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Why Trust Signals Matter So Much in Heavily Regulated Industries

— January 4, 2021

If you’re unsure what a trust signal is, here’s the simple definition: it’s something you include on a website or in marketing materials to give people a reason to trust you.

You’ll see trust signals used particularly often throughout the online world. This is due to the relative difficulty of holding online businesses accountable when they make mistakes or provide substandard services. When you buy a faulty product from a brick-and-mortar store, you can simply take it back — online, though, you can’t even be certain the store will stick around.

They’re more important in some industries than they are in others, though, and they’re particularly vital in those subject to extensive regulations. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Companies in those industries are harder to trust

Industries aren’t heavily regulated arbitrarily: those regulations are implemented to provide protection, whether it’s for customers, clients, partners, the public, or even places. In short, regulation is a clear indication that there’s a lot riding on the behavior of a company. You’ll only see a light legal hand when it doesn’t much matter what happens with a business.

Due both to the inherent risks they pose and how they’re treated with suspicion (for good reason, of course), prospective customers will be extremely skeptical about regulated companies. This will push them to be massively more careful when deciding which ones deserve their patronage — and they’ll look for trust signals to show them how to proceed.

Consider financial services, whether they take investments, play games, host bets, or even just store money. There are specific trust signal types for each variety. The need to regulate the gambling industry led to the establishment of various associations and programs, for instance: casinos and other such outlets must use them to show they adhere to the gambling regulations.

Banks and payment portals, of course, have countless standards for online data protection. These fuel most of the most effective trust seals (many of which you’ll likely recognize). And yes, it can be difficult to ensure compliance, but it’s worth it to prove trustworthiness.

Brand image is delicate in the social media age

How many distrustful comments does it take to sink a brand? Years back, it might have taken extensive negative commentary to subtly influence the destiny of a company, but today it only takes one social media comment going viral to tank a reputation. Even the biggest companies in the world fear the consequences of letting social media sentiment turn against them.

Red and blue neon sign showing a comment bubble and zero likes against a black background; image by Prateek Katyal, via
Red and blue neon sign showing a comment bubble and zero likes against a black background; image by Prateek Katyal, via

This is relevant when it comes to trust signals because perception of service is just as important as the service itself. If one customer is steadily reassured through trust signals while another isn’t, the former may well feel that they’re getting better service (even if the service is exactly the same). And if the latter has concerns, they might voice them online.

Simply asking the question of whether a company is trustworthy is enough to make plenty of people assume it isn’t. After all, it’s often said that there’s no smoke without fire. Accordingly, all brands in regulated industries need to control the narratives around their security, ensuring that client reviews and comments are as positive as possible.

Search rankings are hard to secure for YMYL sites

The other key reason why trust signals are so important in heavily-regulated industries is that they’re increasingly likely to impact search rankings — and now that so many businesses have effectively been forced to start operating exclusively online, appearing prominently for relevant searches has become a key concern for almost everyone.

YMYL stands for your money or your life: it’s a term Google uses in its search rating guidelines to describe sites for businesses that can potentially harm people, such as medical services, gambling services (as noted earlier), or investment advice services. Knowing how important it is to keep people safe, it’s now concentrating on the EAT criteria: expertise, authority, and trust.

The more trust signals a company can include (particularly those directly acknowledged by Google’s crawler, such as author attribution), the better its chance of ranking well will be. If it falls foul of Google’s algorithm, it’ll sink in the SERPs and struggle to compete.

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