starting a new business is hard when you have nobody to guide you or give you any advice or tips or learned wisdom. so I am going to share my experience and what I lave learned with you. I have not implemented e-commerce, but I am studying how for the day I need to do this for my own business.
tell you up front
- just to let you know, having a web site on a search engine is NOT a guarantee of business or customers, but everybody expects you to have one, such as a Facebook page.
- they may not be local
- unless you are an internet business, your state business license should allow you to cover your entire state if you do travel for your business, like a service-based business. or your state may only allow you to operate within certain cities. check your state business license application or call your state licensing department to see how this works. in the USA, you usually have to have a state business license. regarding that, talk to your accountant about an appropriate business structure and about licensing in your state and also to the state licensing department. a visit to SCORE may also help. a business bank acount is also needed, and the business checks that go with it cost money.
- I get VERY few calls from people who visited my web site even though I am on search engines (I could maybe put myself on some business lookup services like yelp or whatever, there are others). like maybe once every couple of months right now. currently, I am only on google, yahoo, bing and have not advertised elsewhere.
- advertising requires you monitoring searches
- people may use your web site to:
- find your business location(s) - provide a map or location services to your store/location through a "pushpin" (you register your businesses' location) at maps.google.com or maps.yahoo.com or mapquest.com
- buy products (e-commerce), look at products, check out the price of a product, look at detailed product specifications and benefits - this has costs for site setup, merchant account setup and transaction and statement fees, setup fees and time, maintenance time when product line changes unless you have access to an external manufacturer-supplied or chain-supplied product database.
- an "about us" that may include a mission statement
- a "contact us" page so customer can contact you or support or customer service by email form, chat, or phone. provide any phone numbers you may wish to share with them. note that email forms must be secured from spam by various security methods, like using tokens, recording and checking the server filepath against what you recorded (disadvantage of this while it prevents remote form posting, virtually-hosted hosting accounts may shift this location from time to time effectively disabling your form, to it requires checking once in a while - if it's been silent, then you know, you might want to have the server-side script notify you by email if this is different so you know to change it.). also try form validation for fields. do SQL injection detection (google sql injection).
- visit product info pages for further support or information, downloads, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
- look up knowledge base articles for already-solved technical problems so they don't need to call support
- get downloads or drivers for their product. this is usually provided through a top-menu-item called drivers & downloads or just downloads
- get downloads or drivers
- view or download your menu (so someone can email it to a friend) if you are a restaurant
- look at the services you offer and details thereof for your service-based business
- site builders are called a CMS. if you get one, after you have it set up, perform a backup through the hosting control panel and do a backup again if you make changes. delete the old backups, they take up precious space.
if you choose one, if you lose your site and you don't have a backup, your site goes down for any reason, you can't recover your web site, and note that that backup is only good for that hosting provider. also, a CMS is not portable if you choose different hosting (for example, if you host through a web designer, and change web designers and therefore lose that hosting) because a CMS usually uses a database (unless you use tinycms). back it up after you get your site put up at least, and every so often. my choice is tinycms - it doesn't use a database, and it is small, can be backed up and restored well and it's portable.
- most CMS are very hard to set up and most people who have a hard time with computers will have a hard time with using a CMS to update their site, even the easy ones. the easy ones are supposed to be plug-and-go. I found joomla extremely hard to use. I have not tried drupal.
- a facebook.com business presence is usually a popular idea. it could be used in place of a web site, but it has very limited functionality and feature sets.
- you only need SSL (https://) if you are going to sell products on it or are handling people's personal information. SSL certificates go with this, need to be updated once in a while, and have expiration dates, so put it on your cell phone's calendar and set a reminder so it notifies you when the time comes.
- know that with SSL (https://), switching to http:// from https:// (SSL) can cause their personal information to be open to view, so don't do it if you can avoid it. you have seen that warning from your browser.
- if you are processing credit cards, you may need a merchant account at a bank or costco or paypal and hosting with possibly PCI compliance in many states in the USA. I am unsure if paypal web site processing meets this requirement.
- there is monitoring involved with PCI compliance, I don't know whose responsibility it is to do the monitoring, maybe it's the hosting's? find out. The Payment Card Industry web site offers classes on their stuff.
