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People like buying things from those they know, like and trust. That’s fine if you’re only planning on selling to your mum and your mates. But otherwise, how do you show people you’re trustworthy if you haven’t met them yet? Your website, of course! Here’s how to inspire trust with your business copy.

Don’t say you’re trustworthy

You might be tempted to write things like:

  • We’re the trusted authority on cookie dough.
  • We’re trusted every day to bring you the best cookie dough in the world.
  • We’d genuinely like to help you make cookies.

Don’t do it. This may seem a little counterintuitive. If you want to get a message across, you should just say it, right?

The problem is, it’s off-putting. The moment you actually tell people you’re trustworthy or genuine in your copy, you put the idea in their head that you might not be trustworthy or genuine. Then they’ll think, “Well, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might not be able to trust you, but now I’m questioning it”.

Coming right out and saying it won’t ‘inspire’ trust. That’s just telling people what you’re hoping they’ll think, which is very different. It gives the sense that you need to say you’re trustworthy, probably because other people don’t trust you. Repeat after me:Show, don’t tell.

Be clear and direct

People like buying from those they know and trust. Here's how to inspire trust with your business copy and add personality to your website.While you shouldn’t directly tell people how you want to be perceived, you should be direct in the sense that your copy should quickly tell people what you do, and make it clear whether you can help them. Don’t trigger people’s BS detectors with cryptic copy.

Examples:

  • “You’ll get business tips, inspiration, insider info – and more!” (You may as well add, “We’re not going to say what those extra things are because they’re not that great, but we want to make it seem like there are heaps of benefits without being specific.”)
  • “Step into your true self and radiate authentic abundance.” (What does that even mean?)
  • “Our product offers endless ways to boost your efficiency.” (Does it? Does it really? Because ‘endless’ is pretty open-ended.)

Related: Avoid being spammy. Sure, you know not to sell people’s email addresses or send them random messages unrelated to what they signed up for. But it’s also good to avoid ‘salesy’ language in general, if you want to inspire trust (because unless you’ve already got a stellar reputation, it usually just sounds like you’re trying to coerce people into clicking on your post or buying your product).

Here are some examples:

  • Infomercial-style hooks like “Learn how I went from $0 to $100,000 in 1 year!”
  • Writing in ALL CAPS for NO REASON.

At the same time, don’t shy away from selling directly. I mean, you do want them to click on your post or buy your product, and they know that. You can, and should, be honest about that, but just make sure they’re getting heaps out of it in return (the blog post is useful because you put a lot of work into it; the product does what you say it does, or exceeds their expectations). Being direct can be very, very good for building trust. If you want people to buy your stuff, it’s much less sketchy to say so up front.

Be personal

Do you ever email someone and think they seem quite formal and stand-offish, but then you meet them in real life and they’re really cool? Most of us write in a more formal way than we speak. That’s what our primary school teachers told us to do. But usually with business copy, it pays to be conversational.

It can help to tell people a bit about yourself. It doesn’t have to be heavy and personal (“Hi, I get chronic fungal infections and the struggle is real. But my software is great!”) But do offer something that people couldn’t find out about you by stalking public records. It might be something about your values, an opinion on something relevant, or you could talk about your back-story. Mentioning mistakes you or your business have made will help show you’re human and approachable. You should also make sure your copy is friendly and chatty, as if you’re talking to a friend (or a colleague in the lunchroom, depending on how formal you want to be).

People are less likely to trust faceless websites, so as well as adding personality to your copy, consider adding a photo of yourself. Preferably one where you’re looking at the camera in a friendly, approachable way, not a hipster photo with a magenta filter where you’re gazing at the floor from behind your giant sunglasses. You look at people when you meet them, right? This is the same principle.

Blog

Instinctively, we know that if someone’s putting in the time and energy to maintain a high-quality blog, they’re probably not trying to make a quick buck (unless they’re really, really bad at math). They’re probably doing it because they care about the topic. Blogging regularly shows you’re for real.

Blogging also helps you build a relationship with your audience over time. It lets them get to know you. It’s the same as in real-life relationships; you tend to trust people more once you know them better.

