How to Create an E-Commerce Web Site Empire
A Step by Step Tutorial
Introduction: The Elements of E-Commerce
Your business may be small-but the
Internet lets you think big. Whatever product or service
your business offers, the Internet levels the playing
field and lets you compete with bigger businesses,
reaching customers around the world who can conveniently
buy from you 24 hours a day.
But in the competitive world of the
Web, growing your business and increasing your profits
online requires some careful planning. For every successful
e-commerce businesses, there are dozens that fail
by not addressing basic risks and pitfalls along the
way. So to take full advantage of the e-commerce opportunity,
make sure you base your Web business on a solid foundation
that covers every element of e-commerce:
- Establish your identity. The right domain name,
or URL, can make the difference between a memorable
e-commerce identity and getting lost in the online
- Find the right online home. For brick-and-mortar
stores, location is everything. Your e-commerce
business needs the right home, too. Purchase and
set up your own Web server, or find a home for your
site with the right Internet Service Provider or
- Build an attractive storefront. With the right
tools, creating 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.
- Let customers know they can trust you. In the
anonymous world of the Internet, customers will
communicate private information, like credit card
numbers or phone numbers, to your e-commerce site
only if they're sure your site is legitimate and
the information they send you is protected. Make
sure your site is secure-and that your customers
- Make it easy for customers to pay you. You can
set up your site so customers can pay by simply
keying in a credit card number. But then how will
you process that transaction? Make sure you not
only offer customers a variety of convenient payment
methods, but that you can process them all.
- Let the world know about your site. A memorable
domain name, a great-looking design, and top-notch
products and services can make your site successful
only if customers know about it. Don't neglect promoting
your site to drive traffic to it.
Clearly, building the elements of e-commerce
into your Web business is a big job, but it's too
important to ignore if you want your e-business to
grow and thrive. Just take the following steps to
ensure that your e-commerce business gives you the
I. Step One: Establish Your Online Identity with
the Right Web Address
The first step toward e-commerce is
name of your site. Your Web address (also called
a URL-Uniform Resource Locator-or "domain name"),
tells customers who you are and how to find you on
the Internet. It is the core of your Internet identity-your
online brand. And because no two parties can have
the same Web address, your online identity is totally
A. What's In a Name? Everything. Remember
that not only does your domain name tell customers
exactly how to find your business on the Web, but
also it communicates and reinforces the name of your
business to every Web site visitor. It can also be
used as part of your e-mail address to establish your
online identity. Keep these tips in mind before you
- Make it memorable. "Amazon.com" is
much catchier than "booksonline.com."
- Describe your business. Another approach is
to simply and logically describe your business.
"Flowers.com" works perfectly for a
florist. And if you are setting up an online presence
for an established business, keep the name of
your site the same as the name of your business.
- Keep it short. The best domain names are those
that customers can remember and type into their
browsers after seeing or hearing them only once,
so complicated strings of words like "onlinecdstore.com"
don't work as well as a simple phrase: "cdnow.com."
B. How to Get and Manage Domain Names
Once you've decided on your Web identity, the next
step is to determine if it is available and then
with a domain name "registrar." Registering
is easy and inexpensive, so do it as soon as you've
decided on your domain name to make sure you get
the name you want. Many businesses register a number
of variations, just in case they want to use them
later-or to avoid the risk of competitors obtaining
similar names. You also may want to register common
misspellings so that all customers who incorrectly
type your address still find their way to your site
instead of receiving an error message. E-commerce
businesses most often register a name with "com"
as the domain name suffix (the letters after the
dot; also called a top-level domain, or TLD), but
often also register their names with ".net"
and ".org" (for "organization").
Other suffixes include ".tv" and ".edu"
for schools and universities. The Internet Corporation
for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently
announced seven new TLDs - .biz, .info, .name, .pro,
.museum, .aero, and .coop.
1. How to Buy an Existing Domain
Name What happens if the domain name you want is
already registered? You can either choose another
name or buy your first choice from whoever got it
first. The fact that the name you want has already
been registered doesn't necessarily mean it is not
available for sale. You can easily find out whether
a domain name that has already been registered is
2. How to Register Domain
Names Worldwide The Internet is global-shouldn't
your business be, too? Registration of multiple
domain names for use around the world protects
your intellectual property, brand name, and trademarks
against infringement by global cybersquatters.