- if you purchase your own e-commerce hosting, $20-$25/mo. yola.com is $20/mo for their CMS e-commerce hosting. an example of standard e-commerce hosting is pcicomplianthosting.com
- site design costs,these vary. yola.com charges about $500 up front (1st year) and uses HP for site design for their CMS.
- domain costs $15+/year, should you choose to get that from godaddy.com or networksolutions.com in bulk. usually you want to tack onto this
- domain protection
- whois privacy
- graphic design fees, if any. optional. may be possibly done by the web designer. ask them. usually this kind of stuff ismore for print materials and such, logo design, business card design, letterhead design, flyers, and that sort of thing, and coming up with a color palette and choice of fonts that you want associated with a trademark or with your business. this is for larger businesses usually, that need a unified look for their business "this is our company". this is the kind of stuff you want to feed the files to the web designer from the graphic designer. they MAY need to collaborate on this. Adobe products are best for doing this sort of thing because it's an industry standard file format. there may be other licenses you need to start your business, depending on business type. at least get yourself an accountant who knows how to set up businesses.
- expensive PCI (Payment Card Industry) site compliance fees, including when you change your site. you have your site audited. there is also monitoring involved with PCI compliant hosting, but I don't know who does the monitoring (you or the hosting company?) ask support who is responsible before buying, and if you are responsible, ask how to set it up - you may need to be tech savvy.
- large file hosting fees. shared hosting vendors either want you to host these files OFF of their servers, such as on a file hosting server (read: FTP as in hostedftp.com at $10/mo@10GB, $40/mo@40GB, 160/mo@160GB 2/2/2013). you can have a link on your site to the external FTP URL. usually any file over 2GB in size is considered a large file (depends on the policy of the hosting company, they will let you know when you have exceeded a limit). also check out akamai.com they I think have global software delivery (FTP?) and e-commerce hosting and software/content delivery and content streaming.
- expect to pay for hosting years and domain years in bulk if you want higher search engine ranking. search engines love long-term sites.
you don't need domain certification,that's just extra cost for no benefit.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)/site marketing
there is white hat and black hat SEO, the white hat being the good stuff/good guys.
the SEO is hard to do by yourself if you are a business. paying for it can help a lot if you need a site. you have to do things like make sure the title of your site matches the domain name matches the title tag and the content is relevant to the title, the site is single-purpose (single subject), things like that. search engines seem to love blogs. in fact, here's google's list.
GOOGLE ADWORDS: you have to pay for google adwords, but it can be used to optimize your site based on searches done against your pages, etc. it costs some dollars for this. when they are giving you $100 worth of free usage, you can expect it will cost you many times that, and the $100 is a drop in the bucket. you pay per click. borrow a book from the library first to find out more about google adwords.
expect to pay for hosting years and domain years in bulk if you want higher search engine ranking. search engines love long-term sites.
avoid "site marketing" offered by domain/hosting companies. it's black hat link exchange marketing, is black hat search engine link spam and email spam to you, and you don't want it associated with your site. search engines will ding your site's ranking for it. I got it once, and I was asked to remove a couple of links I posted that I got from that which after my own investigation I *thought* were harmless. they were, but Google was chasing down the link spammer for bad practices and making them remove their links by contacting the people they sent links to. and I got the link exchange service from a large domain vendor. I hope they quit selling that package.
yola.com offers to make a pro site using HP Web Design (to do the template and site design) with a "site builder" but I don't think they offer seo. maybe it would be better to get the SEO+site package unless you like doing things yourself. Sometimes those site builders like Joomla can take 6 months to learn. HTML can take about 3 months to 6 months to learn. yola.com is a CMS, you get professional site design, but your site is in a database and on files, and it's stuck on their server, may or may not be transportable to somewhere else.
see the SEO Techniques page. take a local class on white-hat SEO techniques. perhaps one is being taught at a computer store near you. Look for them. also note that these techniques change over time, because the ranking algorithms change over time (to prevent abuse). the basic rule always applies well, real content works best and ranks well.
