How to add proof to your startup homepage when you are starting from scratch

Because The 7 Day Startup book and Challenges  encourage people to launch quickly, a question that comes up often is how to establish trust on your site for a new business.

At the end of the day a new customer will need to make a leap of faith, but the process of engaging them ‘to pull the trigger’ and become a loyal advocate is something that you have a degree of control over.

For most new customers the buying process involves weighing up the evidence they’re presented with, to help them make an informed decision. This will consist of tangible evidence that you may present, as well as intangible variables such as ease of engagement and your perceived trustworthiness and reputability.

In other words, it’s one thing for you to say “my service is the best in the world”, but customers really have to see evidence that it actually is.

It pays to be totally honest when it comes to questions and anxieties that people may have around buying from you for the first time. Ask yourself the question: “what are the potential reasons why someone wouldn’t buy from me?”

If you can play devil’s advocate and proactively pinpoint potential barriers to purchase, you’ll go a long way towards covering off all the ‘proof’ you need to build trust and maximize your chances of getting new customers over the line when they land on your website.

There’s been plenty of research into the science of influencing consumer decision making, with Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion being a seminal work in the field. His six key principles of influence have driven most of the modern design traits for business websites. Here is a quick summary:

  • Reciprocity: People are more likely to purchase from you if they feel they’ve received something of value already.
  • Commitment and consistency: People have a deep seated need to be seen as consistent and following through on commitments.
  • Social proof: People are more likely to do things that they see other people doing already, even more so if it’s someone they respect or see as being similar to themselves.
  • Authority: People are more willing to listen to and follow the instructions of those perceived to be in positions of authority.
  • Liking: The more you like someone, the more likely you are to be persuaded by them.
  • Scarcity: Products become more desirable when their availability is perceived as being limited.

The challenge as new business owners is this ‘proof’ doesn’t yet exist. So how do we make it exist without being dishonest?

The answer lies in getting to the core of what people are objecting to and figuring out what evidence to present to them that directly addresses those objections. Here’s how.

Have great design

First impressions are crucial, never more so than online, where snap judgements and short attention spans are the norm. So making a great first impression will go a long way towards building the trust and confidence of a potential new customer.

And of course doing the opposite and having poor design (which is more often the case), will destroy any chance you have at building trust with your customers.

Ensure your website layout is aesthetically pleasing and looks professional and reputable. Cluttered pages with poor structure reek of amateurism and won’t inspire confidence in the customer, so make sure your website looks sharp and reflects the brand quality you aspire to.

A very easy way to achieve this is to use a sexy looking WordPress theme. The members of our challenge who have done this, have produced epic sites that ooze credibility.

X Theme and Altitude are two great examples.

Related: Best 7 Day Startup WordPress Themes (2016 Edition)

Another consideration here is your logo. I’m a firm believer that most people suck at design. If you agree with me on that then you’ll agree with me on the next point. Don’t have a logo at all unless it’s going to be a really good one.

Most great themes have really nice simple lettering for the business name which will work perfectly for a 7DS business. If you are going to get a custom logo, do it once you know you have a great business and can afford to do it well.

I think there are some exceptions to this when the brand is super easy to design for (some design problems are easily resolved) but for the most part, I think entrepreneurs trying to be designers, or cheap designers trying to be good designers, does more harm than good.

Professional images

Get some good professional personal photos up on your website. Again first impressions count, and if you represent well in your photo people are much more likely to want to engage with you.

The truth is most entrepreneurs don’t do this, so those who do look super legit!

It doesn’t have to be just your traditional posed head-shots and bios. Get creative and look for photoshoot opportunities in situations and locations that can give your product or service some pizzazz or memorable angle. But try to avoid being too gimmicky with this, so as not to sabotage your brand image. And make sure your photos are professional quality and display in a suitable resolution across multiple devices and screen sizes.

Related: WordPress guide to retina images

Facts, figures, charts and graphs

Including hard data such as facts and figures and charts and graphs is another well documented strategy for establishing your perceived legitimacy. Rob Hanly of the 7 Day Startup Facebook group  raised the concept of establishing proof by using quantifiable statistics and research to support the legitimacy of your product and the industry in which you operate, as well it’s ability to bring about a desired state of change for the customer.

A well placed and relevant graph or growth chart can be an effective way to add weight to your online content and deliver an immediate impression of legitimacy.

Another strategy, used by companies such as MailChimp, is to highlight customer numbers and frequency of use, creating a ‘safety in numbers’ impression – if that many people are using it that often then it must be good! For new businesses this is tricky but if you have numbers from other projects you’ve done, you can include those. For example “Join Dan’s weekly email list of 20,000 people”.

Testimonials and Referrals

Word of mouth is a highly effective method of building customer trust. According to research done by Visual Website Optimiser, the simple act of adding customer testimonials on a product page can increase sales by 34%. And research done by Nielsen claims that 92% of people will trust a recommendation from a peer, and 70% will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know!

This is the easiest thing to get done for a new business. Simply do a few projects for a discounted rate or for free in return for a glowing testimonial.

Putting up quotes of endorsement from satisfied customers will give potential new customers the confidence that your service is legit.

Offering customer referral programs, where an existing customer is given an incentive to recommend you to someone else who then becomes a customer, goes hand in hand with this. If someone gets a direct referral, often they won’t need as much other ‘proof’ since they already have a level of established trust.

Personal proof

One way to bring proof into your business, is to transfer it across from you personally.

