(this article is a reply I originally wrote to a post about website trust on dentaltown.com with a few additions)
We eat in a particular restaurant because it appears clean (we can't see what really goes on in the kitchen), and we use a certain lawyer because a friend recommended them (we can't read the motions they filed for other clients).
Thus, its imperative for us as dentists (and web developers) to do whatever we can to make sure our websites (and our offices) project trust. Imagine if you wore an orange lab coat in your practice -- there's nothing wrong with an orange lab coat -- but since patients expect to see a white lab coat, they might get nervous/confused/uneasy if they saw orange. So on your website, make sure you do the things that exude trust:
The First Step in the Website Trust Process is an SSL Certificate. Google has mandated that all websites have an SSL certificate (the padlock you see at the top left of a browser), reflecting that traffic between the website and the server is encrypted. Personally I think it's an an annoying burden for non-eCommerce sites (or sites that don't take personal information such as SSN's, etc.) but it doesn't matter what I think -- it matters here what Google thinks.
1) Have social media icons - I'm the first to say that social media can really be a pain. In fact, one of my favorite lectures that I give is "Social Media for Dentists who Hate Social Media". Like it or not, patients cannot check our bitewings to see our crown margins, and as such they need other ways to judge us. And right now, our society seems to link a social media presence with trust. Naturally having a FB page does not make you a good or bad dentist, but since people expect to see social icons, we need to make sure they see them.
2) Have a standard, logical navigation - Home, About, Services, Patient Information, Blog, Contact Us. While this is a very generic example, people are used to seeing navigation in this general order. And since we want to make things as easy as possible for our visitors, we want them to see what they expect to see, so don't get fancy with the navigation on your dental website. Think about it -- what would you do if you were driving and you saw a stop sign shaped in a triangle? What if the stop sign were blue and not red? You'd probably still figure out that you need to stop since the sign will still say "stop" -- but you will have to take time to think and have your brain to process. When it comes to your website, you want your users to get where they want to go with as little "wasted time" figuring out your interface and processing what and why things are different.
3) Make sure you have no broken links and that your site works. Nothing says "I don't care" more than a website that's broken down. Again -- a broken website doesn't mean you make ugly crown preps, but it certainly doesn't help you build the trust you need in your visitors. "If they don't care about their website, will they care about my teeth?"
Patients don't have the training to do a technical check of our work, so they have no choice but to rely on other factors to help them learn to trust us. And while we may be frustrated about what we have to do to procure that trust (use social media, etc), we ignore these trust-builders at our own risk!