SiteTruth Wants You to Know Who You’re Dealing With

    January 28, 2008

It’s no wonder that your customers have learned to be a bit wary on the Web.

SiteTruth logo

Spam steals their attention. Scams steal their money. Phishing steals their very identities. Some of your customers are relying on search engines to separate the wheat from the chaff. If your company shows up at the top of the search results, searchers assume that it’s because your company is reputable, but John Nagle thinks Google needs some help.

John is the founder of SiteTruth, which provides a real-world check on any commercial Web site. Search engines do a wonderful job of examining Web factors to deduce the importance of a site. Google’s PageRank examines the number and authority of links to any site—other search engines use similar techniques. But John says that spammers and scammers can sometimes infiltrate the search results, despite Google’s best efforts.

SiteTruth uses traditional off-line investigative techniques to check out the business behind the Web site, and it does it automatically. John demonstrated how SiteTruth works on a keyword such as "tampa hotel" as it scores Google’s regular results, and you can try it for yourself. (SiteTruth can work the same magic on search results from other search engines, too.)

How does it work? SiteTruth examines up to 20 pages on a Web site looking for a postal-style address for the business responsible for the Web site. SiteTruth validates a site’s SSL certificate to ensure that it is a "real" certificate, not just a so-called "domain control" certificate, which anyone can get. It uses the address and the URL to locate the business in the Yellow Pages database and in Open Directory. It also looks for a valid Better Business Bureau seal of approval. You could imagine that the service could one day look up business identities with Dun & Bradstreet or credit reporting agencies or a dozen other company reference files.

By looking at all these factors, SiteTruth makes a determination whether a commercial site is trustworthy, or whether some questions might be in order. "If a site is reasonably legitimate, we’ll come up with a business identity," John confidently asserted.

I checked it out on several well-known Web sites—most came up green or at least yellow. Then I tried it on my own site: red.

"A lot of blogs have this problem," John admitted. My site has no mailing address listed because I am an author, not a business. I saw no reason to list my home address on the Web. Because I don’t have an e-Commerce site, I have no SSL certificate and even though I’ve tried, my site has been on the waiting list for Open Directory for years. And, no business, so no Yellow Pages listing and no BBB seal.

But that’s OK. My site really isn’t a business, so it’s OK that I don’t pass muster as a trusted merchant.

I’d like to see SiteTruth go beyond search results to be used as a browser plug-in or a GreaseMonkey script. That way, I could refer to it whenever I browsed the Web. SiteTruth is still in alpha test, so I’m not sure how John will make money from this idea. Maybe he could sell spam fighters and identity theft services in ads on the detail pages for each company’s ratings. Or sell the service to one of the big search engines. Whatever he decides to do, I think SiteTruth is a good idea whose time has come. Why aren’t we using real world methods to test the legitimacy of Web sites?

So, go ahead. Check out what SiteTruth says about your Web site. If you’re red, maybe you should be doing something about that. You never know when one of the search engines might decide to use some of these factors in its ranking algorithm.