Posted Friday, October 1, 2004
Small business owners can have a big presence on the web, whatever product or service you are offering, the internet levels the playing field and lets you compete with the bigger businesses, reaching customers all around the world who can buy from you 24 hours a day.
In the competitive world of the internet, being successful requires careful planning and taking the right steps.
This article will help you to take the right steps to launching a successful ecommerce website and will provide you with links to the proven service providers.
STEP ONE - FIND THE RIGHT ONLINE IDENTITY
The right domain name, or URL, can make the difference between a memorable e-commerce identity and getting lost in the online crowd.
One of the newest search engine trends concerning domain names are keyword based domain names, or domain names that contain the main keyword or keyword phrase that a site is being optimized for.
Traditionally this entails placing a hyphen between each word in the domain. This is done because most search engines read hyphens as a space, thus allowing the domain to contribute to increased positioning for that keyword. Examples: If the main keyword for your web site was "fitness videos," and keyword domain name would be (www.fitness-videos.com).
Currently around 20,000 new domains are registered every day, so it's a good idea to register yours right away, to see if your domain is available go to (http://domains.brandblast.com)
STEP TWO - FIND THE RIGHT ONLINE HOME
For brick-and-mortar stores, is everything. Your Web business needs the right home, too. Purchase and set up your own Web server, or find a home for your site with a reputable Web host.
Finding the best hosting service for your Web site can be really difficult if you don't know what to look for. These tips will help you weed out the impostors and choose a web hosting service that will meet your business Web site needs now and in the future.
. Be cautious of free web hosting services. Not all offer server side support which is needed if you require guest books, polls, counters, etc.
. Free or very inexpensive web hosting can result in experiencing frequent "down-times" (inability to access your web site) or poor technical support.
. When shopping for a web hosting service, ensure that there is a technical support phone number which is either local or toll-free. Long distance calls may be costly and e-mail only support may in some cases, cause confusion and not resolve the issue promptly.
. Shop around. Price differences are common in the web hosting service industry and some are needlessly high.
. Ask yourself the following:
. Can this web hosting company accommodate potential future needs?
. Will I have to look for a new host in the event I want to add e-commerce or wireless capabilities?
I. f I need a database, can the web hosting service accommodate it?
. How much does the hosting service company charge in the event that I need extra web space, e-mail, or bandwidth?
. If the web host service offers different packages, what do I have to do to upgrade my existing package and do I have to pay an extra setup fee?
. How fast will my account be activated?
. Does this web hosting service company claim to have few down-times? Be cautious of companies that claims to have 0% down-time.
. How much data transfer am I allowed? Each person that visits your web site will use a portion of bandwidth to access each page. (Example: It takes more bandwidth to download a photograph in one second than it takes to download a page of text in one second.)
If you're expecting a very large volume of visitors, please account for this and enquire about how much bandwidth you're allotted and how much the web hosting service charges for extra bandwidth.
Search for a host that will work with your current and future needs, for new site owners or site owners unhappy with their current host, I suggest Brandblast's reliable and reasonably priced services, find them at (http://brandblast.com)
For more information on website hosting view "Website Hosting 101 - Learning The Basics" available at (http://brandblast.com/webmaster-resources/free-ezine-articles/website-hosting-hosting-basics.html)
STEP THREE - BUILD AN ATTRACTIVE STOREFRONT
With the right tools, a Web site is easier than ever-but following some basic guidelines will help make your site easy and fun for customers to navigate. And that means more sales for you.
If you're planning on designing your own website, the best place to start learning is WebMonkey, you can view an easy to understand article on website design by going to (http://hotwired.lycos.com/webmonkey/html/97/05/index2a.html?tw=design)
If you are going to hire a professional website designer, it is important to choose a responsive, responsible, and experienced web designer for your projects. We suggest that you use the following as a guideline when choosing a web designer:
. Look at the web designer's portfolio. See if you like the work they have done. Our website provides the portfolio of our member designers for your review. To choose the right designer from our web site, consider the look and "feel" of the websites they have built.
. Look at their qualifications and skills. It is important that the web designer has both the right technical and creative skills for your project. If you are considering a web developing company, make sure the company has both the technical expertise and artistic talent. You should also contact them directly and inquire about their qualifications.
. It is important to work with a responsive web designer. You should expect to be contacted within a few days of your initial inquiry with them.
. Some of you may prefer to work with web designers who are close-by. I recommend you consider quality as well as proximity. It would be better for you to work with a qualified person or company instead of someone who is simply close-by.
The great thing about professional website designers is that most of them allow you to request a free quotes, get your first free quote at (http://brandblast.com/website-design/website-design-proposal-request.html)
STEP FOUR - MAKE IT EASY FOR CUSTOMERS TO PAY YOU
Have you purchased a product online by sending the company a check by mail? Neither will your customers, if you want to sell products and services online, you will need to be able to accept credit cards. For this to happen you will need the following;
. Internet Merchant Account: A special account with an Acquiring Bank that allows the merchant to accept credit cards over the Internet. The merchant typically pays a processing fee for each transaction processed, also known as the discount rate. A merchant applies for an Internet Merchant Account in a process similar to applying for a commercial loan. The fees charged by the Acquiring Bank will vary.