When I launched WP Curve, I had no external proof that the business was legit. However I did have this proof from past projects. So I put this on the landing page; “Dan and Alex are established entrepreneurs with their companies featured in places like The Next Web, Mashable and This Week in Startups.” It showed external validation that the founders were successful and it gave me a good excuse to use the logos for additional credibility.

Also look to leverage off your social media platforms to highlight your reputation and reach. Don’t be shy to spruik any social media testimonials or quote follower numbers, these things do have clout and can help you establish legitimacy and trust for your new business.

Reputation by association & endorsements

Endorsements from industry experts is another great way to build trust and create legitimacy. I use this one quite extensively myself, for example on my Content Machine page where as well as customer testimonials I also include personal endorsements from other entrepreneurs.

As well as providing an easy way to give your website more authority, when someone sees an association from a respected source, they will respect you more. So don’t be shy in mentioning and linking to affiliated sources that will make you look good. But make sure that you’re honest in how you represent your affiliation. If you stretch the truth then you’re potentially shooting yourself in the foot by sabotaging your trustworthiness if someone calls you out on it. Once people see you as dishonest there is no coming back from that.

Placing the logos or mentioning the names of other companies on your website and linking to them is another effective strategy I’ve used to gain respect and traction. For example I’ve managed to have a few articles written about me on sites such as INC, Forbes and Mashable and then added their logo with accompanying text to highlight that I’ve been featured there. It’s not that difficult to get yourself featured (sometimes it’s just a matter of asking!) but if not then you can always link yourself to a listing site like Product Hunt.

Keep in mind however that using other companies logos without permission is usually not legal. Hey everyone does it, but just be prepared to take it down if you get the tap on the shoulder.

Content Marketing

7 Day Startup Facebook group member Chris Marr raised the point of having effective content marketing to deliver “content that helps rather than tells and shows rather than sells.”  Chris also practices what he preaches by doing tons of original content and contributing to content on other sites like the recent social media platform guide by WP Curve.

Related: The zero BS guide to choosing a social media platform for business

No doubt you’re all familiar with using the concept of content marketing to create trust, credibility and to differentiate yourself from standard advertising and 1001 similar product offerings. If you can provide potential new customers with engaging content, they’ll be much more likely to trust you and make the leap to becoming a loyal customer and advocate.

Look to give your website visitor access to quality content at no cost and they are more likely to want to buy from you down the track. I do it with the 7 Day Startup blog as a window to 7 Day Startup Pro.

This is tapping into the reciprocity and likability influence triggers from earlier.

If you have a blog on your site, make sure the content is great. And make sure you only show the social media impact of your posts if it looks good (the social welfare plugin has an option to only show shares if they are over say 30 total). Make sure the design is great, the content is world class, and the images are legit. This all helps you look like a more legitimate company.


Video is something that is very hard to do well, so if you have the ability to do it well, it’s an instant credibility booster.

Leadpages make impressive use of embedded video content on their landing page to deliver their message. A new visitor to their website is presented with a non cluttered, professional veneer, where they can easily link to video content showing them how it works. Legitimacy is established early and!

For software it’s a no brainer, animated videos are another option or personal video that is good quality is another.

The big challenge here is video is very hard to do, so don’t do it unless you know for sure that you can do it well.

Check out how The Merrymaker Sisters have used a catchy video, using an Olympus camera and ATR podcasting mic, to add value to their landing page, which they whipped up quickly in OptimizePress. The video looks great and does the job in portraying the business and the sisters themselves in a vibrant and approachable light.

Try before you buy

Letting a potential new customer sample an element of your product or offering for free or for a limited time can also remove another barrier to purchase. This strategy is good for customers who have difficulty in making the final leap of faith to purchase, regardless of the presence of all other trust building mechanisms.

Freemium is one way to do it, free trials is another way or really in depth demos is another. $1 free trials can work well for memberships, but make sure you know what you are doing with that strategy.

Since a lot of 7DS businesses are services businesses, this is a bit harder. Some providers get around it by offering things like consultations or reviews for free, at least for the first few customers to get the ball rolling.

7 Day Startup launchers Meryl and Ben applied the try before you buy concept by offering their Xero Audit service as part of their Accounts and Bookkeeping business, Bean Ninjas. This has been successful in generating new customers for them.

Related: 7 Day Startup podcast – Ben & Meryl from Bean Ninjas

Discounts and money back guarantees

Offering new customers initial discounts and offering money back guarantees is another tried and true method for gaining customer confidence by lowering the risk of purchase. 7 Day Startup Facebook group member Praveen Kumar mentions that when he started his company Live Chat Ninjas, he successfully used a launch discount and 30 day money back guarantee strategy to drive take up, which fast tracked many of the testimonials currently on his website.

It’s easy enough to search google and get a professional looking ‘money back guarantee’ badge to add to your website.

Keep in mind that it needs to be part of a ‘big picture’ though and be congruent with your other trust building strategies. A banner screaming ‘30 day money back guarantee’ with little else to back it up or non congruent additional proof could have the opposite effect.

One question you may be asking now is; how can you prove that your proof is legit? Make sure you can link it back to an authoritative source wherever possible. Some ‘proof’ such as customer testimonials will always be ‘bullshit’ in the eyes of some, but if your other trust building strategies are solid and consistent you’re more likely to persuade the cynics. Let’s face it, you won’t please all of the people all of the time, but by focussing on doing as many of these things as you can well, you’ll maximise your odds.

The 7 Day Startup community is a free Facebook group fast approaching 7,000 members. Click here for free access. Can’t wait to see you there!

And as always I’m interested in finding out your thoughts on our weekly topic. So let me know your experiences and if you’ve found any of these pointers helpful.


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