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WebsiteSecure.org: Certifying Websites for Consumers

Stephen Yagielowicz
In recent months any webmaster who has been paying attention to the business overall can recall hearing about "shady" billing practices ranging from sites that were posting cross-sales below the submit button on their join pages, to sites with less than ethical terms stated in their Terms of Service Agreements.

Many honest webmasters and site owners have expressed their disgust with fervor on industry message boards and at recent live webmaster events. However, most took the approach that there was no real way for the average webmaster to remedy the problem or to curb the growing distrust of all join forms by an already fickle consumer market.

Now, things are changing and a new service from WebsiteSecure.org is providing a meaningful resource for honest paysite owners, affiliate marketers and consumers. Best of all, it appears to be having a noticeable positive effect on submit ratios for some major industry brands already.

In the mainstream, some commercial sites have made use of trust seal programs like Verisign and McAfeeSecure to help differentiate their online products from lesser known and less secure competitors. In fact, a few adult sites have also gone to considerable expense to add these services to their sites with varied degrees of success. While these companies do have strong brand recognition with consumers, the services they offer are mostly limited to things like virus scans and SSL certification, which tends to protect the consumer from third-party hackers rather than from the site itself. WebsiteSecure.org is taking a different approach.

"I firmly believe that most site owners are honest, ethical people seeking to do business in a profitable and fair manner," said Stewart Tongue of WebsiteSecure.org. "Unfortunately, not everyone is ethical and even a small number of scammers can have a very serious chilling effect on the marketplace as consumers are taught by their unscrupulous actions to distrust online shopping in general. By certifying sites, doing test joins and cancels, reading through the terms of service, privacy policy and examining the overall ethics of a particular site from the consumers' point of view, I believe we will be able to assist honest site owners with creating a bright line between their trustworthy websites and the less-examined potentially unethical sites that lack any official certification."

Already the certification program has started to gain significant traction with noteworthy adult affiliate programs and mainstream clients as well. Hustler has recently agreed to having their websites certified and to display the official WebsiteSecure.org seal on them. ARS, VideosZ, Blazing Bucks and several other top tier affiliate programs also are adopting the certification system quickly. Influential sites such as Wasteland.com are displaying the certification seal of approval and applauding the efforts of WebsiteSecure to restore a level of trust among consumers and affiliates.

"Wasteland has been online since 1994 and that gives us the advantage of having seen this industry evolving from its origins," Wasteland.com's Colin Rowntree said. "There has always been a battle between honest ethical businesses and the fly-by-night opposition. We see WebsiteSecure.org as an important new way for our sites to demonstrate to consumers and affiliates that we have always and will always stand firmly on the side of doing what is ethical. The long-term success of our own sites and of the industry as a whole is dependant upon honest business owners and consumers overcoming the reckless few who fail to see the importance of the golden rule."

Similar comments were echoed by many successful program owners who have been in the industry since it began.

"ARS has been in the industry pretty much from the start, during that time we have watched many short-sighted webmasters come and go with hair-brained schemes unfortunately aimed at screwing the surfer," said Becky of ARS. "WebsiteSecure.org is an idea that frankly should have been created years ago, but now that it's finally here we are excited to have our sites certified. WebsiteSecure allows us to monetize the strong reputation and integrity that our sites have always been built on."

Of course there are also monetary benefits to having a site certified by WebsiteSecure.org because of the impact that trust has on consumer confidence, and the way confidence can positively affect conversion ratios.

"At VideosZ we know the importance of earning the trust of our customers," VideosZ's Clement said. "We had already been using Verisign with some success, but when we learned that WebsiteSecure.org was going even farther to certify site ethics by doing test joins and comparing join form terms to actual statement information, we knew they were going in the right direction. Now we are displaying both seals on our join page and while a rise in submit ratios of a few percentage points may not sound like much to a novice webmaster, it is very significant to anyone with a deeper understanding of how this market really works."

An increase in submit ratios may only be the beginning, as the brand becomes better known and gains traction in both mainstream and adult, the positive effect of being certified is predicted to become even greater.

"RoyalVault.com has always been a clean program and we truly believe anything that assists potential customers with identifying our site as the ethical entertainment portal, that we work so hard to create, is something worth considering," Easton of RoyalVault.com offered. "When we looked more deeply at WebsiteSecure.org and became aware of the many ways the site actually benefits consumers we decided to give it a try. So far we have already noticed a significant increase in our submit ratios since displaying official seals on our sites and we expect the effect to become even stronger as their brand becomes more well known."

WebsiteSecure.org has been adamant from the beginning that the certification process is intended to service mainstream and adult site consumers. More than 200 sites in mainstream and adult have already become certified and the number is continuing to grow quickly. The service includes a rigorous inspection and continuous monitoring by human staff and automated scripts. Each certified site is assigned a unique certificate number, which can be seen on the official seal for a particular site and entered on the company website by consumers to verify its authenticity. In this way WebsiteSecure.org makes it far more difficult for scammers to copy and paste a seal or to fabricate one without consent because the verification process will quickly inform consumers that the seal is not genuine as soon as the number is not found in the database or the domain name.

Perhaps most importantly of all, while WebsiteSecure.org continues to build brand recognition in adult and mainstream markets among consumers, it seems to have already found a strong foothold among affiliate marketers. Some have made the logical inference that if a particular site is displaying the WebsiteSecure certification seal, not only has it been verified for potential customers, it has also demonstrated to an impartial third party that it is treating affiliate traffic in an ethical manner. Therefore, the biggest news of all for site owners considering having their sites certified may well be the notion that the brand is capable of potentially improving ratios, and raising the likelihood an affiliate might decide to send some traffic to a particular paysite as well.

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