If you plan to do business in other countries,
you can register country-specific Web addresses
(in country-specific TLDs such as .ita for Italy
and .uk for the United Kingdom) with Network Solutions'
idNames search and registration service. But as
your business grows, you may find that registering
and managing multiple domain names is a complex,
time-consuming process. IdNames can also consolidate
worldwide domain name management into a single
centralized account if you have 50 or more domains.
Once you've established your Web identity by selecting
and registering your domain names, it's time to
build your site.
II. Step Two: Build a User-Friendly
With a domain name in place, you're
ready to start building your e-commerce storefront.
But before you begin, take some time to plan.
A. Plan Your Site Carefully
First, identify clear marketing goals for your
site, such as generating leads, building a database
of potential customers' names and e-mail addresses,
or putting a product catalog online to save the
time and expense of printing and mailing. Quantify
your objectives-such as increasing sales by 15 percent-so
you know whether or not your site is successful.
Then, figure out what your potential customers need
to know before buying your products and services.
This might include:
- An overview of your company, its products and
services, and their applications
- Complete product or service descriptions, including
features, key benefits, pricing, product specifications,
and other information, for each product or service
- Testimonials, case studies, or success stories
so customers can see how similar individuals or
organizations have worked with you
- An FAQ section that anticipates and answers
customers' common issues
Plan the structure of your site, focusing on making
it easy for customers to learn what they need to
know, make a purchase decision, and then buy quickly.
Create a site map that outlines every page on your
site from the home page down and how customers get
from one page to the next. Use tools that quantitatively
measure site activity-where customers are clicking,
how often, and whether they end up purchasing-and
then compare the results with your goals.
B. Choose the Right Site-Building Tools
With a solid plan in hand, you're ready to start
constructing your e-commerce site. Many e-commerce
businesses turn to professional design studios to
create their Web sites. But if
your budget is limited, many Web site building
tools like online
website builders make it fast and easy for you
to create a polished, professional-looking site-with
no in-depth HTML knowledge necessary. The entire
process can put you on the Internet in less than
24 hours at convenient and affordable monthly prices.
C. E-Commerce Site Design Tips
Following these basic guidelines will help make
your site not only attractive, but also easy for
customers to use-and that means easy to buy from
- Carefully examine your own favorite
e-commerce sites. Creatively adapting the
most compelling marketing and design techniques
will enhance your site's effectiveness.
- Your home page is your site's-and your business's-online
front door. It's essential that it make a good
first impression on visitors. Make sure it clearly
presents the following basic elements that customers
are always likely to look for:
· Your company name, logo, and slogan,
prominently displayed. Take full advantage of
the opportunity to showcase your brand identity.
· A link to an "About the Company"
page for customers to quickly learn who you are
and what your business offers.
· A site menu listing the basic subsections
of your site. Keep this menu in the same place
on every page throughout your site to make it
easy to navigate.
· A "What's New" section for
news, announcements, and product promotions. Frequently
updating this area will encourage customers to
· Contact information. Don't make it difficult
for visitors to find your phone number, e-mail
address, mailing address, and fax number.
· Your privacy statement, clearly describing
your business's policy for protecting customer's
- Make it easy for customers to explore your
site. As you build your site, try to minimize
the number of clicks it takes the customer to
go from your home page to actually being able
to click "buy" and checkout. Four to
six is a useful rule of thumb. Make sure links
make sense, so customers know what to click to
find what they're looking for. Don't make your
navigation buttons or links too dominant an element
in your site design: instead, focus on product
- Keep things simple. Don't fill up your site
with graphics, animations, and other visual bells
and whistles. Stick to the same basic color palette
and fonts your company uses in other communications,
like your logo, brochures, and signage. Ensure
that images and graphics serve to enhance, not
distract from, your marketing goals. Make sure
your text is easy to read-black letters on a white
ground may not be terribly original, but they
are easier on the eyes than orange type on a purple
- Keep download times short. Test pages to make
sure they're not too overloaded with graphics
that slow load times-and minimize the size of
your images when possible. According to the Boston
Consulting Group in American Demographics (August,
2000, p 46), nearly half of online shoppers surveyed
said they left sites when pages took too long
to download. Zona Research estimates that most
Web pages take anywhere from 3 to 11 seconds to
load, depending on the user's modem and Internet
connection (remember: many e-commerce customers
shop from home using slower connections). Most
users click away to another site or log off if
a page takes more than 8 seconds to load, costing
e-commerce businesses billions in lost potential
As soon as you've completed this step,
you're ready to put your site on the Internet.