You can choose, via meta tags, whether or not to index your pages, images, videos, and such like. this is done via <meta name="robots" content="noimageindex,index" /> and is documented at your favorite search engine's "webmaster tools" help area.
it's a good idea to do site backups periodically, or if you are doing HTML, backup your originals into a 7-zip archive with a copy of 7-zip, and then onto to a DVD or CD, name and date it with a black ultra-fine sharpie, and file it.
as far as SEO folks go, where are white-hat and black-hat. I don't know how to tell exactlywhich kind you have gotten a hold of. But I know a few things you don't want. link exchange marketing is something to avoid. godaddy offers this as simply "site marketing" for a fee. you get spammed with garbage link exchange requests that have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of your site. and the search engines rank by relevance. I hope they understand they got hoodwinked.
CMS "Site Builder/templates" sites
if you want a templates-based site, and don't want to mess with things like the hassle of a database and want portability for your web site, and the ability to easily back it up, there's tinycms. it uses no database. it modifies files in-place, which is really nifty for a CMS. advantage of this is you can make easy site backups, and even test on your pc using a test server and deploy to the production server in batch if you wish to do it that way using an ftp client like filezilla.
know that when you buy a package from a web designer or a CMS "Site Builder" site, you usually pay them for hosting from then on and you are locked in, unless you ask them for a cd of the site and the username and password, or you have purchased the site and are giving them access like adding an FTP account.
I have run into several people who said "I bought a site-builder site from X and I don't want to deal with them anymore and they didn't give me a cd of the site, etc, can you recover my site for me?" and their site is basically lost unless they copy and paste the text from their own site. when it's a template-based page, this is usually not possible to transport, since it is database-driven. you at least need a copy of the database and the site files and then you would need to reconfigure the database and PHP files.
or you can simply copy your text and keep your company images on your local machine and stick it on a cd for safekeeping.
usually the database is typically customized to the site and the web server it's on, and you need to know the configuration parameters, and that locks it in. it's hard to change the database once it's been customized, but it MAY be do-able if you tinker with it, but no telling what will happen, it depends on the way the code is written. sometimes, it's not just as simple as making 1 change to the database.
this is why I don't like CMS template/"site builder"-based pages. I have used Joomla (I wouldprefer Drupal now) and I currently use and customize Dreamweaver HTML templates. dreamweaver templates are essentially plain HTML files with some extra special code thrown in for easy customization by the GUI. Dreamweaver can be used like a word processor for web pages in design mode. by the way, you can use Microsoft Word to make web pages (save as HTML), it's just not as pretty or as accurate.
SECURITY: A CMS also requires constant updating. this is usually up to YOU to maintain. not maintaining it every 3 months can mean your site/server getting hacked.
so take these things into consideration. that ease-of-modification means you are locked into a vendor for the lifetime of the site. you are far better off learning HTML+graphic design rules+, purchasing the site yourself, and have someone else do the SEO.
If you choose a CMS (site builder), you can do the modifications via the web, but you are locked into a vendor (web hosting provider or web designer). If you choose HTML, and you made the site yourself, you can make changes any time you wish and keep it relevant and looking the way you want.
HTML+CSS or DHTML files are easy to back up, download, upload,update, and they are secure, too!
there are tiny CMS's as well. these are MUCH easier to set up.
dropped payments (perish the thought)
If you go with a CMS, (or get any site) you need to keep from dropping a payment or your site is possibly lost (unless YOU specifically do site backups and download them to your computer for safekeeping). You need to think about your domain too. those domains can be snatched up by domain squatters. I also found out that the hosting companies hold those domains for you for a time period for you to buy them back if your domain lapses. I think this is someof the "squatting". so if you see a junk site instead of yours, check with your hosting company's billing department. you may have missed a 6-month notification email.
copy of site
If you decide to get a DHTML site and hire a web designer, ask your web designer for a "copy of the psd's, and anything else involved with the creation of the site, basically a copy of the site files, on a CD or DVD in a 7-zip archive". zip files MAY NOT handle the size of your site on your machine.
For a CMS, Your images you approved/purchased and the text for your site you can copy from the site manually if you need a backup, or go into the CMS' resources and download those images and files the ones in the resources area are not apart of the CMS,they are usually yours. the text you will have to copy and paste into a text editor or word processor. wordpad or microsoft Word would be best. you might want a separate file to list the links you have.
