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Don't Have Credentials? Beg and Borrow (But Don't Steal) 'Em!

So far, we have established that credentials are important. But the question of how companies set about actually establishing their credentials online is an entirely different matter. How is this to be done?

In many cases, the best way to obtain credibility when it is needed is to "borrow it" by featuring well-known brands or brand affiliations on a homepage. Borrowing is an effective technique because it enhances the user experience by generating a sense that, although the site and its parent company may not themselves be known to consumers, they are "known" through association with more familiar and trusted companies. This is made still more effective when a given company's affiliations (such as the parent company, key clients, or partnerships) are also prominently displayed on the homepage.

Of course, the significance and need for credentials will vary from web site to web site, and established companies will generally have less need to borrow. Nevertheless, even established companies might want to emphasize their bricks-and-mortar presence on the homepage. Doing so "cements" (so to speak) their enduring character in the minds of consumers and suggests that they have established customer service policies and will honor their commitments. If a company's offline presence is prestigious (for example, if the company maintains stores in London, Paris, and Tokyo), or if it has a track record of longevity (for instance, if the company makes much fanfare of the fact that it has been in business since 1890), those important aspects should be cited on the homepage.

Figure 3.3. (Next two images) eBay (http://www.ebay.com) is one of many sites that features prominent brand names and logos on its home page. DVDFile (http://www.dvdfile.com) effectively leverages several recognized brands on its homepage as well.

In contrast, when you're developing sites for start-ups that are not extensions of well-known brands, establishing credibility is tougher. The need for homepages that borrow from more familiar brands is thus made even more acute. In user experience testing, we have seen firsthand the significance of borrowing better-known names and branding for start-ups. For example, a retail chain with a wonderful reputation worldwide was opening stores throughout the U.S. and launching a new site. They learned how important it was to feature both the brand names and logos prominently on their site to successfully win the confidence and interest of site visitors.

In another case, creators of a music site that would enable the user to download music to his computer discovered how crucial it was for their site to feature well-known artists from a broad spectrum of genres on the homepage. This convinced visitors that it was worthwhile to check out the site in question and take the time to download the requisite software.

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