III. Step Three: Set Up Your Web Server-or Select
an ISP to Host
Your Web site is a series of files that
reside on a special computer, called a Web server,
connected to the Internet. For customers to visit
your site, they must actually connect to that Web
server via the Internet and view the files. Web servers
and the Internet connections that link them to visitors
must be fast and powerful enough to quickly respond
to all the visitors' requests to view your site.
Many businesses prefer the complete
control of purchasing, setting up, and managing their
own Web server hardware and software. Other small-
and medium-sized e-commerce businesses prefer to turn
to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or Web
hosting company, instead of investing in the hardware,
software, and infrastructure necessary to get online.
For a monthly fee, ISPs and Web hosting companies
will connect your site to the Internet at high speed
via one of their Web servers, allowing the site to
be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection and
a Web browser. The host provides your site with space
on a server, and also offers Web server software,
access to its high-speed Internet connection, tools
for managing and maintaining your site, customer support,
e-commerce features, and more. There are hundreds
of ISP and Web hosting options to choose from, so
look for one that can meet all your needs.
IV. What to Look for in a Web
Shared hosting or dedicated server?
Shared hosting is an arrangement in which your site
is housed on the same host server with several other
Web sites. This is an economical solution for smaller
sites. Paying the host for your own dedicated server,
a solution used by larger and busier sites, provides
faster access and ensures that your site will be
accessible to visitors 100 percent of the time (instead
of sharing Web server speed and power with other
sites). Does your ISP or Web hosting provider offer
Hard-disk storage space. Smaller
sites may need only 300-500 MB (megabytes) of Web
site storage space, while busier e-commerce sites
may need at least 9 GB (gigabytes) of space-or their
own dedicated Web server. As your site grows, your
ISP should be able to accommodate you with a range
Availability. If you run an e-commerce
business, your site must be accessible to customers
24 hours a day. ISPs and Web hosts maximize the
availability of the sites they host using techniques
like load balancing and clustering. Can your ISP
promise near-100-percent availability?
E-mail accounts. E-mail accounts
that match your domain name are often available
from your ISP. Are they included with your monthly
access and hosting fee?
SSL Encryption: The security of
the credit card numbers and other personal information
customers send you should be a top concern. Does
your ISP or Web host protect your site with an SSL
server ID? See Step IV below to learn more about
Web site security.
Support. A big part of the value
of turning to an ISP or Web host is that you don't
have to worry about keeping the Web server running.
Does your host offer 24x7 customer service?
V. Accept Credit Cards
cards and other methods of payment online for
your online business is crucial to your businesses
success. If a customer has to send you a money order
by mail, your sales will suffer because most people
won't want to do that. It's too slow to do it that
way. They have to wait until the check gets to you
in addition to waiting on the package to come from
you. The hardest task with setting up an ecommerce
website is to find a trustworthy and reliable service
that will allow you to accept credit card payments
online and without too many problems.
VII. Step Seven: Promote Your Site
You can have a great web site, but if
no one knows it's there it won't do you any good.
Add it to search engines,
directories, spam-free ffa
pages, and guest books. Ensure not to put blatant
advertisements in someone's guest book. That's very
rude and would offend anyone. Take a look around the
person's web site and tell them what you liked about
it, while also leaving your link. Invite them to sign
your guest book if you have one. You should attach
your url to every email message you send out. This
makes it easy for surfers to come back to your web
site. Be patient because it takes time build up a
steady flow of traffic. Paid Promotion is highly
recommended because you don't have to wait to be listed
in search engines.
VIII. Now, Start Selling
With an online identity, a Web host,
an eye-catching, professional-looking Web storefront,
rock-solid security, easy-to-use payment management,
and the right promotions, your e-commerce business
is ready to succeed in the competitive world of the
Following these basic steps will help
you lay the foundation for a thriving site. Good luck.
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