User Trust Isn’t the Only Thing – It’s EVERYthing.

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.
~ DemandGen
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.