Inspiring trust online: Easier said than done

It seems fitting the creator of the world wide web should warn us about its destructive tendencies. After all, he would know, right?

Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with inventing the WWW – the protocol by which we view the entire internet – spoke to an Australian audience yesterday at the launch for the CSIRO’s Digital Productivity and Services program.

It’s a $40 million program designed to help boost the country’s digital economy. But the best comments of the day came from Berners-Lee himself, who warned the audience about the damaging nature of regulating internet searches:

“You’ll produce a world in which a teenager who really needs to go to an online forum, to get some professional advice, or really needs to know whether they’re suffering from a given disease, or really needs to understand something about sexuality, medicine or growing up … and realise that if they click, they will be branded for the next two years as having gone to that site.”

The warning is apt. Just last week, Facebook debuted its new Graph Search feature that has all sorts of users worried about what the future brings – this Tumblr does a good job of showing how damaging these searches could possibly be for some users.

But Berners-Lee’s comments highlight an interesting issue. Sometimes we want our search data tracked, but only on our terms. When you visit an online retailer, you want them to know what you’ve searched for before, and what you’ve bought, in order to provide you with similar products.

But as soon as that data ends up in the hands of someone we don’t like – such as the government – it gets us thinking twice about where we place our trust.

Trust – it’s a concept many online retailers don’t seem to understand. The notion that people will only spend money on your site if they trust you. Tim Berners-Lee’s comments have resonance because people, in general, don’t trust the government.

But they can trust you.

Does your website inspire trust? It’s a weird concept to consider, but if you take a quick look at your front page, you should think about if a customer would actually trust you or not. There are entire businesses dedicated to figuring out whether your website inspires that type of loyalty.

Some metrics might be hard to measure, but they’re easy to understand: does your website look professional? Is the art of a good quality? Are there any identifiable points of contact? Can the customer visit your social media sites quickly and easily? Do you have a phone number?

If you can design your site – and your overall online personality – to inspire trust, then people will spend money with you. And they won’t worry about having to give over some small details – like their name, or address.

Tim Berners-Lee might be right about governments policing the web, but the same principles apply to selling online too. Help your customers trust you, and you’ll be halfway to success.

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