By Martin Zwilling
Smart people only visit and buy from credible and memorable websites. In the past, if your startup had a website presence, the company was credible by definition. In today’s world, a website is necessary but not sufficient for credibility. Dreamers and gamblers have found out that if the website isn’t validated as credible, it’s probably a scam, and everyone loses.
Yet most startups I know experience the same shock of disappointment when they first open up their website to offer their “million dollar idea” product, and nobody comes. What validates credibility and makes your site memorable in the minds of consumers, and how much does it cost?
Put yourself on the site. People buy from people. Until the company name is a famous brand, you are the brand. No name, picture, address, or business history only convinces customers that you are hiding, located in an un-trustable country, or don’t have a clue. They will exit quickly.
Show evidence of your expertise. Publish a regular blog, contribute to relevant social networks, and highlight several videos, podcasts, or eBooks of you and your technology. People respect people with relevant experience, so highlight your accomplishments, and the credentials you have.
Highlight personal presence and testimonials. Third parties are always more credible sources than you are. Highlight interviews and reviews from recognized industry sources, and news sources. Include links to your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Create a positive online image. Show your visitors some evidence of community involvement and charity efforts. Offer something that is really free – with no strings attached to cause them to lose their trust. Set up an award, and show winners.
Link to recognized brands. If you can have an affiliate relationship with any recognized brand names, or any connection to publicly recognized experts, highlight these and provide links to their websites.
Add a modest advertising presence. The presence of a few related advertisements can actually improve your site credibility, since most credible sites have them. Of course, too many or obnoxious advertisements are especially harmful to a site’s credibility.
Join relevant business associations. Most will give you a membership graphic for your website, and an association link to give your business extra credibility. Don’t forget the local Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau.
Provide a privacy and security statement. Display a logo like McAfee Secure or Trust Guard, in addition to specific policy statements on these subjects, to persuade your visitors and prospects to trust you.
Offer support assistance and guarantee. Publish the terms of your support, return, and replacement policies. Be consistent is their application, and provide contact information for both phone and email access. Follow-up for customer satisfaction.
Professional user-friendly site design. Studies have shown that consumers gauge credibility in large part based on the appeal of the overall visual design, including layout, typography, font size, color schemes, no broken links, and correct language usage. Don’t forget basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so search engines improve your ranking.
These are all minimal-cost survival marketing efforts. Beyond these, you will likely need to budget time and dollars (up to $50,000 is not unusual) for real marketing efforts to enhance your visibility and credibility, which include branding, promotions, give-aways, and free services.
In summary, a startup with no website, or a website with no credibility will kill your business. Use the tips outlined above during the first three months to get in the game, and count on much more time and money if you intend to stand above the rest. Make your website not only credible, but incredible!
The writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, professor, and investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post.