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Shared SSL Certificates vs. Private

Dec 1, 2009
by Eric Leuenberger

A big part of increasing conversion on an ecommerce site involves building trust and credibility with your customers. After all, would you provide your personal information to a site that did not appear to be secure, or that made you question its credibility? I didn't think so. Having said that, just how important is site security to sales conversion, and does it make a difference if you use a shared SSL certificate vs. a private one?

Consider This:

Two different studies were conducted by two prominent companies. One study by Forrester Research, Inc. showed that a whopping 84 percent of consumer survey respondents indicated they thought retailers were not doing enough to protect them online. The other finding from London based TNS PLC, a market research company, found that 75 percent of online shoppers surveyed say they had abandoned a retail site due to security concerns. For small to mid-level retail companies with less brand awareness, the concern grows naturally higher. Additional findings from the TNS PLC study found that when those customers who admitted to site abandonment were questioned further, 90 percent said they would have gone ahead with the sale if they had seen a recognized security marker.

Trying to Save Money Will Cost You Money.

Unfortunately, in an effort to minimize expenses, many of these small ecommerce businesses escalate the inherent consumer skepticism by using a shared SSL certificate, instead of a private one. Although less expensive, shared SSL certificates force consumers to third party websites for order completion, leading to potential credibility barriers. Besides a noticeable change to the domain in the browser's address bar, using a shared SSL certificate also creates the following challenges to businesses' trust-building efforts:

  • Slow website load time of the third party website has a negative influence on a website's credibility and convenience for the customer.
  • Limits ability to improve shopping cart performance with usability and influential strategies like adding assurances, minimizing requested personal information and arranging forms fields for ease of use.
  • Redirects the credibility to the third party provider and away from the ecommerce business.
  • Inability to post a "clickable and directly referenceable" SSL certificate logo, like GeoTrust, Truste or VeriSign, on the website for credibility.
  • Customer inconvenience with "Continue shopping," functions that cause movement back and forth from a website to the third party.

Do Not Fear, but Beware.

If using a shared SSL certificate is a start-up necessity, do not fear. It will not necessarily prohibit sales, as long as you create a positive customer experience leading up to the checkout process. Customers who are motivated to purchase and who have gained a reasonable level of trust with your website may not be put off by a shared SSL process, but be aware that the conversion increases you will gain may always fall below those that would exist if you had your own private certificate.

Also keep in mind that ecommerce websites using shared SSL certificates from services like PayPal (owned by eBay) or Google Checkout, experience fewer credibility challenges because of the associative credibility gained from the prominent brands. No matter, the end net result more often than not falls below those results gained by utilizing a private certificate. As mentioned in my past articles, the opportunity to improve conversion is dependent on building customer confidence through credibility, convenience and relevance. Unfortunately, using shared SSL impedes efforts for improving conversion. When seeking higher performance, it has been proven that moving to a private SSL certificate (versus a shared one) is a prerequisite. You can get your own private SSL Certificate starting at just over $100.00. It is an investment that is well worth the effort.

What Can We Learn?

There is little question that presenting a security logo adds perceived credibility to an ecommerce website. However, from a perspective of trying to improve website conversion, presenting a security logo is only a small piece to an overall strategy to build credibility. Establishing trust with customers (which results in increased conversion) requires additional testing. For example, placement and size of a security logo can directly affect the potential improvement of a website's conversion.

A Marketing Sherpa case study reported a security logo test performed by Petco, a national pet supply retailer. The test involved varying the placements of the Hacker Safe logo across its website, to gauge differences in conversion rate gains. The test outcomes produced the following results: The logo in the lower left corner of the navigation bar resulted in an 8.15 percent increase in conversions. The logo below the footer on the lower right increased conversions only 1.76 percent. The logo on the upper left between the search box and the navigation bar increased conversions 8.83 percent.

Understanding the implications of this test provides insight into how you might consider testing security logo placement on your website. Placing a security logo along your visitors' eye flow path, such as the top left location underneath your company's logo (as in the case of, may generate higher awareness and translate into stronger conversion improvement. Testing is the key to success. Without it, you cannot be certain what impact the alterations you make have on conversion.

Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce Optimization blog He coaches store owners using his online coaching system, Ecommerce Amplifier (, teaching them how to increase website sales using his proven six step process. He can be contacted at 866-602-2673.

Topic: Web Tech Tips

Related Articles: ecommerce 

Article ID: 1248

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