Get in touch

+44 (0) 28 9099 2882


The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

It’s unlikely that Franklin D Roosevelt was aiming his inauguration speech in March 1933 at website owners but his words remain as true today as they were then. The only thing online publishers need to be scared of is the fear their customers have of engaging with them online.

Why do your online customers almost buy from you?  What makes them stare at your landing page, interested in your offer, but ultimately ignore it and move on?   Why do they fill up their shopping cart and stop just short of pressing the “buy now” button?  What gets them to the contact us page but stops them filling in the enquiry form?


All the time in business we see mediocrity trump excellence because of fear.  We choose Starbucks over a local coffee specialist because we know exactly what we’re getting.  McDonald’s burgers might be just about OK, but we’ll still go there over an unknown chip shop because the chip shop might have brilliant burgers and chips, but it might not.  The solid consistent performance of McDonald’s or Starbucks keeps us gripped in “better the devil you know” mode.

On the web, for all but the very biggest online brands such as Amazon, eBay and, customers have that same fear.  They are frightened of wasting their money, their employer’s money, of feeling stupid, or of being ripped off.  Even research from major banks consistently confirms that the reason there is not greater take up in online banking is fear – fear of losing money, or accounts being hacked, or money being siphoned away, or of identity fraud.

Those of us who have suffered from buyer’s remorse don’t need reminded about how miserable it makes us feel.  Whether our fault or the seller’s fault, each time we suffer it we are just that bit more suspicious, just that bit less trusting of the salesman, just that bit more streetwise about next time.  As we stop believing stuff at face value, we work harder to assess the claims that others make.

So in order to motivate our online prospect to buy, or pick up the phone, or fill in the enquiry form, we need to address their fears from the first moment they arrive on our website.  And that requires a focussed and strategic attitude to content.

Your copy needs to have passion, trustworthiness, transparency, integrity, credibility, authority and simple clarity for it to flourish.  If you kill these flowers with the weeds of waffle, marketing–speak, woolly terms or oversell you will kill the prospect, and your chance of commercial success.

On top of this, your site should embrace the basics.  Your contact information has to be clear and accurate.  You need to meet accessibility, usability and navigation standards.  Show security certificates where appropriate, and have links to privacy policies and other relevant legal information.  Answer real questions in your FAQ, whether positive or negative.  Prove that you really exist with photos of your premises or staff.  Make your calls to action clear and believable.  Speak your customers’ language.  Keep your service and product promises.  Don’t talk to your customers like children or like fools.

And finally, consider all of the questions which you are asked when you are on the phone or meeting face to face with new prospects.  This is what your customers want to know about so make sure that your home page, navigation and site structure is dominated with relevant answers and information which make your customers a little less fearful and a little step closer to saying yes.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

View more insights by Gareth

Like to read more of our insights regularly?

Receive our monthly insights newsletter straight to your inbox.

To prove you’re a human please rewrite the following into the box below.

Latest from the blog

Our latest views and ideas

Our Cookie Policy

Find out more I accept

Like most websites, ours uses cookies to make sure you receive the best experience possible. These cookies are safe and secure and do not store any sensitive information. To continue, please accept the use of cookies.