Conversion Optimization has taught me… If a User does not extend Trust to your website, they are not going to communicate or transact. The lessons seem familiar. Could it be that I learned all I need to know about User Trust from the Superheroes?
Loss of Identity = Loss of Trust
Once, we were somebody. Overnight, we became nobodies. The internet took away our identities, made us invisible beings. We began writing on people’s screens from the other side. Our true identities were masked.
So, we took on pen-names, usernames. Our faces disappeared and in their place, avatars sprang up. It was thrilling and exotic, to think that we could become any persona we chose. Some took on the anonymity for Good. Some, for Evil. Google Authorship and verified Social Profiles (OpenID, OAuth) returned a semblance of identity, order and credibility.
Readers all know that Batman is really Bruce Wayne, but he still wears a mask, and Gothamites seem to be taken in. Choosing when and in what company to be known is a powerful strategy, for good or for evil. Batman wears a mask, which hides his identity, but that same mask makes people mistrustful, even fearful. If Batman tried to buy a Batarang on credit, the merchant would doubtless ask to see some ID. People trust him best when he wears no mask.
Demonstrate Trustworthiness in Motivation to Earn Respect from Stakeholders – and Carry a Big Stick
This occurred during the rise of SEO. The coincidence of anonymity with the power of inbound links led to massive abuses of that power. Irresponsibility flourished. Hidden in the folds of the cloak of invisibility we built links in the spammiest, least relevant ways, based solely on ease of execution. Google took it on the chin for showing ridiculously bad search results, until they rewrote the Algorithm and applied Filters and Updates to rein in the masquerade of relevance by removing the rewards, and punishing offenders.
Google may be like Bruce Banner. A brilliant mind, an ingenious scientist. Bruce Banner is a nice guy, but nobody wants to piss him off. Those who don’t know his true identity may be very sorry. Those who do not know what will provoke his rage revile him – it’s not easy being green.
Stamp Out Falsehood and Users Can Detect Emotional Resonance
False identities still skulked the Web, but their deeds went unrewarded. Concepts, topics and Keywords were unmasked. Search quality flourished.
Superman still walks among Metropolis as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. HIs identity is largely concealed, and yet he manages to inspire humans with his, “Truth, Justice and the American Way” credo. We trust in the truth of the message.
Trust in a Name Exists in the Collective Consciousness
DNS is the backbone of human ability to use the web. Numeric IP Addressees (12-digit numbers which humans find a challenge to remember) are mapped to Domain Names (which humans recall with greater ease). Domain Names are leased from Registrars. Domain Names are limited, finite. The Gold Rush on Domain Names led to the dark ages of cyber-squatters who Registered millions of names, demanding a bounty for their use. Abusive profiteering created huge obstacles to brands wishing to use their trademarked names. Then, .com names started running out.
No-name stores and oddly-named services sprang up, with more monikers than a barrel full of… well, you know (WebMonkey, SockMonkey, FunkyMonkey, SurveyMonkey). Conventional wisdom dictated that the funnier the name, the more memorable. So even corporate entities took on masks, deliberately. Inherently, this was an obstacle to trust, at first. Since these new brandnames were unfamiliar, it was the shared experience of the masses that provided evidence of trustworthiness. People shared their user experiences via E-mail and on forums. Cagey websites provided evidence of User Trust in the form of On-Site Reviews.
What’s in a name? Only the trust that people extend to it. Ford and Chevrolet started as family names. It was only after innovation, products, racing and service that the public afforded them the trust that makes them the respected Brand giants that they became. We made them.
Would you trust S.H.I.E.L.D. or HYDRA? S.H.I.E.L.D has been variously known as Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division, then changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate and finally became Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.H.I.E.L.D.) Is it important that we know IBM stands for International Business Machines? No, that name is outmoded. It is the combined might of billions of dollars of advertising and decades of customer trust that tells us what the IBM brand is all about.
If It Looks Like a Duck, and Quacks Like a Duck…
The ‘Wild West’ years peaked on the World Wide Web. Viewed differently, it was the nadir of Trust on the Web. Brigands, Pirates and Highwaymen lined the Internet Superhighway. Phishing schemes created false fronts, exact replicas of Trusted websites, where users could be tricked into entering their secret Passwords.
