All small online businesses face a common issue. They do not have a large brand name, awareness, nor sufficient credibility because people are not familiar with the vast majority of small businesses. Consequently, small businesses who do not clearly and convincingly demonstrate trustworthiness and reliability, face lost sales, abandoned shopping carts on their websites and failure to close leads. The trust issue has a direct impact on a small businesses? ability to be successful.

A few years back, there was a study that showed that this trust and credibility issue impacts small businesses to the tune of $21 billion in lose sales due to trust and security issues. For online small businesses, an industry has sprung up offering? trust seals to help companies try to address this crucial trust and security concern. These trust seals typically focus entirely on helping online ecommerce stores address the trust issues. However, the trust issue impacts every type of small business from online stores to almost every type of service providers such as small law firms, accountants, contractors, consultants, plumbers and bloggers.

This post will discuss a brief overview of the range of trust seals that are available to help small businesses. I will also cover which type of small business should consider using which seal, who sells them, and any issues that may arise with particular types of trust seals.

The trust seal universe is broken into the following categories: SSL Certificates, Website scanning seals, Business Information seals, Bonding seals, Privacy seals and Trust and Business Transparency seals.

1. SSL Certificates – The Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol was created to ensure secure transactions between web servers and browsers. The protocol uses a third party, a Certificate Authority (CA), to identify one end or both end of the transactions. In lay person’s terms, this basically is an encrypted communication between an online buyer?s browser and the browser and server of the small business of the selling website. Every site that is selling online should have an SSL certificate because otherwise your customers will be sending their credit card information unencrypted over the internet. No one wants to have that happen. Typically SSL Certificate sellers must conduct some level of validation for a business prior to issuing an SSL Certificate for a website.

SSL certificates are provided by companies like Verisign, Comodo, GoDaddy, Thawte, DigiCert and Network Solutions. There are also different types of SSL certificates from DV (validate a business? right to use a domain name), OV (validate the domain name and? certain items regarding your organization) and EV (extended validation of your business).

The key to remember is that SSL certificates generally only serve online stores and do not serve other small business websites.

Best for: Online stores and pricing ranges anywhere from $33-125/month.

2. Website Scan Seals Another type of trust seal is used by small businesses to communicate to the world that your website gets scanned according to a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. In some instances, small businesses can also get a third party to monitor your small business websites hosting server. The scans and monitoring are generally for the purpose to check for a defined list of vulnerabilities, attacks and the presence of certain malware.

The companies that provide these types of scanning trust seals include McAfee, Verisign? Trust Guard and Comodo (HackerProof).

Again the vast majority of the websites that these seals are focused on are ecommerce sites. Additionally, there have been reports of nearly constant security breaches on websites across the world and these seals have not been found to have avoided or detected any of those breaches. These scans may be helpful to identify low grave vulnerabilities or malware on your website, but with the major proliferation of malicious malware that is active and being spread worldwide on a daily basis, it is unlikely that these website scans will detect the more damaging and harmful vulnerabilities.

Best for: All businesses with websites, but typically used by online stores and pricing ranges from $9-$168/month for these seals.

3. Business Information – A business information seal is a seal which provides information about the legal, physical and actual existence of a small business. In some instances, the seal may contain some very basic information such as name of the business, location and address. Typically the information is cursory and not in depth about this business. These seals are generally issued in conjunction with a membership with an association so there is limited information that is provided as a part of this seal.

The companies that provide these types of Business Information seals include the Better Business Bureau (BBBonline) seal. Generally this seal is another example of a seal where a small businesses is purchasing an association with a larger and established brand so that they can place that brand on their website. The thinking is if this larger and established brand has issued my business this seal, then a website visitor should trust me. The BBBonline seal has been under attack recently for a number of different practices such as selling grades for businesses and has even received the attention of the Today Show for their questionable trust seal practices about how the Better Business Bureau handled this recent incident with this small business.

Best for: All Businesses, but typically just used by online stores and pricing is approximately $33/month and is a part of an overall membership.

4. Bonding? – Another type of seal is a seal that allows online merchants to show that they are trustworthy and reliable by having a third party guarantee a shopper?s purchase with a bond, up to a certain amount of money (some go as high as $25,000). This seal basically communicates to shoppers that if they buy from a merchant with a bonding seal that there purchase may be guaranteed up to a certain value.

buySAFE is a company that offers a bonding seal to online stores. In order to get a buySAFE seal, they will have your website undergo the buySAFE certification process to assess trustworthiness and reliability of your website and if you pass that your business will be able to guarantee purchase terms of sales for shoppers up to $25,000, give them some form of identity theft protection for 30 days and 30 day price drop protection up to $100. ?This buySAFE seal has been in the market for some time and mainly is geared toward larger small businesses that have higher transaction volumes of at least $1,000 a month of website sales.

Best for: Online Stores with larger transaction volume and pricing ranges vary and include an option for taking a small percentage of total monthly sales for the small business.

5. Privacy? – A privacy seal is used by small businesses to convey to website visitors that their business maintains some level of practices related to privacy matters. These level of practices can be commitments about how the small businesses uses shopper information and how that information is maintained, stored and used. These commitments and practices are confirmed by a third party in some manner and then a privacy statement is generated for the privacy seal that generally covers how a business handles confidential and sensitive information of its customers.

TRUSTe is one of the main providers in the market of such a privacy seal for small and medium businesses. The TRUSTe Web Privacy Seal indicates that TRUSTe has reviewed a websites privacy policy and it adheres to TRUSTe?s privacy program requirements.

Best for: Online Stores and the prices for the TRUSTe seal range from $41-82/month.

6. Trust and Transparency Seals -? The final type of seal is a trust and transparency seal. This type of seal allows small businesses to take information about their own business, website, management, financial history, policies, locations, website traffic and displays all of that information for website visitors. The purpose of these seals is to give shoppers and website visitors extensive information about a small businesses so the potential customer can make a well-informed determination about the trustworthiness of the site. This ?type of seal is essentially a merchant report card for a small business with information that is continually updated. This seal allows small businesses to take their own track record of reliability and trustworthiness and make that transparent to shoppers at the point of sale or for website visitors when they are reviewing a service business website.

KikScore is the only provider of a seal like this and that also includes a unique and dynamic online trust score for the small business. The online trust score is based on the information and data that is available for a small business.

Best for: All Small Businesses, both online stores and service providers such as lawyers, plumbers, contractors, bloggers. Also non-profits and charities can use a trust and transparency seal. The price for a trust and transparency seal is $14.99/month.

What Seal is Best for Your Business

As described above, each of these seals have their respective uses. However, in the end a small business should ask themselves what is at the heart of the trust and credibility issue that they face as an online business. The heart of the issue centers around an information asymmetry between the website visitor and the small business. The visitors generally just does not know enough about the business and who is behind the business and website. That leads to lost sales.

That is why the single greatest weapon that a small business has in the battle to win trust online is the weapon of information and data. Not just any type of information and data, but key pieces of information about the history of a business, their track record of reliability, management and other data around a business. In the end, the more information your business provides to website visitors, the higher chance that the website visitor gains a level of comfort.

Lastly, the seals that provide information and transparency in your business are highly recommended to use to solve the trust issue, but trust is a multi-dimensional issue so we also recommend using the various seals together. For example, if you are an online store we recommend that your small business website also has an SSL Certificate too in conjunction with a trust and transparency seal.