"it needs to pop"
Endless revisions with the designer saying "it needs to POP" doesn't help you, it just delays your project, and makes the web designer feel bad. they want to be creative for you. so give them a break.
ask for a CD-ROM of your design's original files, including databases, site files, everything necessary to make it work, when the design is done. you paid for it.
domain names and business names
As you can tell by my former business name "Jim's Computer Repair and Web Design", I had to learn that a short business name is almost critical (learning the ropes still with my small business), as evidenced by the mistake of making my business name really long (but descriptive). chalk that one up to experience. I am going to try to keep my business name down to about 3 words if I can.
I remember someone saying something once about long domain names being a bad thing. They are: some web sites and business-oriented stuff breaks or truncates your name when your business name is long. You can learn from my mistakes.
I didn't type it out to see how long it actually was and what a pain it actually is to type. something to think about. keep it short and *sweet* (no grungy/bad names, bad does not equal good) first, descriptive second, easy is even better. You may not get the domain you were looking for (there's an overload), but try and be inventive, you just may get something that works for you.
When I am typing, if a lowercase letter is repeated as uppoercase next, or vice versa, this seems to jam up my flow of typing. like the rR, or Rr.
Long business names break web forms for business-related things and mailing labels and business cards, long business names are a bad idea. don't do it.
godaddy.com is an expensive place to go for domains. it can cost $120/year for a protected domain with all the needed features, but this also means that you can get any hosting you want (as long as it's not a CMS/site builder). there are other domain places to go to out there.
It might be a good idea to think up a list of viable business names first and then attempt to get the domain you really want before changing your business name. OR, check domain avauilability before starting a business. Everybody expects you to have a web site nowadays. that's how people find you now. Don't forget the phone book. if the computer's down, the phone book comes in very handy...
e-commerce, paypal, PCI Compliance, and SSL
ABOUT: a merchant account gives you (the merchant) credit card processing capability. e-commerce [web sites] are regulated usually by PCI (Payment Card Industry) Compliance in many states in the USA, but not all as of 2013. I do not know about foreign countries.
Where to get a merchant account:
- your bank's business services person
- Paypal seller's/merchant account (they are now a bank)
- Elavon at Costco
- other: google merchant services
Merchant accounts, merchant equipment, & Legal agreements:
usually what you get with a merchant account is a card terminal which hooks up to a dedicated phone line and it processes your payments. you get this when you sign up for a merchant account with costco, or your/a bank, or with paypal. they want all sorts of information. there are special rules regarding what you can charge for and what you cannot charge for, so read all the fine print and make sure you undersand it.
Merchant account fees
: a merchant account has fees: for example (this may be dated), Elavon at Costco has:
$25 application fee
+1.48%/transaction+$0.20/transaction retail OR
up until 4/2014 (?) you were not allowed to pass transaction fees onto your customer. you had to eat the cost. part of the fees may still be that case at least, so read the legal fine print or the PCI Compliance rules/regulations/whatever so you know your responsibilities, and write down on a piece of paper what those responsibilities are in a nutshell to avoid a mistake - commit to memory if you can. train your sales/support folk. if it's still the case that you should not be charging transaction fees to customers, don't. you can get in trouble, possibly lose your account.
PCI (Payment Card Industry) Compliance is usually required for anything handling credit card purchases over the internet and probably for card transactions in most states of the USA. they have awareness classes for $495-$995 and PIN Trtansaction Security fees for as of 6/7/2014 I think are required now that you have to pay for, whether webinar or whatever. PCI Compliance involves server monitoring. I don't know if this is done by the hosting (like yahoo.com or pcicomplianthosting.com) or by you the merchant. e-commerce hosting costs about $25/mo + yearly domain costs which ranges from $15-30/year for .com/.org/.net and $70/mo for exotic domains.
PCI Compliance for a web site in its current state incurs a fee. I don't know what this fee is or whether the fee changes over time.
Paypal & SSL:
paypal might bypass the need for PCI compliance, unless you sign up with them for credit card processing - ask them to verify, I don't know this for sure, I read it somewhere in a comment that I wasn't sure about. people still expect you to protect their transaction information with SSL, so serve up the page over https not over http with a valid SSL certificate.
if you want to advertise your site, get an account on google webmaster tools and bing webmaster tools. you acan submit sitemaps, get free search keywords info that people have used on your site, get statistics, manage crawl errors. submitting your web site to these two will put you on all the other search engines. dmoz.org might be hard to submit to since you have to be a (sub)directory maintainer. other ways:
- local restaurants: yelp (this is also a phone app)