The following is adapted from Trust Signals.
In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, Medieval Germany is in the grips of famine. A woodcutter’s family is starving. So, the woodcutter and his wife plot to abandon their children, Hansel and Gretel, deep in the forest. This way, they will have fewer mouths to feed. But Hansel overhears the plot and leaves a trail of breadcrumbs in the woods so he and Gretel can find their way home.
Unfortunately, the crumbs are eaten by birds and the children get lost. They must defeat a wicked witch to ultimately escape being cooked and eaten themselves. Although Hansel’s plan was foiled, today the idea of following a “breadcrumb trail” to a destination or decision is one just about everyone is familiar with.
In digital marketing, breadcrumb paths are most closely associated with web navigation. But there is another way to think of breadcrumbs in marketing.
In Hansel and Gretel, the children leave a path of food – breadcrumbs – to guide them home at a time of great famine. Today, successful brands can leave a trail of breadcrumbs, in the form of inbound trust signals, to guide their buyers to purchase.
From Inbound Marketing to Inbound Trust Signals
When HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah coined the term “inbound marketing” in 2005, their notion was that consumers were tired of being interrupted by marketers and pestered by salespeople. They believed that the better way to reach them was through helpful, non-salesy content and conversation. So, by helping these consumers, brands could lure them “inbound” to their website.
I view inbound marketing through a specific lens—one that puts trust front and center. That’s why I believe that the best marketing programs focus on laying a path of inbound trust signals. These are the trust breadcrumbs that attract interested visitors to your website.
Moreover, in a world where gatekeepers like media critics, analysts, and experts have been knocked off their high horses, the public turns first to their peers for advice on products and brands. And today, the most powerful form of peer influence is customer reviews.
Most consumers today trust online reviews from strangers as much as the advice of friends and family. Compared to traditional word-of-mouth referrals, online reviews are easier to access. Plus, they are more likely to include use cases that are relevant to the buyer.
The Yelpification of the Internet
The first major success story in the review-site space was Yelp. Yelp was founded in 2004 to provide crowdsourced recommendations for local businesses and services. Today, despite intense competition from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tripadvisor, and others, Yelp draws 180 million unique monthly visitors to more than 225 million reviews on its site.
Meanwhile, the public’s trust in online reviews now extends beyond local restaurants, hotels, and service businesses. It expands to virtually every industry and product—from vegan ice cream brands, which you can compare at Influenster, to multimillion-dollar enterprise software, which you can review at Gartner Peer Insights, PeerSpot, and other sites.
My own agency focuses on B2B technology, where, driven by the explosion of SaaS products, review sites like G2, Capterra, and TrustRadius now far surpass the influence of traditional gatekeepers, such as industry analysts and computer magazines.
Chicago-based G2, in fact, appears to be replicating the Yelp story in the B2B tech space. It now has raised more than $250 million on a valuation of more than $1.1 billion. The site hosts more than 1.5 million reviews.
Top 20 Inbound Trust Signals
If web users are more likely to trust the same testimonial for your brand, from the same customer, simply because it is hosted on somebody else’s site, that tells you how essential inbound trust signals are to building, growing, and protecting your brand.
So, let’s take a closer look at 20 specific trust signals to drive interest in your brand and traffic to your website.
#1: Media Coverage
Few forms of third-party validation are as powerful as coverage in well-known media. This includes daily newspapers, national business publications, and respected trade journals. This is why so many brands invest in PR agencies for media relations.
#2: Press Releases
Press releases can be helpful in establishing credibility, especially if they are distributed by major wire services such as PR Newswire and Business Wire, which have higher standards for acceptance. Wire releases are also more likely to appear in Google News results.
#3: Bylined Articles and Op-Eds
When you submit an article that appears in a business or industry publication, you earn credibility as a thought leader with potential buyers.
#4: Blog Guest Posts
Many bloggers in your field may be open to you providing a guest post. This can achieve similar benefits to a bylined article. But tread carefully. If Google decides you are littering the web with keyword-stuffed guest posts just to rank higher in search results, you may be penalized for it.
#5: Sponsored Content
Today, publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Fast Company have paid programs that give you special access to submit or be quoted in stories. These typically appear in Google News results.
