During your buying research process, have you ever visited a businesses’ website and almost immediately closed your browser tab or hit the back button? Some websites just fill us with outright disgust.
It’s not because they’re simple. We don’t expect flashy design from roofing contractors or local restaurants, but we do expect a good experience.
Some websites just look like they’re an afterthought. Or they include no useful information about the business, while simultaneously being cluttered with pop ups and sales pitches.
When we’re researching a business, we don’t want “buy now!” shoved down our throats. We want to go at our own pace and make an informed decision.
The same goes for your potential customers. When they see a website that sets off alarm bells, they see a business that sets off alarm bells. Your reputation is tied into your website, and into your content.
That includes off-site content, as well. If you write a poorly-written, under researched, sales pitch guest post for another site that delivers an unpleasant reading experience-- that’s what your potential customers will associate you with.
Your content should be helpful. It should empower your readers and potential customers. It should help earn their trust.
It shouldn’t damage your online reputation.
But, if you don’t think critically about your own content, there’s the very real possibility it could cast a negative light on your business.
Content and Trust
You’re here because you care about your content and your reputation.
I have some good news-- you can produce content that helps earn the trust of your prospective customers. You have to give them a reason to trust you, but they’re not predisposed to writing you off as untrustworthy.
AdWeek has a great summary of this study from Kentico, which surveyed 300 American, adult consumers on their content beliefs and habits.
The study confirms that your potential customers trust your content when you’re trying to educate them or help them solve their problems. Once you start in with the sales pitch, or talk down to them, that trust sharply drops.
Here are some of the standout statistics:
- 74% of average American consumers trust educational or problem-solving content from businesses
- 46% of consumer trust is lost when your content doesn’t cite sources, or doesn’t match third-party content
- 17% of customers find content that doesn’t address alternate viewpoints untrustworthy
- 12% of respondents don’t like or trust content that “talks down” to them
- 29% of respondents don’t trust content that’s a vessel for a sales pitch
- 85% don’t place any greater trust in content from businesses they buy from regularly (though they don’t distrust content from businesses they regularly patronize, either)
- 49% say they seek outside information sources, even when they trust the business content they’re reading
- 57% claim that endorsements from named-third party sources (doctors, parents, consumers similar to them, etc.) adds credibility to business content
Additionally, if consumers trust and find value in your content, they might recommend it or share it. 94% of the consumers surveyed say they have shared “educational content” from a business in the past.
So, not too bad, right?
So, how much content do consumers actually read, watch, or listen to?
This content can come in the form of your website, third party review sites, blog comments, videos, and social media.
You can’t let any of those content platforms damage your reputation, because consumer research involves more than just looking at your product or services page.
You have to make your content count.
The shoddier your content is, the more it’s going to hurt your reputation.
You don’t have to be a world-renowned copywriter or blogger to produce useful, valuable content, though. You just need to do some critical thinking about what you’re putting out on the internet.
There are millions of bloggers in the world. You’re more than qualified to write your own content, or supervise someone else who can write it for you.
So, here’s what I recommend avoiding when you’re creating content. These are the things that will make your potential customers close their browser tabs and either write you off completely, or spend much more time in third party sites where you don’t have much of a say.
- Phoned-In Content - If you’re churning out half-baked content because you don’t care, are burned out, or in a rush, your audience can tell. Let someone else step in or take a break. No one wants to buy from someone who doesn’t care about their own content.
- Citing Bad Statistics - Remember that Forrest report I cited a few paragraphs ago? It took me forever to find any site that linked directly to the source. Most just cited the statistic without linking. I put the research in and found it. I don’t feel good about citing sources unless I can find the original source. After all, if I cite bad or fake statistics, I’m putting my reputation on the line.
Whenever possible, find the original source. If the original source is an academic study or business study behind a pay gate, say so within your content. If that’s the case, find a reputable website (TechCrunch, Business Insider, The New York Times, etc.) that cites and summarizes the source. Don’t just put in an unattributed statistic and hope no one will notice.
- Badmouthing Others - Nothing will hurt your reputation faster than trying to hurt someone else’s reputation. To your potential customers, it seems petty and unprofessional. We all get frustrated and need to vent, but your online content isn’t the place for it. You can write about frustration (especially if your customers feel it, too), but avoid bad mouthing your competition, your customers, and your community.