Mystique could probably charm me out of my Log-ins since she could imitate anyone she pleased. Can’t simply trust in appearances. Security calls for multiple factors: who you are, what you know, what you have.
E-mail was the ‘killer app’ because it created an environment of direct communications with trusted individuals and known entities. Your contacts were kept in your Address Book. How quaint… and limiting!
Outmoded Solutions are Insufficient to the Stormy Present
Real identities have become a hot commodity. Our own identities are now subject to theft and resale. Passwords can be jacked or stolen by the millions. It is advisable to use unique Passwords for every different user profile, yet management and security of hundreds of Passwords is beyond most mere mortals. To be riven of one’s identity could lead to years of expense and misery, as marauders impersonate legitimate beings to drain their bank accounts and buy things on their carefully-cultivated credit.
Social Log-in (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_login) may have helped turn the corner by leveraging one verified identity for use on equipped websites. Google Wallet (http://www.google.com/wallet/) can store all your credit and debit cards, offers and more, with access from your smartphone. Do you trust Google? With 24/7 fraud monitoring, instant transaction notifications and Purchase Protection, you might. It may be time to update your website’s ability to recognize identities in a way that suits visitors.
Green Lantern has to rely on cosmetic jewelry and outdated light fixtures for his power. This causes him no end of misery as the items are stolen and abused. He obviously needs a tech update.
Trust Marks – Symbols of Those Who Fight the Good Fight
Symbols of trust evolved from the royal seals of the Pharaohs, to marks on coins denoting their alloy and weight, through the Good Housekeeping Seal on up to the Trust Marks that are employed on E-Commerce sites today. 93% of online shoppers say it is important for an E -Commerce site to include a trust mark of some kind on their site. ~ TNS study
Common Trust Marks include:
SSL Certificate – [https://] secure link that encrypts customer data in transit
BBBOnline – Reliability Seal for issue resolution in case something goes wrong
Bizrate.com - Gathers and shows ratings of users for Trusted Peer Review
Mcafee Secure – Detects code injection and malware to prevent Identity Theft & Phishing
Truste – Privacy Seal – a sign of trusted and clearly-stated policies
The presence of these symbols represents the effort on the part of the website to protect the visitor, enabling prospects and customers to transact.
Superman could wrap you up in his S-symbol from his Super-suit and it would protect you from a thermonuclear explosion. Seeing the arrival of that symbol provokes a feeling of awe and security, expressed as, “Look, up in the sky!…”
Trust in Peers Extends to Trusted Peer Reviews
50% of B2B buyers turn to social media / peer reviews.
70% of Americans now say they look at Product Reviews before making a purchase.
~ Google, Zero Moment of Truth – March 2011
63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site which has user reviews.
~ iPerceptions, 2011
Google’s Schema microdata can be used to structure Reviews on-site to improve their perception by automated crawlers.(https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/146645?hl=en); and
Gandalf left his rune on Bilbo’s door so the Dwarves would trust to enter and the adventure could begin. the wizard had previous knowledge of the inhabitant and his word was trusted. The rune he inscribed stated, “Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement, and reasonable reward”. (http://www.hmhbooks.com/files/content/sites/hobbit/files/pdfs/Hobbit_trivia.pdf) ;
Consumer reviews are significantly more trusted (nearly 12 times more) than descriptions that come from manufacturers, according to a survey of US internet users by online video review site EXPO.
~ eMarketer, February 2010
Ratings provide evidence of others who have trusted this brand entity before, and can predict a favorable outcome (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/172705?hl=en). Those little yellow stars that appear in Search Engine Results (sometimes called “Rich Snippets”) can boost clickthrough rates by 8%.
Captain America knew the value of stars… and stripes. He dictated the appearance of his own uniform as an inspiration to the troops. Rally users to your cause by inspiring trust with relevant Ratings.
Superheroes have a lot to teach us about Trust, but the most important lesson of all, may be: we do it not for ourselves, but for the public. Web businesses needn’t be altruistic or charitable… only trustworthy, in order to protect Users and, thus, their own profitability.
