Trust has been a factor in the human economy forever, and today is no different. But, the way trust can be evaluated has changed dramatically over the past 100+ years, and the web has accelerated this change dramatically. It has created a world in which trust is at a premium, and smart businesses are focusing substantial effort on creating it for themselves.
The Corner Store
A hundred or more years ago, you didn't have a lot of choices for where you shopped. You more or less went to the corner store. The store may have been run by a congenial fellow named Sam, and he and his wife might be over your house once a month or so for dinner.
You knew each other. Developing trust was easy.
Sam may be a tougher businessperson than Joe, over in the next town, but he can't be too tough. Trust goes both ways and Sam knows it. Everybody works to get along with Sam (and vice versa), partly because the community just couldn't work otherwise.
Fast Forward – The Shopping Mall
As urbanization grew, more shopping options become available. In time, shopping malls make the scene.
Shoppers have many options, and the people they interface with at the stores aren't the owner. The salespeople have a lot less at stake than Sam.
However, there is still a store owner. They will still work to make sure that their customers get well treated and feel good about the experience. Why? Because there are competitive options. Nothing forces anyone to shop in their store, and if word starts to get around that their store doesn't provide good value, that would really hurt business.
To make matters worse, the rent to pay for the store location is really stiff. Losing a few customers can do more than reduce profits, it can easily put the store owner in a hole. They depend on their reputation in the market to remain in business and make some money along the way.
Fast Forward Again – The Early Days of the Web
Then came the Internet and the Web. People could throw up websites easily and cheaply. If they were smart about SEO, they could rank quickly for their websites for almost any search term, and sell people stuff. Many of these sites were churn and burn sites, and as the owner could replace it quickly if it failed, they had nothing at stake.
In addition, they were faceless, with no identity associated with the business. Searchers assumed that the sites that ranked high in the search engines were good sites, but sadly it was not always the case. Many people got badly burned.
Perhaps the pinnacle of all this was the scam emails looking for help with tens of millions of dollars:
Fast Forward One More Time – The Loop is Closing
This breakdown of trust was an anomaly, and it is in the process of fixing itself. There are many factors at work in this correction. Three of these are:
- Search Engine Algorithm Improvements: The search engines are doing a better job at weeding out the bad sites. Not a perfect job just yet, but they are making progress.
- Social Media: More and more people are using one or more social media sites. Bad news travels fast in social media, and anyone with a complaint can get an audience. Building a reputation on social media sites takes time, and a lot of work, but it is one of the best ways to build an aura of "trustability" around yourself and your business.
- Online Reviews: There are an increasing number of ways to review businesses online. You can use sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, or you can find reviews for businesses in Google Places. Many users make use of these mechanisms to evaluate a business before buying from them.
One of the best ways to do this is to be visible. Like Sam and his corner store, make yourself accessible to others. You can do this by sharing useful and compelling content on your site, being active and engaging in social media, responding to complaints online, and proactively helping others online.
We won't get into what signals the search engines are measuring on social media here. But, I can tell you that if many people across the web trust you, somewhere along the way they will generate the signals the search engines are looking for, be it links, or something else.
Building trust online may just be your top priority. Remember, be like Sam.