Trust Seals Work—and Baymard Institute Has the Receipts to Prove It

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Scott Baradell
Published: Sep 27, 2021
Last Updated: Oct 4, 2021

Note: forwards to this post. Actual Insights was a Dutch research firm founded by Matthew Niederberger that focused on website usability testing for clients like IBM and Google Finland. It conducted studies on UX topics including trust seals and cart abandonment. Niederberger today leads the tag management agency Tagticians. The top currently active research firms focusing on ecommerce UX are Baymard Institute and Nielsen Norman Group.

Recent research on the efficacy of trust signals can be difficult to find. If you search the web for this topic, you might find blog posts that seem recent (or that claim to have recently been "updated") but that cite very old sources. I've seen articles with blog timestamps from 2021 that cite research roundup posts from 2017—that in turn link back to original research from 2014!

That's too old to be helpful.

Freelancer Rochi Zalani describes a pain felt by many writers doing online research:

Fortunately, there is some 2021 research into trust signals—specifically trust seals and trust badges in this case—from Baymard Institute.

2021 Trust Seals Study from Baymard Institute

The Baymard Institute is a user-experience research house based in Denmark. The organization has conducted more than 70,000 hours of studies, tests and experiments to identify best practices for ecommerce website design. They conducted their first study of trust seals in 2013 and have updated it several times since. Their 2021 report contains insights about why these trust signals work and which ones work best.

Baymard asked more than 4,000 U.S. adults their reasons for abandoning an online purchase during the checkout process (a.k.a., "shopping cart abandonment"). Nearly one in five said they “didn’t trust the site with their credit card information.”

The report continued: 

The average user’s perception of a site’s security is largely determined by their “gut feeling”, which—beyond how much they trust the brand—is to a large extent observed to be directed by how visually secure the page looks.

Online shoppers typically possess little knowledge of website security, the report added—most don’t know what “SSL” means, for example. But they do feel safer when they see the logo of a well-known security brand like Norton, or even a generic image such as a padlock on a checkout page.

Not All Seals Are Created Equal

Baymard asked users to rank a variety of seals based on which gave them the “best sense of trust” when buying online. These included:

  • security seals from brands including Norton, Thawte, GeoTrust, Comodo and Trustwave;
  • third-party endorsement seals from the Better Business Bureau, Google, and TRUSTe; and
  • “made-up seals” featuring icons like padlocks but not issued by third parties.

Baymard has run five trust badge surveys over the past decade—in 2013, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Across each of these surveys, the key findings have remained consistent. These include: 

The Norton seal has been ranked the most trusted in each of the surveys—and in fact has improved its performance over time. The ubiquitous badge is estimated to be viewed by website visitors 100 million times per day worldwide. 

Well-known brand names such as Google and the Better Business Bureau scored better than lesser-known brands, such Thawte and Geotrust. Baymard also found that a non-branded seal with a padlock image, accompanied by the words, “This site is SSL SECURED,” scored better than the lesser-known branded seals in the study.

Further reinforcing the relationship of brand recognition to trust is the fact that the same company, Utah-based DigiCert, owns and administers the Norton, Thawte and GeoTrust branded seals—but the Norton seal was nearly 20 times more likely to provide the “best sense of trust” than the two lesser-known seals.

Translating Trust into Conversions

Clearly, a trusted seal provides valuable third-party validation for those websites that use it. But how can this value be measured, and how does it translate into conversions and sales?

TrustedSite, a San Francisco-based web security company and issuer of trust seals, has a longstanding blog series called “Testing Trust,” in which digital marketing agencies put its trustmarks to the test for their clients and share their findings.  

Some of the results:

  • Holabird Sports, a running and racquet sports retailer, saw a 21.3% increase in revenue after adding trustmarks on its landing and product pages, login, footer, cart and checkout; 
  • Decor Steals, a home furnishings retailer, achieved a 17% increase in revenue per desktop visitor after installing trustmarks across its site;
  • Scrubs & Beyond, which sells scrubs and medical equipment, recorded an 18.6% increase in conversions after adding trustmarks;
  • AmourPrints, a retailer of romantic canvas art and prints, saw an 8.6% increase in conversions; and
  • JINS Eyewear, which sells prescription glasses online, experienced an 8.4% conversion increase.

Because every website is different, the best course is to A/B test your site’s checkout page with various options to determine which badge or combination of badges is best for your business. Then you can determine the impact on conversions and revenue, and decide if the revenue impact justifies the investment, since third-party trust seals carry certification requirements and costs. 

As you might expect, major retail brands with household names don't have the same need to show trust badges as smaller ecommerce stores. Most large brands don’t use them at all; they have established trust in other ways. However, even the best-known brands sometimes see their checkout pages abandoned because of poor UX.

Baymard noted that design bugs are a frequent cause for cart abandonment even for Amazon, Walmart and Apple. The research house gave numerous examples, such as a flaw in the Microsoft Store’s credit card form that caused placeholder text in the postal code field to be superimposed by the user’s auto-fill text. The mistake made the field unreadable; confused shoppers feared the form did not function properly or had been hacked.

This example shows that website trust signals, such as professional design and attention to detail, aren’t just for smaller brands. Even the biggest brands can lose business through design oversights and other errors that reduce buyer trust.

From Short-Term Sales to Long-Term Growth

The influence of trust seals on online sales represents a microcosm of the impact of the full universe of trust signals for brands

By approaching trust signals more broadly, any business can develop a strategy that improves more than checkout page conversions. The more far-reaching and enduring benefit of a trust signals strategy is to build, grow and protect your brand.

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