For a merchant account with low rates and instant approval go to (www.e-onlinedata.com/brandblast)
. Payment Gateway:A service that provides connectivity among merchants, customers, and financial networks to process authorizations and payments. The service is usually operated by a third-party provider such as VeriSign.
How Payment Authorization and Settlement Works
Payment processing can be divided into to major phases or steps: authorization and settlement. During the authorization phase, verification is made that the credit card is active and the customer has sufficient credit available to make the purchase. The steps in the authorization process are:
. Customer decides to make a purchase on the Merchant's Web site, proceeds to check-out and inputs credit card information.
. The Merchant's Web site receives customer information and sends transaction information to the Payment Gateway.
. The Payment Gateway routes information to the Processor.
. The Processor sends information to the Issuing Bank of the Customer's credit card.
. The Issuing Bank sends transaction result (authorization or decline) to the Processor.
. The Processor routes transaction result to the Payment Gateway.
. The Payment Gateway passes result information to the Merchant.
. The Merchant accepts or rejects transaction and ships goods if necessary. Because this is a "Card Not Present" transaction, the Merchant should take additional precautions to ensure that the card has not been stolen and that the customer is the actual owner of the card.
The second phase is the settlement process during which money is transferred from the customer's account to the merchant's account. During this process the following takes place:
. Merchant requests the Payment Gateway to settle a transaction
. The Payment Gateway sends all transactions to be settled to the Processor.
. The Processor sends settlement payment details to Customer's credit card Issuing Bank; at the same time the Processor sends payment details to Merchant's Acquiring Bank.
. The Issuing Bank includes the Merchant's charge on the Customer's credit card statement while the Acquiring Bank credit's the Merchant's account
When taking your customer's sensitive information over the web you will have to provide a secure method for transferring their data, you can do this by using a secure certificate.
How Authenticated SSL Certificates Work
An authenticated SSL certificate allows the receiver of a digital message to be confident of both the identity of the sender and the integrity of the message. Fundamental to the process of issuing high-assurance SSL certificates to an organization for use on its Web site are three basic, and very important, authentication and verification steps:
. Confirmation that the organization named in the certificate has the right to use the domain name included in the certificate
. Confirmation that the organization named in the certificate is a legal entity
. Confirmation that the individual who requested the SSL certificate on behalf of the organization was authorized to do so
So how do you implement a payment gateway to process payments on your secure e-commerce site? Building your own dedicated pipeline to connect all the players isn't a practical option, so outsourcing to a professional may be an option, Brandblast's business development specialists can help you with all your ecommerce related needs and can be reached for questions at 866-206-9898
STEP FIVE - LET THE WORLD KNOW ABOUT YOUR SITE
We're almost done, now that you're site is ready for the public, how are you going to let people know about your great products and services?
Here are a few time proven ways to get that potential buyer to become your new client.
. Pay-per-click search engines
These CAN get you visitors and sales. But remember this:
(a) Target your keywords carefully;
(b) Make your headline as specific as possible. For example, $19.95 e-book shows how to..." etc, will ward off non-buyers, attract buyers - and thus minimize your costs.
. Your own affiliate program
Should you have one? Definitely. But first you need to:
(a) have a proven sales letter;
(b) set strict guidelines for your associates;
(c) be sure you can handle up to 100 orders in a short time;
(d) automate tracking of orders and commissions. This will save you BIG headaches.
. Joint ventures
Here is a winner. Why not find other sites and ezines that serve your target market? You have the product. They have the list. Offer to split with them 50/50 if they send a letter of endorsement to their customer list.
. Ezine ads
Also, ezine ads are still very effective, because you reach a targeted audience. An ad at the top of an ezine might cost up to $275, but can produce a response rate of 3 to 5%.
. Writing ezine articles
Did you know that the most published articles are "tips" to help readers? Also in high demand are "How to" articles of 300 to 500 words.
Are you feeling STUCK? Feel like you can't write? Just try a simple conversational style. Small words! It works!
Tell your own experience. Maybe you've learned how to deal with spam... or how to choose a web host... or to build a better site. Share your tips!
. News releases
Traditional business practices such as press releases are a good way to get the word out there about your new business, word it properly and it should increase awareness about your new service and product.
Any one of these methods could catapult you to success! So go for it!
There are many ways to market a website and trends are always changing, joining a webmaster forum may be a great way for you learn from other webmaster about what works and what doesn't, places like (www.sitepointforums.com/) , (www.webmaster-forums.net), and (www.techie-forums.com) are great places to get help and help other webmasters become successful.
Running an ecommerce can be an satisfying experience and can be achieved by following my advice, if you have any questions about your ecommerce venture feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: e-commerce, ecommerce, build website, online business, web based business, search engine,
About the Author
Alessandro DeBarros is a business development specialist for BrandBlast, a CT based firm whose cutting edge hosting services is quickly being recognized around the world as a leader in its field. At a current base of 5,000 clients, BrandBlast specializes in small to medium business hosting, providing small businesses with the services and support they need at affordable prices.