Better Business Bureau – Valuable or a Waste?

Click to verify BBB accreditation and to see a BBB report.I was all set to write what I considered to be a non-controversial post about the Better Business Bureau.

I didn’t expect ANYONE to find fault with the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau is like motherhood and apple pie. Who could say anything bad about them?

But then I put out a quick note on Twitter about becoming accredited by the Better Business Bureau. And to my surprise I got back several messages from someone I know stating essentially that the Better Business Bureau was a waste of time. If the messages hadn’t come from someone whose opinion I respect highly, Denise O’Berry, this post might have been a simple straight forward announcement and that’s it. But there’s more to this story worth exploring ….

Becoming Accredited by Better Business Bureau

So the news is, Small Business Trends LLC is now accredited by the Better Business Bureau and the associated Better Business Bureau Online. You have to first be accredited from your local Better Business Bureau in order to be accredited with the Better Business Bureau Online.

In order to get accreditation, I was required to fill out an application, provide trade references, pay the membership fees, prove that I had a privacy policy of my site, and have been in business over a year — plus not have any outstanding BBB complaints. Oh, and the local Better Business Bureau office insisted on meeting with me personally to learn about the business and check me out.

Having gone through that process, this site is now permitted to display the Better Business Bureau insignia.

My reasons for joining the Better Business Bureau have to do with trust online. I want to give readers (you) even more reason to trust this site and the business behind it.

I spend much of my time online, sifting through information and indicia of new trends. I am sick and tired of all the spammy and/or anonymous websites out there. They seem to multiply like rabbits. They waste your time and their information can be misleading. Sometimes they are outright scams and can steal your money or infect your computer with malware. It’s a jungle out there.

Indications of Trust on the Web

When I visit a website, I look for reasons that I should trust it. Here are some of the indications of trust that I look for:

  • I want to know something about the company and/or people behind it. The About page is the one of the first pages I look for. Does the About page discuss the business, including a street address? In the alternative (since some people run home-based businesses and are loath to reveal their home addresses), are real people identified by full name? The About page is more important to me than the site’s design or its speed and performance.
  • Another thing I look for is the copyright notice. Is there one? If not, the site is suspect to me immediately. Has it been updated for this year’s date? That tells me the site is likely to be kept current and not just some temporary experiment that was later abandoned. Does the copyright indicate a person’s or business’s name (with Inc, LLC or Ltd behind it), not just the blog name?
  • Contact information or form. Can you find a way to contact someone on the website? You’d be amazed how many sites I visit that have no contact information/mechanism. This is especially true with made-for-AdSense sites, i.e., sites set up for the sole purpose of getting clicks on ads, or sites set up for illegitimate purposes. Sites like that don’t want anyone contacting them.
  • What about a privacy policy? Is there one?
  • What is the site’s age? Sometimes you can tell age by the copyright date (as in: Copyright 2004 – 2008). Sometimes you can tell by archive dates, if it’s a blog. Sometimes you can look up the site in the Internet Archive and see how long it has been active. But an established site is more trustworthy in my eyes than one that looks like it was set up last week.
  • If it’s a small business behind the site (as opposed to a large corporation), are the owners or management involved in their industry or belong to professional associations or is there some other indication of who they are? That tells me they are people who care about their reputations and have something valuable to lose. Anonymous websites, on the other hand, may or may not have a reputation to lose if they do me wrong.

How Good an Indication of Trust is the BBB?

Are these indications of trust foolproof? Of course not. Anything can be faked.

But spammers and fakers rarely go to the trouble of setting up extensive indications of trust like the ones I listed. If and when they do fake a few things, usually the fakery doesn’t survive more than casual scrutiny. Something won’t smell right. Or they are soon “outed” and their ruse short lived.

Denise O’Berry suggests that I should discuss whether/to what degree the Better Business Bureau exerts quality control  over members. Denise raises a good question. I don’t know the answer to that, Denise. I suspect as a practical matter the BBB waits until a complaint is lodged against the business.

But I do know that if members have complaints lodged against them that go unresolved, that fact will become public. I for one check for complaints at the BBB before hiring a new vendor. So ultimately I think the Better Business Bureau matters, even if practically speaking the BBB may not actively police their member body. Plus, the mere fact that a business cares enough to join says the business cares what customers and the public think.

Why the BBB Matters Online

I’m not alone in finding value in the BBB. For instance, in this post by Bloom Marketing, they give their reasons for becoming accredited by the Better Business Bureau — to promote trust. On a recent episode of my radio show, Khalid Saleh of Invesp Consulting pointed out that conversions on a website can be substantially increased by the presence of a Better Business Bureau seal or some other authoritative seal of approval (assuming you have the legitimate right to display the seal).

In this imperfect world the Better Business Bureau may not be a perfect indication of trust. But it’s one more piece of evidence to take into account. With websites little things matter. Sometimes one small bit of evidence of trust is all it takes.

That’s why I think being accredited by the Better Business Bureau and displaying the BBBOnline insignia have value, even for online businesses with no brick and mortar component.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.