional to have an email address that matches your TLD (Top Level Domain) name rather than using the local ISP address that may have been provided when you set up your ADSL account eg. It is normally very easy to have your IT guy set up or and have this redirected (as an alias) to your standard email address. Appearance is important!

Consumers have to weigh up many factors when preparing to make their online transaction. What if there is no physical street address provided for the business on your contacts page? The consumer may be considering how do they track you down if there is a problem with the transaction. Some smart web users will use Google Earth/Maps or Google Street View to see if a business premise exists at the address you list. And this also becomes a significant factor in enabling your business to have a Google Local Business listing adding to your website traffic potential. Including the physical address, suburb and postcode on the page can assist with searches performed by street address, suburb, state and postcode associated with industry, service or product keywords, so why not include this? I also recommend the use of geo-tags, your location's latitude and longtitude positioned in the code behind the page of your front page and contacts page, along with using embedded Google Maps on your contact page to help further support local search efforts.

Moving beyond the contact page, other on-page factors I suggest consideration of including in your site are a Frequently Asked Questions, Terms & Conditions and a Privacy Page (If you don't have these already). Administrative pages such as these help to create that consumer confidence that we are looking to embody, and also provide another area where we can show your brand image as being professional and thorough. Consumers are very conscious of their privacy particularly, and how you intend to look after their personal details, which is what a Privacy Policy outlines.

You may like to also consider the creation of a behind-the-page .xml version P3P privacy policy to support your on-page version. According to the W3C the main goal of P3P “is to increase user trust and confidence in the Web through technical empowerment.”... I know, sorry, getting a bit too technical now, but it is useful to be aware of your options when it comes to putting your business's best foot forward and creating that overall confidence to encourage the consumer to enact in some Call To Action on your website and engage with you. If you would like some more information just let me know.

Have a great 2011!