All Trademarks have been used referentially and all rights remain the sole possession of their respective owners.
Google I/O wraps up today, and now it’s opportune to highlight the coincidences of trends and announcements that Google is trumpeting in their Google gloryfest. My approach is to examine each of the highlights from their 3-hour keynote (!) and point out, from a business and web user perspective, what’s missing. Google has had their I/O… now, I get my Google I/O/U.
With assets such as annual revenues larger than that of all states except New York and California and Google Chrome’s 750M active users, Google is becoming the steward of your future. (“Good morning to the Senator from the great state of Google!”)
Google leverages their wealth of data and huge ad revenues to provide web users worldwide with free services. Americans are quite familiar with this revenue model. News comes in a free form, but you will be force-fed ads to earn the right to consume it.
In an effort to keep a clean balance sheet, it’s time to consider, “What does Google owe me?” and “What do I owe Google”?
Unification of Google Services
Microsoft Office Suite. Adobe Creative Suite. User Experience has vaulted thanks to some of the most-visible integrations of programs and cloud support. Uniting apps and functionality common to a vertical is old news. (We won’t even go into the controversy of ‘subscription-based software’ in the cloud). But it’s easy to see the wisdom behind merging Google+ and other Google services. User interfaces have undergone cosmetic changes that make them much more consistent across services. The integrations must go well beyond superficial, and that behind-the-scenes sharing of data has begun. Sharing of data within Google is well within their Terms of Service, so there is no protest. But has their integration efforts gone far enough? Most think not, if you read the forums and comments.
Google I/O/U: More effective options to combine accounts for improved cross-functionality and User Experience. Merge Google+ Local (formerly Places), Gmail, YouTube, etc. Put users in control of how the merging works.
Google I/O/U: While I am at it, let me state that Google services require better interfaces. Across the board. Most users I consult with on a daily basis have the same disregard (and sometimes, disrespect) for Google User Interfaces and User Experience. They suck. The level of simplicity and cosmetic appearance has improved, but have they become more intuitive? Many think not.
Big Data is a Big Deal
Google has earned their seat at the Big data table (Hadoop, anyone?), as advertisers push the edge of peta-scale data accumulation and synthesis. Some appreciate the targeted advertising that results. Some are horrified by the creepiness of so much ‘personal’ data being shared and sold and acted on.
The lack of debate about whether this is creepy or cool, the technology industry has been ranked the world’s most-trusted for the seventh consecutive year, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer.
At the same time, Android developer Dan Nolan of Australia found that Google provides programmer access to personal identity of app buyers, reviewers and trials.
Google I/O/U: There is nothing more valuable than User Trust. Earn it. Don’t burn it.
Google+ has a lovely, new layout on the desktop that has been described as being more like Pinterest. More columns. Wow. More data visible at once on the screens of a dying race of desktop machines. Zzz.
Google I/O/U: Mobile experience of Google+ on iOS is only fair at best. It needs better profile edibility, for one thing. Make it so.
Cards are a visual nicety, that ‘flip’ over to reveal more data on the reverse (shades of MacOS ‘Widgets’). This plays on a visual metaphor that is familiar to consumers, and provides a framework for greater use of that convention. Cards come in six ‘flavors’ and mix your habits, searches, commuting routes and more into an ever-tightening web of useful information.
Google I/O/U: Droid Voice Search and Cards have invaded iOS. How long before advertisers have the option to use the reverse of these cross-platform cards to flip to reveal Ads? Better still, ads that use all of the Circles, Search and other data to be tightly targeted, at massive scale?
Related Hashtags emerged from Google I/O as Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and other Social Networks ride Twitter’s coattails to parlay content keywords into an ecosystem that enables better-informed Search, brand messaging and tracking of trends. google’s version will likely leverage their hoary old content analysis algorithm to discern keywords, and then their AI backend of search queries and subsequent search queries and personal preferences to add Related Keywords in the form of #hashtags. Excellent integration of a maturing user convention is on the horizon. Whether this becomes reflexive or intrusive depends on implementation, thus, it’s a crapshoot, but worth the gamble.