#6: Celebrity and Influencer Endorsements
Especially in fashion, beauty, food, and travel, but now across virtually all industries, influencer endorsements on social media—whether paid or unpaid—carry real weight with buyers.
#7: Social Media Accounts
An active presence on major social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, is advisable for most brands. Your customers and prospects expect to see you in these places, and if you’re not there they’ll wonder why.
#8: Social Media Responsiveness
Many buyers check out your social channels to see whether customers are tagging you with complaints, and if they are, how well and how quickly you respond to them.
#9: Google Business Profile
When people search for your brand by name, think of that first page of results as your “second home page.” For businesses with local offices, your Google Business Profile should be that page’s centerpiece.
#10: Google Maps Listing
When you search for a local business, the top three results will appear with a map at the top of the first page. Securing your place in this “Google 3-Pack” is great for trust—and even better for traffic.
#11: Google Reviews
Google has surpassed both Yelp and Facebook in reviews, with those results appearing in your Google Business Profile and Google Maps listings. They’re a must for most brands today.
#12: Customer Reviews on Relevant Sites
Review sites have become part of the decision-making process for virtually every product and industry. See which sites come up in your first three pages of branded search results—then reach out to your customers to contribute reviews.
#13: Glassdoor Reviews
When people search for a company by name, Glassdoor is often one of the top results. Earning five-star reviews from your current and former employees is not just valuable for recruiting; it’s important to winning new customers as well. Buyers are more likely to trust you if you treat your people right.
#14: Participation in Online Forums
From LinkedIn and Facebook groups to industry-specific forums, your company’s team can build relationships and gain credibility for your brand by joining the discussion.
#15: Participation in Industry Events
When you participate in trade shows, virtual conferences, and other industry events as a speaker, sponsor, or exhibitor, you often receive an endorsement on the event’s website or in press releases, generating trust online and off.
#16: Directory Listings
Local and industry-specific business directories are an easy, typically free, or inexpensive way to increase authority and visibility. But be warned: some business directories are scams. Check the site’s domain authority on Moz as a quick way to see if a listing has value.
#17: Wikipedia Entry
Securing an entry for your business in Wikipedia, the most popular reference site in the world establishes your brand’s authority. The site’s editors carefully screen submissions to ensure they meet “notability” criteria. So, earning media coverage and other forms of third-party validation is a prerequisite to inclusion.
#18: Community Involvement
Pursuing a social-purpose strategy that includes sponsoring or volunteering for nonprofit organizations can earn visibility on the nonprofit’s website and social media channels—as well as build goodwill in your community.
#19: Top Ranking for Branded Search Queries
A high percentage of Google queries are searches for brands or specific websites (“youtube” and “facebook” are the top two Google searches). When someone enters the name of your company or product in a search, make sure your site comes up first in the results.
#20: High Ranking for Industry Keywords
Ranking among the top results for common search terms in your market segment not only greatly increases your website traffic but also confers authority on your brand.
The Breadcrumbs That Matter Most
If Hansel and Gretel got lost in the woods today, they would probably just pull out their smartphones and enter their home address in Google Maps.
But if they were looking for the best place to find candy (with no witches in the vicinity), they would likely seek out online reviews, media reports, and other inbound trust signals. Those are the breadcrumbs that matter most to consumers in our modern world—and by extension, the breadcrumbs that should matter the most to you.
For more advice on how to create trust in today’s consumers, you can find Trust Signals on Amazon.
Scott Baradell is a writer and entrepreneur who grew his PR agency, Idea Grove, with business generated by its popular blog. Idea Grove is one of the top twenty-five tech PR agencies in the United States, a three-time Inc. 5000 company, and an Inc. Best Workplace in 2021 and 2022.
In 2020, Scott started a second blog, Trust Signals, to provide news, analysis, and practical advice on what it takes to build trust with customers and the public in today’s post-truth world. The blog inspired and culminates in this book.
Before Idea Grove, Scott was the chief communications officer for two billion-dollar companies, the co-founder and CMO of a venture-backed startup, and an award-winning journalist. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Maria, and children Juliet, Benjamin, Jack, Christopher, and Maggie.