In a gambit to extend beyond SSL certificates, VeriSign introduces the Trust Seal today. The trust mark service seeks to increase confidence, traffic, and transactions for sites that do not require SSL certifications, including sites that outsource shopping cart or payment functions and do not collect sensitive personal information. Though not designed specifically for small and midmarket companies, VeriSign's Fran Rosch, Senior Vice President Authentication, says that SMBs are the most likely customers for the new service. He says, "Based on our market segmentation research, we expect the initial adopters to be smaller companies that use shared payment [services] for their e-commerce, but we also expect interest from non-profit companies, professional services such as legal and medical practices, and franchises."
The service costs $299 annually. That fee buys an initial authentication of business and domain control for a site and daily malware scanning thereafter. After passing the initial authentication, the Trust Seal, served by VeriSign, appears on sites subscribing to the service. Unless a site fails a daily malware scan that's exactly where the trust mark stays, offering customers VeriSign's imprimatur of approval and, if customers click through, details about exactly what has been certified and when. If a site fails a daily malware scan, however, the seal vanishes until the business remedies the situation and the site again scans clean.
When a site tests positive for malware and the Trust Seal comes down, the business receives an email alert with information about the affected page and code string. Initially, VeriSign will offer some basic assistance to aid businesses in remediating malware. In time, according to Rosch, the company will look to offer more extensive technical support options or partner referrals. After remediating customers can request an on-demand scan to confirm the malware is gone and, once certified clean, the Trust Seal reappears on the site.
With the new Trust Seal service, VeriSign aspires to build upon the broad awareness of its Secured Seal SSL service; the company claims that trust mark is viewed more than 175 million times daily on more than 90,000 sites. Without prompting, Rosch drew an analogy between the confidence a Trust Seal can impart to customers and the power a Zagat endorsement carries for a restaurant. To support that claim, VeriSign points to its own research, which appears to indicate that some site visitors are indeed swayed by the presence of trust marks. According to a survey of traffic that the online shopping center TheFind.com, directed to more than 65,535 different e-commerce stories:
- Merchants with a VeriSign Secured Seal have an average 18.5% higher click-through rate
- Online editing house Scribendi saw a 27% increase in transactions and a 50% increase in revenues with VeriSign security trust marks.
- Virtual Sheet Music saw a 13% increase in sales with VeriSign security trust marks
It's worth noting that TheFind.com has a partnership with VeriSign to display VeriSign Trust Seals in its shopping search results. TheFind.com findings are not too dissimilar from those surfaced in a McAfee sponsored study conducted by Harris Interactive. That research found that one in five consumers will not purchase from sites without a trust mark and that 60% of consumers feel safer shopping on sites with trust marks. Speaking specifically to McAfee products, a Yankee Group whitepaper asserts that retailers using McAfee SECURE, a direct competitor to VeriSign's Secured Seal, see an average increase of 12% in online sales conversions.
The evidence for trust marks increasing consumer confidence and transaction rates on e-commerce sites appears significant. Still unknown is how well it transfers to non-transactional sites. Does a trust mark enhance reputation? Time will tell.
Ray Boggs, vice president of SMB research for IDC believes that it will. He says, "Reputation is vital to the success of the growing number of small-to-medium-sized business competing in the online marketplace, and trust is a key component for protecting brand reputation and increasing consumer confidence. VeriSign's brand recognition will extend to the new VeriSign Trust Seal to help small and medium-sized businesses communicate trust and safety to customers and prospects."
For business owners, the question of ROI will likely drive decisions about spending on the Trust Seal. When asked about the value of allocating scarce dollars to a year of VeriSign Trust Seal versus dedicating those funds to social media efforts such as Yelp or Facebook that might generate referrals and word of mouth, Rosch, avoids an either-or comparison. Rather, he positions the relationship between trust services such as VeriSign and social media efforts as complimentary and hinted at social features being added to the service in the future. He does note that the Trust Seal program allows business a level of control over their reputation not possible with social media. Rosch says, "Reputation is a part of how consumers make choices and we look at building reputation as an area of trust that complements security. Trust is something [businesses] can control, they can buy, and see the clear benefits."
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