Google I/O/U: Bottle that Related Hashtag ability. Make it a form of metadata (similar to Facebook’s pervasive OGP) to reside in the Social Media, or, as an App that can be added. Open Graph Protocol affords Facebook an eye into one’s off-network web activities, provides authentication services, and records Likes and other forms of interaction. Could Google drive in the harpoon to leverage a similar inside job on Facebook and other Social Media? If so, Google’s own ability to provide incisive hashtagging could also feed those instances into search for general consumption. The mind reels at the possibilities. Better perception of social mentions for Google. Better and more immediate social monitoring for users, right there in their Search. For free, the Google way.
Auto-Enhance. OK, welcome to the club. Auto-Awesome. Better. Auto-Animations. All bets are off. The claim is that image processing and AI can store and examine all of your photos (those that you don’t hide from Google) and integrate portions to arrive at a better result (described as gathering all smiling faces from a series of group portraits to amalgamate one image where every subject is smiling. Other features include Collages (which any graphic software can do), Animations (AniMoto and other web services have done this for years), Panoramas (heck, my daughter’s Fuji digicam does that during shooting), Collections (from masses of uploaded photos). The good news and the bad news are simply two sides of the same coin. Yes, it’s automated. And, yes, it happens without you.
Google I/O/U: Control, Privacy — ask first. Give users an editing environment so they can have the fun. They will endorse the result better when they have put their fingerprint on it. Sharing will likely increase as a result. Oh, and please retrain all of those artists and photographers.
Google Talk Voice Search
Better than Siri? This could be the case, as Google sells the public back Google’s accumulated knowledge of themselves (G+, Google Search, Gmail, etc.).
Google I/O/U: Conversing with a personal digital assistant (RIP, Steve Jobs) is fun and all. Give me the rest of the robot.
Music to My Ears
All Access, Google’s newly-announced $9.99 monthly streaming music service provides interest-based ‘radio station’ playlist suggestions (patent issues, anyone?). It also enables local ‘storage’ of songs. Great. Rdio and Spotify must be quaking in their boots. Owing to the service’s ubiquity, iTunes may develop a small tremor.
Google I/O/U: Wired magazine described the Netflix contest to inspire a better algorithm to surface “content suggestions” for movie-watchers. This is a huge challenge. Will it be any easier for All Access to stimulate users to more listening based on recorded interests?
A Google developer advocate announces that they, “want the whole world to play together”. Development APIs come and go, morph and change, but their own Play developer API is now open and platform-agnostic. This goes beyond the “Open Garden” concept of moving one’s gameplay fluidly from a tablet to a laptop. Games developed on this platform can be platform agnostic. Droid devices can play games against iOS devices and other platforms.
Google I/O/U: Riveting games.
On the desktop, more usable screen area will be devoted to map. Then, Google will now scatter data all over the Map. Connections. Nearby. Search data.
Google I/O/U: Be graceful in the visual interface. Some users will not appreciate clutter on the maps they are trying to see.
Google Fiber did not make it to the list of Keynote highlights. As their noble experiment proceeds, to provide connection speeds 100 times faster than most of today’s broadband internet access, are consumers excited over the prospect of instant downloads and high-def communications? The tech industry, media execs and others in industry have been following the progress as it rolls out to more cities (experiment, or slow roll-out?). Yet, as disruptive as this could become, where is the hoopla? I recall a time recently, when networks ran to keep up with CPU speed. Now, CPU speeds offered by mobile devices and a faltering desktop PC industry will race to chase new throughput speeds. Whoa. Paradigm shift.
Google I/O/U: Testimonials. Consumers need to tell America whether Google Fiber has been a life-changing experience, or not.
Google’s efforts to entwine ‘products’, combine knowledge bases, share user profiles, and cross-pollinate are well-received. This is a welcome attempt to make strategic sense of how, “Google’s own services have been fragmented or confused at times”, according to Google Android Leader Sundar Pichai.
