Creating your online business
When setting out to create your online business there are a range of things to take in to consideration. Whilst you may already have in mind how your site will look, perhaps it’s time to consider a few other things.
Have you actually considered how you are going to get people to your site? High Street stores, at one time, could almost rely on ‘passing trade’ – literally people walking past and, thanks to a striking offer or clever window display, entice people inside. These, hopefully, might become regular customers, tell their friends and so on.
Naturally that’s leaving a lot to chance so most will try some form of advertising. The same goes for the internet. You could try pay-per-click ads or pay an agency for a social media campaign or aim at getting people through your virtual door by SEO (search engine optimisation). Recommendations have always been the best weapon in a business’s arsenal and your first customers will always be the most hard to win.
Who do you want?
You really should decide who you are looking to attract and that’s who you should focus on. Have your site laid out as clearly as possible and in a way to attract your focus group. Your customers need to find what they are looking for within seconds of landing on your site – no matter what lead them there and where they landed within your site.
Get your name – start your domain
Chances are, one of the first things that you thought of before starting this journey was what you were going to call your business.
Make sure you choose a domain name that is short, catchy and memorable – ideally with no dashes in the name. You’ve also got a range of choices to follow your name. Will your site be a .com, .uk, .london, .org, or one of the many others?
Some of these places may offer deals for SSL certificates which are used to encrypt and secure online transactions – more about those later.
Hosting and platform
Once you’ve grabbed your shiny new domain name you’re going to need to have it attached to a host. It’s kinda like getting your shop sign and now you need a building to pin it to.
The places I mentioned to register your domain with both offer hosting and it’s down to how you intend to build your business site. Will you be using WordPress, as I do for GadgetyNews and the other sites I’ve built, or will it be a Drupal-based site, and so on? I use WordPress as it’s so simple that I can use it and kinda tweak it using my scant coding knowledge.
I use Dreamhost to host my sites. Bluehost seems to be popular as is Hostgator. If you’re looking to go pro straight off the bat then Synthesis appears to be one of the top ones. However, I would suggest starting off with one of the others as they’re cheaper and, until you really get going, you’re most likely not going to need a super-powerful host that can withstand thousands of hits per second. It would be nice if you proved me wrong, of course 😉
How are people going to pay?
The other benefit in using a platform like WordPress is that there are a range of shopping cart plug-ins to choose from.
OpenCart is a great starting point but should you require more features then Magneto is very much worth checking out, excuse the pun. The merch page for my band is run using the Simple eCommerce plug-in. Again, this is a new band and we’re not expecting hundreds of fans hitting the page wanting to buy badges and tees – yet. Think about what you need, not what you want.
The first thing your customers are going to think before handing any money over to your business no doubt be – “is this transaction secure?” That’s where SSL (remember that from earlier?) comes in.
There are quick and nifty ways for someone of my coding, or lack there of, skill to accept payments online. PayPal will definitely be something you’ve heard of, Google Checkout perhaps less so. Both are really good to get you going and are reasonably simple to set up.
The best way, naturally, would be to have your site set up to accept credit cards.
Obviously, using PayPal is the easiest way to accomplish a credit card payment – when your customer selects to buy whatever you’re selling they will be directed over to PayPal where they punch their details in and then, once that has been completed, they are redirected to your site.
The tidiest, and more professional way to accept payments would be to do it directly through your store.
This is where Credit Card Merchants come in. The almost ubiquitous PayPal makes another appearance, but this time as PayPal Website Payments Pro. Another good one to keep in mind is Authorize.net.
The requirement of PCI compliance only applies if you either store, process or transmit credit card data. That’s precisely what will happen should you decide to use services like Authorize.net or Paypal Website Payments Pro as you’ll be squirting over credit card information to the gateway.
What is SSL?
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a standard security technology that establishes an encrypted link between a server and a client — usually a web server (website) and a browser.
SSL allows sensitive information such as credit card numbers and login details to be transmitted securely.
Normally, data sent between browsers and web servers goes back-and-forth as plain text. This leaves your customer potentially open to eavesdropping and having their data swiped. If an attacker is able to intercept all data being sent between a browser and a web server they can see and use that information.
Internet users have come to associate their online security with the lock icon that comes with an SSL-secured website or green address bar that comes with an extended validation SSL-secured website. SSL-secured websites also begin with https rather than http. Look out for that the next time you buy something online or are signing up for a paid service.
SSL Certificates have what is known as a key pair: a public and a private key. These keys work together to establish an encrypted connection. The certificate also contains what is called the “subject,” which is the identity of the certificate/website owner.
To get a certificate, you must create a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your server. This process creates a private key and public key on your server. The CSR data file that you send to the SSL Certificate issuer (called a Certificate Authority or CA) contains the public key. The CA uses the CSR data file to create a data structure to match your private key without compromising the key itself. The CA never sees the private key.
Once you receive the SSL Certificate, you install it on your server. You also install a pair of intermediate certificates that establish the credibility of your SSL Certificate by tying it to your CA’s root certificate.
How does the SSL Certificate create a secure connection?
When a browser attempts to access a website that is secured by SSL, the browser and the web server establish an SSL connection using a process called an “SSL Handshake”.
Essentially, three keys are used to set up the SSL connection: the public, private, and session keys. Anything encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted with the private key, and vice versa.
Because encrypting and decrypting with private and public key takes a lot of processing power, they are only used during the SSL Handshake to create a symmetric session key. After the secure connection is made, the session key is used to encrypt all transmitted data.
Do I really need SSL?
One of the most important components of online business is creating a trusted environment where potential customers feel confident in making purchases.
Browsers give visual cues, such as a lock icon or a green bar, to help visitors know when their connection is secured.
If your site collects credit card information you are required by the Payment Card Industry (PCI) to have an SSL Certificate. If your site has a login section or sends/receives other private information, you should use SSL Certificates to protect that data.
Your customers want to know that you value their security and are serious about protecting their information. More and more customers are becoming savvy online shoppers and reward the brands that they trust with increased business.
There are, of course, companies out there that can sort out the whole shebang – SSL web server certificates and EV – such as Thawte who not only will give your process that green address bar which shows your customer that they are entering their details in a secure environment but a site seal and 256-bit encryption. This subscription comes with a $1.5M warranty too.
Now you can get back to the fun stuff. There are plenty of ‘template’ sites out there and, again, WordPress can get you up an running pretty swiftly. There are also plenty of freelancers out there that will probably be able to build you something pretty snazzy for less than you’d expect.
Try to stick to a defined pallet of colours – think about your favourite brands and how many colours they actually use. Make sure that the colours, logo and style match what you want to evoke.
Time to build your empire
I hope that this has raised some points for you to consider before heading off to create your business. Good luck and I hope that you achieve at least what you hope to.