web design

Can I Trust You?

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

Can I trust you?Last week I started a series of blog articles about the importance pictures have in helping new visitors make the gut-level decision to stay on your website more than 15 seconds.  I believe that every person who visits a website for the very first time arrives with the same three questions.  Sometimes a person is consciously looking for the answers, but often the questions lie just under the surface in the subconscious.  Today I’m going to speak to the first question…

Can I trust you?

Wow, what deep question.  How can anyone assess the trustworthiness of an organization after spending just 15 seconds on their website?

The answer is… you really can’t.  It’s not a rational judgment.  It’s an intuitive judgment based on some facts, some emotion, and a whole bunch of stuff that is hard to put your finger on.

But the reality is, no matter what a person is looking for on a website – information, a product to purchase, an organization to get involved with, whatever – if they get a sense that the site or organization is not trustworthy, it’s game over.  On to the next site.

And since this is more an intuitive decision than a rational one, you have to speak the language of intuition – pictures, emotion, inferences, tone of voice.  Like I said in the first article in this series, if you’re primarily relying on text to convey trust, you are giving your visitors right brain a blank page.

So, how do you use pictures to convey trust?

Well, I’m not a psychologist and I’ve never played on TV either, but I think, “Can I trust you?” is really a two part question.  First, “Will you be honest with me?” and second “Do you know what you’re talking about?”  In other words, authenticity and competence.

Get real

Decades of slick marketing and PR have caused people to become more skeptical – even cynical – about government, corporations, and even non-profits and churches.  Most folks can spot hype, spin, and a carefully crafted marketing message from a mile away.

Me - Paul SteinbrueckPutting a picture of your staff, leaders, and/or employees on your homepage shows there are real people in your organization.  Sure, every organization has “real people” in it, but not every organization is willing to put themselves out there.  Some are like the Wizard of Oz, projecting an image and implying “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
You can further demonstrate authenticity, by using candid photos instead of formal pictures that look like they were taken for a high school year book. 

Depending on the size of your organization, another option to consider is including a staff directory on your website, with a photo next to each.  This helps people feel like they know you a little bit before they call, email or drop by.

Get a Clue

In the past, competence meant success and success meant size.  It was thought the bigger your organization the more competent you must be.  So, companies would include pictures of their corporate headquarters or their massive warehouses.  Churches would show off their buildings.
people-church.jpgIn recent years, however, our culture has shifted.  Bigness has been demonized – big government, big business, big oil, big corporate farms, mega-churches.  The impression many people have – right or wrong – is that big organizations are more concerned about their own bigness than about the individuals they serve.  So, trying to convey competence by showing bigness can actually cause you to lose trust with visitors.

Even if you’re a small organization, showing pictures of buildings (or other objects) by themselves can give people the impression that you’re more concerned about buildings than people.  Pictures of buildings are fine, but they should almost always include and emphasize people.

Pictures of completed projects and products demonstrate your organization knows what its doing.  Competence can also be demonstrated visually by including testimonials with a picture of the person whose given the testimonial.

Find Balance

balance authenticity competenceIn some ways the goals of projecting competence and authenticity through pictures on your website are in conflict.  Competence means showing strength, whereas authenticity involves humility, admitting mistakes.

For example, you may want to put a picture of your CEO, senior pastor, or school principle on the homepage.  In the past, it was a no brainier that he or she would wear formal business attire to demonstrate professionalism.  Now days, though, some people are dropping the tie and jacket to convey more of a “man of the people” look.

You can see the cultural shift reflected in political polls.  In a poll taken last year by Gallop, people were asked what quality they most want to see in the next president honesty/straightforwardness was #1 by a large margin.  And nearly 3 times as many people said honesty as competence.

Recently I was asked to write a review or testimonial, and the person specifically told me to make sure I include at least one mildly negative thing, so it would sound genuine and not over-hyped.

The key here is to know your audience and know yourself as you try to convey authenticity and competence through images.

Have you considered whether the images on your website convey trust?

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About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.


  • great writing I really never thought about the adding people to the picture of the building being that big of a thing but after reading I did a comparison of two building one without people and one with, to some of my coworkers and you are definately right they all agreed that with people is more inviting and they all said they would be willing to look further into the site.

  • […] When someone visits a website for the first time, they make a quick, intuitive decision whether to continue reading the site or move on to another site.  I believe that decision is based on 3 questions the visitor is looking to the website to answer:  “Can I trust you?”  “Am I welcome here?” and “Can you meet my needs?” […]

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