- Making False Claims - If you’re here, you probably care what your customers think about you. You care about your reputation. But just in case-- don’t make false claims about your product or service. Or about anything, honestly.
- Make Misleading Statements - Similarly, I doubt you’d do this-- but don’t make misleading statements in order to gain a sale or get an email signup.
- Untrustworthy Advertising - There’s evidence that pop ups get email signups and generally increase conversion rates. But, do you know anyone who likes pop ups? Ad blockers are steadily gaining popularity, and that’s because consumers hate invasive advertising. Excessive full screen popups and advertisements that disrupt user experience might increase conversion rates, but they won’t enhance your reputation. If you’re going to use those popups, use them thoughtfully. They can’t be used as a blunt instrument.
- Being Overly Self-Promotional - In general, your content should educate and help your potential and existing customers. An occasional promotional blog post is okay, and you want your product/service pages to sell, but no one wants to read a sales pitch when they’re researching or trying to solve a problem. Remember that Kentico stat-- 29% of consumers don’t trust content that comes along with a sales pitch.
Most of the practices I listed won’t ruin your reputation overnight.
Instead, every single one of them is just a large drop in the small bucket of your reputation. When it comes to consumer trust, the red flags add up quickly.
Your content can also drastically improve your reputation. This is the kind of content that actually gets shared between friends and loved ones when they’re looking for education or help.
I’m not meaning to say “if you write good content, it will get shared and linked to overnight, no promotion necessary.” We both know that’s not true.
Instead, I’m saying the content you do create needs to further your online reputation. And, all the content you create should be part of a strategic plan.
- Being Informative - You’re an expert in your field. Getting where you are takes knowledge, experience, and skill. Share that with your readers and help them solve their problems. Teach them something they didn’t know they wanted to know.
- Bringing Value - Similarly, focus on adding value. By consuming your content, your potential customer’s life should be slightly better than it was before they read it.
- Setting Goals - There should be a goal behind every piece of content you create. Whether it’s to educate, spread a little humor, tell a story, or solve a problem, make sure you know why you’re creating content.
- Being Funny - People love to laugh, especially when they’re stressed out and looking for solutions to their problems. The goal isn’t to coax out a belly laugh or be overly goofy, it’s to get a knowing nod and a chuckle-- provide something your potential customers enjoy and can relate to.
- Showing Who You are as a Person - Let your personality shine through. Share photos of you and your team. Let your audience get to know the real people behind the business. It’s much easier to form a connection with a face than it is to form a connection with a logo.
- Being Involved in Your Community - When you do something community-oriented, take a few photos or write a quick blog post about it.
- Showing Social Proof - That Kentico study revealed how much consumers look for third party content sources. The Forrester study revealed how many pieces of content they consume before they make a purchase. Showcase your good reviews, and lead your customers to appropriate third party sources.
- Addressing the Other Side - Acknowledging the other side of an argument adds credibility. Even if you’re 100% right, let the other side speak for a moment within your content. Address your potential customer’s doubts, and you’ll gain their trust.
- Editing Your Content - Gratuitous spelling and grammatical errors will damage your reputation. If you’re not a good editor, have a decent editor on call. It could be a member of your team, a friend, a family member, or a professional. We all make mistakes, but don’t let your own grammatical missteps hurt your business.
- Responding to Reviews - Respond to both your negative reviews and your positive reviews. Keep it professional and factual, and own the situation if you wronged someone. Responding to every review allows you to put some of your own content on third party review sites, and allows you to tell your side of the story. It also shows customers that you’re listening, and that you care about their experience.
- Responding to Comments - If someone comments on a blog post or a YouTube video that relates to your business (your own or off-site), reply to them. Respond as soon as possible. It just builds trust and community.
Your online reputation isn’t all about off-site reviews and search engine results. Those factors are important, to be sure, but you can control much of your reputation through your own content.
Your potential customers are doing research before they make a purchase, so you have to create useful, trustworthy content for them to read and engage with. Building trust and nurturing a positive online reputation comes from being honest and providing value.
The ball is in your court.