After-the-fact, ad hoc hybridization is a sloppy, inefficient process. In addition to opportunity, it creates development dead-ends and evolutionary cul-de-sacs (anyone recall the duck-billed Platypus?). But that process is organic and evolutionary. God would have a plan. Google has a process. It burgeons, however inefficiently, into the future. Skynet, anyone?
Google I/O/U: Continue innovating, but for goodness’ sake, don’t be evil. Have a plan, and share it.
You are your reputation.
Search engines are a great tool, but they add to the vulnerability when the wrong information gets exposed online. It doesn’t matter whether the misinformation is from neglect, a disgruntled former employee or a jilted lover, the damage can be real and sometimes, devastating, both socially and to one’s career. People finding the bad data don’t stop to ask questions, they just make an assumption and move on. That can deprive you of opportunities, or expose you to punishing consequences.
Keywords and Citations are the language used by search engines to define who you are (Citations) and what’s important to you and about you (Keywords). No one can tell search engines like Google what to do. All we can do is make suggestions, so talking the search engines’ language can be a strong advantage.
Citations are just that – references to a bit of data, plain and simple. Just as your English professor used them to check on the accuracy of your term paper’s quotations, so Google uses them to establish the credibility of bits of data, such as name, address and phone number. Google looks for exact match data, and applies trust to the data based on how many times it is accurate (and where it is listed).
Citations may arise as a tool in a hostile competitive or disinformation campaign. Bad data can be misleading, thieves may use false citations to steal business leads, or simply to confuse readers. Incorrect data can hamper local search results. Unwanted disclosure of some data, such as credit card numbers, or unlisted phone numbers, represents a vulnerability that it is best to defend against.
What Can You Do?
Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) is a free ‘clipping’ service that can send you E-mail alerts when particular keywords that you select are found on the web and newly arise in their search index. Your Business Keywords may be:
- your personal name,
- a unique brand-name,
- company name,
- product name,
- leader, officer, spokesperson,
- or even a competitor.
A carefully-chosen bunch of keywords (when limited by ‘negative keywords’) can feed a warning system for personal and business purposes. As new mentions of your keywords are crawled by Google on the worldwide web, you can click through to them and find out if the mentions are positive, negative or neutral. Each type of sentiment expressed requires its own strategy to profit from any interaction. Some times it is even better not to react at all. The key is knowing the difference, and for that it pays to gain knowledge from a Reputation Management expert.
An even-handier tool for personal use may be Me On the Web, https://www.google.com/dashboard/ (part of the Google Dashboard). It offers email alerts when your personal information (name, company name, home address, email address, phone number, etc.) is posted on the Web. It automatically includes things such as one’s E-mail address. Even better, it includes guides to “Manage Your Online Identity”.
To use it requires one’s Google services log-in. Clients and prospects must be cautious when providing this to their Online Reputation specialist, potentially making this a strictly personal tool. Information that’s confidential, embarrassing, or just plain wrong should be addressed by taking the time to click the “How to remove unwanted content” link to request the removal of a page from Google’s search results. That way, one can reduce the risk of exposure of unwanted material.
An Online Reputation professional who is made aware of the undesired presence of personal information or incorrect listings in Google has strong tools at their disposal. They may apply effort to ProActively or ReActively alter listings in Directories or Business Indices in order to correct the data. They may add more and better Citations. They have experience in how best to respond to Comments and Remarks, whether complimentary or complaining. They may even advise on contacting Google or other methods to improve the situation. Results are tracked and reported on a regular basis. That way, the successful improvement of your Citations, Keywords and thus your Reputation will be clear.
And what of Social Media? Mentions on Social Networks can be utterly scathing, yet Twitter and other social sites’ messages are not indexed by Google. How will you know what is being said about you? WhosTalkin.com is a search tool focused on social media sites. SocialMention.com is another, very fully-featured tool. If people are talking about you or your company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the 60 other social sites that these sites monitor, this service will help you keep tabs on those discussions. How to respond then is up to you. Time is of the essence… most complainers resist any effort to change their attitude after about 24 hours have elapsed.
Any good, ethical Reputation Management specialist can talk knowledgeably about your situation. Don’t hesitate to contact WebiMax with any concerns you may have. After all, it’s our reputation on the line, too!