Navigating Your Way to Trust — and Conversions

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Published: Oct 8, 2020

Sometimes when I visit a corporate website, I am so disoriented by the stiff language and confusing navigation paths that I am reminded of Jane Austen's famous line from Northanger Abbey, when Catherine apologizes to the older, more sophisticated Henry for her inability to comprehend his meaning.

"I do not understand you," she says.

"Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well," Henry replies.

"Me? -- yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible."


Working in B2B technology, I've dealt with my fair share of clients who have difficulty communicating what they do, and why they do it, in intelligible terms. The language of business generally is needlessly indirect and obtuse.

But the weakness of being indirect and obtuse is not restricted to the language of websites. It's also often true of a website's navigation and conversion paths.

To Get to Conversion, Start with Trust

When marketers talk about website conversion paths, the conversation typically focuses on lead generation. But that's actually only the second most important reason your website should have simple and clean navigation. The first is trust. Visitors don't want to be confused, tricked or surprised as they navigate your site.

Here's how to avoid each of those frustrating hurdles on the path to visitor trust:

  1. Don't confuse your visitors.  Research by the Nielsen Norman Group, as summarized by Usability Geek, concludes that users almost always approach a new website with a  skeptical mindset. They expect to be disappointed.  The best way to earn their trust, and increase their time on your site, is to provide an intuitive experience. The word "intuitive" is so overused in design that it's become almost meaningless, but what we're really talking about is providing an experience that is not confusing. This tells the visitor you're on their wavelength. 
  2. Don't trick your visitors. As all marketers should know by now, popups and banners flying across your website can trigger an immediate loss of trust and increase in bounce rates. Visitors have heard enough horror stories about data breaches that they don't want to feel tricked into providing personal data. A classic example of this is the clumsy way that many ecommerce sites make "free" offers that ultimately require the entry of credit card information or other commitments. Better to be up front if you want to build visitor trust.
  3. Don't surprise your visitors. Visitors should have the opportunity to convert at all the places they would expect to, so while it's natural to want your design to stand out, you still want it to feel familiar. Some of the most common ways that sites give unwelcome surprises to their visitors are non-standardized layouts and conflicting CTAs. Content that is off-topic or off in tone can also drive visitors away.

When it comes to navigation, keep it simple, stupid -- if you want your visitors' trust.

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