The uninitiated might wonder why a surfer who wants to become a member can't — since on the surface it appears to be a simple matter of "if you can afford it, buy it" — but there are in fact several hindrances to this process, most notably on the billing front.
For example, my paysite, like many other single-model amateur sites, relies on CCBill to process the bulk of my transactions. CCBill has a long history and great reputation in the amateur market, but its use alone does have some drawbacks. The first of these issues is the relatively "limited" payment options offered by CCBill, which include credit and debit cards from Visa, MasterCard, JCB and Discover, as well as online checks and telephone billing, too. While this array of options may seem particularly robust from a U.S.- centric standpoint, in our global market, there are some significant gaps.
For example, credit card usage worldwide lags significantly behind the U.S. rate, even in countries where their adoption is widespread; often out of fear of unwanted charges from unknown porn companies and identity theft — serious concerns in the e-commerce realm.
There is the check option, but the same fears that keep people from handing over their credit card information may make them think twice about divulging bank account access. For many of these surfers, phone billing is an attractive option, but the CCBill program only provides for domestic U.S. land-lines. Overseas phone numbers or domestic mobile numbers are not supported.
Then there's the language barrier: Operating in a global market means reaching many potential customers who don't read a word of English. While CCBill recently added a number of language- and currency-specific join page options, the underlying transaction mechanisms remain the same. The issue of currency is also important, and I'm glad that CCBill addressed this, since it's a lot easier to make a sale if you can tell your customer the price in Euros, for example, rather than making him figure it out for himself.
While all of this makes for a formidable foundation, there are literally billions of people around the world who CCBill can't service, if only because the customer is hesitant to use a credit card or bank account. But even if the customer can read the form, has one of the supported payment mechanisms, and the desire to use it, the transaction still isn't assured.
The reason for this is what is known as "scrubbing" — anti-fraud measures whereby any suspect accounts are refused access. This could be because the customer has previously joined a paysite and then performed a chargeback; the card was reported stolen, or any of a variety of other reasons that a particular account number could find its way onto the "negative database." Each Internet Payment Service Provider (IPSP) has their own such database (which they don't share), and today's cascading billing systems were originally developed to address this issue: automatically sending the customer's billing information from IPSP to IPSP until one of them accepted and successfully processed the transaction.
Today, it's safe to say that every major affiliate program/paysite operation (as well as countless smaller ones) uses a cascading billing system, with more companies jumping on the bandwagon all the time; in part due to the easy terms offered to NATS' users and the incorporation of Mansion Productions' MPA3 system into Epoch's billing solution, making the use of the two most popular cascading systems much more accessible to adult operators at nearly every level.
Still, such a solution isn't perfect. Most cascading installations rely on a CCBill to Epoch (or vice-versa) hand-off where the hope is that a customer listed in one negative database isn't listed in another. This is simply an attempt at forcing more signups to go through the system; but there's a reason people get on the negative database; so oftentimes this is just asking for trouble. Also, both companies offer very similar billing options, so additional IPSPs also must be added into the mix to handle those 'problem' and foreign transactions described above. Also, there's the issue of paying the $750 Visa registration fee to each of these IPSPs, which along with the cost of the cascading system itself, can be an issue for the smallest of operators — including many "real" amateur site owners such as myself.
There's an additional concern regarding affiliates: many affiliates dislike working with affiliate programs that handle payouts directly, and prefer to send traffic to "CCBill only" programs. The reason for this is simple: sites that use CCBill's or most any other single-IPSP billing system's affiliate program will not have "write" access to the affiliate's stats or payments. CCBill counts all clicks and sales, including the affiliate's, and handles all of the payouts, sending out the affiliate's checks directly. This prevents "shaving" — the process by which sponsors can underreport traffic and earnings. While the publishers of cascading systems like to claim that their products do not allow "cheating" — all it takes to find a way is to hire a better programmer than the one that made the system. The result is that especially in the real amateur market, many affiliates will only send traffic to a program running CCBill alone.
So then, with all of this in mind, the challenge for me was to find a way to accept and bill customer transactions that CCBill couldn't — or wouldn't — process, and to do so without the use of a cascading system, the added cost and overhead associated with the system, the maintenance of affiliate records and the processing and mailing out of payout checks. On top of all that, I wanted to alienate as few affiliates as possible. But could it be done?
The answer was easier than I expected and came in the form of incorporating the XBIZ Award-winning Password By Phone (PBP) geo-IP targeted billing system. PBP allows you to bill 240 countries by phone (land-line or mobile) and offers "join" buttons in more than 35 languages, automatically presented to the surfer based upon his or her location. It's a pretty neat system with some interesting marketing tools and lots of possibilities.
In my specific example, the first thing I did was add one of PBP's geo-IP 'join' buttons to my CCBill "denied" page. This is the page that a surfer sees if CCBill can't process the membership transaction. In a true cascading system, the surfer would not see this page, but when using CCBill alone, a "denied" page URL may be specified. This is the perfect application of PBP technology — but certainly not the only one. Still, this is as easy as it gets to make a "pseudo-cascading" billing system — and to have another chance at closing an otherwise lost sale.
While this method will work with any billing company that you add to your CCBill-only setup, it is the "talk to your customer in his own language" feature of PBP that sets it apart from many of its competitors. Looking through the PBP marketing tools, I started to focus on my site's language barriers.
From studying my stats, I knew that I was reaching an increasingly worldwide market, with many non-English speaking visitors. Could I really use the free PBP tool-set to make it easier to reach these people?
I found a small geo-IP banner that displays a call to action in the visitor's language and put it on my home page. It's different than the button on my 'denied' and other pages, and fits well with the site's design. While I'd rather sell more lucrative recurring memberships through CCBill, if a surfer can't find his way to the join page because he doesn't speak my language, it's a lost sale without this opportunity.
And speaking of opportunities. I added an old-school exit console that pops a geo-IP join page proclaiming "no credit card needed" and "immediate anonymous access" — both of which are two powerful selling points — in the surfer's language. While pop-up console productivity isn't what it used to be, and many browsers block them by default, I can't resist this last chance to trip the surfer on his way out the door and hopefully make a sale.
At the end of the day, all of this too is an imperfect solution, regardless of the number of ways I can come up with to integrate these two billing mechanisms together into my site. But given my goals and the range of options available, the use of both CCBill and PBP make for a strong billing foundation. There is some fine tuning needed and concerns that need to be addressed to make the most of this system, but I'm definitely on the right road, and believe that many other small operators can likewise benefit. Give it a try and see for yourself.