Keep in mind that the era of quick, simple blog posts is basically over. In general, there’s too much competition for that to work anymore. Aim to write blogs that are as useful and enjoyable to read as you can manage. That might mean you have to post less frequently, but that’s much better than frequently posting blogs people won’t even want to read.

One way to help your blog posts hit the mark? Ask yourself what blog topics in your field are over-done. What are people tired of reading about? Make a list. Now see if you can come up with some different topics and ideas, that people wouldn’t be expecting. Give things a different spin. Yeah, there’s a lot of content on the internet now, but most of it isn’t very original. There’s plenty of room to stand out.

Prove it

Ultimately, the gold standard of trustworthiness on the internet is getting a bunch of other people to vouch for you.That might be via reviews or testimonials (where your customer or client is talking directly) or case studies (where you show what work you’ve done for others).

Testimonials should be genuine and not too heavily edited. You want to leave their ‘voice’ in there to show it’s from a real person, so fix the odd mistake here and there but don’t make it read like a grammar textbook. If you can include people’s photos with testimonials, that’s even more powerful; there’s a sense that while you might be able to fudge a written recommendation, if someone has put not only their name but also their face to a testimonial it’s much more likely to be something they truly endorse.

Case studies are all about telling a good story. But compelling stories don’t just appear, you have to create them. The great work you’ve done will not magically arrange itself into a great case study. So before you assume your work isn’t compelling enough, keep an open mind and see if there’s an aspect of the project that’s worth emphasising.

All good stories have an ‘angle’ or theme. So even though you’ve done heaps of great work for your client, pick something to highlight with your case study. For example, you might focus on the research process and how your particular research methods got great results. Or you could illustrate how you wove your client’s personality and brand identity into their web design. By choosing a focus, you avoid just writing a boring list of what you did (“I created wire frames and developed a colour palette…”), which is easily forgotten and doesn’t exactly demonstrate your expertise.

The key is to back your story up with data or examples. The more concrete the evidence, the more compelling the case study will be. If it helps to have a more in-depth example of what this looks like, here’s a blog I wrote about getting the tone of voice right for a client’s audience. I didn’t start out knowing this would be the topic of a blog – I had to look through the analytics to find a story worth telling.

Make sure you’re actually trustworthy!

None of this will work if you’re trying to rip people off. That’s like looking for sales tips when the real problem is your product sucks.

Before you brush over this and say of course I can be trusted, really think about it. Okay, you’re not a full-on fraud, you’re not embezzling money and you’ve never kicked a puppy. But are you, say, a coach who’s pretending you’ve had heaps of clients when actually you’re just starting out? Are you calling yourself a ‘social media expert’ while talking like you’ve got Mark Zuckerberg on speed-dial? Are you pretending you have insider info on the near-constant changes to social media algorithms?

In the Western world, we have a culture that encourages us to believe in ourselves all the time, as if that’s all it takes. We talk a lot about ‘imposter syndrome’. But imposter syndrome is when you objectively know what you’re doing, but you still feel like a fraud. If you’ve, say, just learned the basics of speaking French, and you want to be a French tutor but you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing yet, that’s not imposter syndrome; that’s just actually not knowing what you’re doing yet. It’s not a syndrome, it’s a normal stage you have to go through to get to the part where you do know what you’re doing.

To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept any work if you’re new to a field, but that you should be straight-up about your ability and level of experience. If you’re just starting out in social media consulting, there are other, more authentic words you can use besides ‘expert’. For example, if you’re young and were practically raised by Facebook, you might call yourself a ‘social media native’.You might specify that you’re an Instagram marketer if you’ve been successful on that platform, or avoid labels altogether and just tell people how you can help them: “My social media superpower is researching your audience and getting in synch with how they talk, to create content they’ll love to share.”

Here’s the thing: Your customers are smart. People have a sixth sense for sniffing out dodgy claims, and they know plenty of people these days try to fake it ’til they make it. So always check you’re not making claims you can’t back up, bending the truth, or trying to get away with any other shenanigans.