Do you have a business web site or plan to get one in the near future? If you do, I urge you to seriously consider the issues I discuss in this article. Numerous studies conducted by business, academic, and government researchers have given us reliable insight into the behavior and psychology of internet consumers that directly affects your web site’s effectiveness. Addressing these concerns (often with no-cost or low-cost solutions) can substantially improve your web site’s performance. Ignoring these concerns is a great way to limit your site’s effectiveness or condemn it to mediocrity.
In this article, we’ll focus on the fundamentals but, in future editions of Agent eNews, we’ll discuss additional steps you can take to optimize your web site. Be sure to read the next issues of Agent eNews for more strategies and insights.
The Problem: Your web site’s visitors are seriously concerned about their online safety and privacy.
According to a study conducted by researchers from three major universities, “The lack of consumer confidence in information privacy has been identified as a major problem hampering the growth of e-commerce.” (1)
Another study conducted by Forrester Research (2) confirms that North American internet users have serious concerns about online companies accessing their personal information. The results are as follows for the question, “In general, how concerned are you about the companies you interact with accessing the following personal information?”
72% – Social Security Number
71% – Credit Card Number
62% – Driver’s License Number
58% – Phone Number
50% – Mailing Address
46% – Email Address
42% – Name
“Online privacy is a prevailing concern for web surfers,“ said Chuck Moran, VP of Marketing for Burst Media. “Advertisers must take concrete actions to mitigate consumers’ privacy concerns and at the same time continue to deliver their message as effectively as possible.”
But are these widespread concerns about online security legitimate and well-founded? As you probably know, the answer is YES.
According to the US Department of Justice (3), “In 2010, 7.0% of households in the United States, or about 8.6 million households, had at least one member age 12 or older who experienced one or more types of identity theft victimization.” The Federal Trade Commission also estimates (4) that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
So ask yourself, “Does my web site ask visitors to provide any personal information?” It could be in the form of a newsletter opt-in that asks for an email address, a shopping cart that captures credit card data, or a quote request form that captures the user’s contact info and medical information. Does your site place cookies in the visitor’s web browser or track their online history? If your answer is “yes,” consumer concerns about online safety have a direct impact on your business. And it doesn’t matter whether your website is a small “storefront” site or a huge operation that requires a dedicated IT department.
So what can I do to fix the problem?
Fortunately, there are several practical, proven, and affordable steps you can take now to turn the problem into a competitive advantage. A web site that addresses privacy concerns head on has a huge edge over its competitors who ignore the problem. So don’t let the statistics I’ve discussed discourage you. Instead, use this knowledge as motivation to improve and fine-tune your web site’s performance and profitability.
But before we get into the details, let’s consider what Consumer Reports WebWatch had to say (5):
Internet users are concerned as they confront the vast array of sites on the World Wide Web. The Consumer Reports WebWatch survey finds few users say they can trust the Web sites that have products for sale or sites that offer advice about products and services.
The users’ low ratings of Web site credibility do not stop them from searching out the best and most reputable sites. Indeed, credibility is the key. Users are demanding Web sites that offer credible information backed up by clear identification of the sources of that information.
Online users’ low ratings of Web site credibility do not stand in the way of people going online and using the variety of sites on the World Wide Web. But credibility stands tall among the nine key reasons that users go to one Web site and not to another.
Credibility is the key. Without it, you can’t build trust with new or existing customers. So how do you build credibility and trust with your web site’s visitors? Simple: Be transparent.
From the perspective of a consumer, there’s a huge difference between walking into a brick-and-mortar store and patronizing that same business online. Brick-and-mortar stores offer the reassurance that a business really exists and has actual people you can talk to if there’s a problem with a purchase. Since a website can easily conceal its operators’ true identity and location, that same reassurance is not a given with online businesses. Nevertheless, as a web site owner you must still provide consumers that same level of confidence in your legitimacy. How? The answer is transparency.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. According to a Consumer Reports WebWatch study, 81% of participants said it was “very important” to them that a website clearly display a street address, a telephone number, and an email address. Hopefully, you already have your business’ contact info prominently displayed on your web site. If you don’t, you need to do that ASAP. Make it quick and easy for a visitor to find your contact information. This simple, low-to-no-cost step will immediately improve an online visitor’s perception of your business’ trustworthiness.
Steps for Building Transparency:
1. Display a physical business address.
Use an actual physical business address. Do not use a P.O. Box. Put the business address on your website where it can easily be found.
2. Display a toll-free telephone number.
3. Display your main customer support email address.
- We care about your privacy and take active measures to support that claim.
- These are the types of personal data we collect from you on this website.
- These are the situations in which we’ll share the data we collect about you.
Be sure to read the next edition of Agent eNews, where I’ll outline other practical steps you can take to boost your web site’s effectiveness and profitability.