8 Basic Steps to Starting an Ecommerce Business

Thinking about launching an ecommerce business but didn’t quite know where to start? We thought we’d break it down for you. Here are eight basic things you need to have in place before you can open your virtual doors for business.

1. Ecommerce-Capable Hosting Plan
At Applied Innovations, you can host an ecommerce site on a plan as basic as our VS 1 Shared Hosting account for less than $25 per month. Ecommerce sites tend to be particularly resource-intensive, so you simply need to know that your hosting plan is compatible. You will pay a little bit more than a basic site, but most shopping cart applications simply won’t work on a basic $5 or $10 hosting plan. See more about shopping carts below.

2. A Website
Think of your website as the storefront that defines your product offering and invites your customers in. The site needs to be easy to find, to communicate trustworthiness, and to provide the fundamental framework for selling your product. A good ecommerce site offers visitors a story, and engages customers to interact with the site on different levels. You want to create a personality for your brand, and communicate your unique selling proposition or USP. Ideally, you want to establish your site as a “subject matter expert” or SME in the field related to your product, whether it’s shoes or organic spices or online training. You need to develop unique, keyword-rich descriptive content that is optimized for search engines. Be sure to integrate good Meta data (Title Tags, Meta Description, Meta Keywords and Alt tags) on all pages. And make sure you have an XML site map installed.

3. An Ecommerce Shopping Cart
There are a couple of ways to approach shopping carts. You can add a shopping cart module to a basic website, or you can actually build your site on an integrated ecommerce platform like AspDotNetStorefront, BV Commerce or NOPCommerce, which means you can skip Step 2 on this list. Other ecommerce applications supported by Applied Innovations include StoreFront, OSCommerce, Zen Cart and many others. Or you might want to start with a free open source application like Joomla or WordPress, and then find a shopping cart module add-on.

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4. SSL Certificate
SSL – short for Secure Socket Layer – is the security protocol that is used broadly across the Internet to ensure secure transactions between web servers and browsers. An SSL certificate allows a website to conduct credit card payment transactions over an https:// secure URL. So basically, you need this if you’re going to take payments, unless you stick to PayPal or Google Checkout. All of Applied Innovations’ web servers are certified for use with secured access for data transfer involving payment methods and sensitive information, and you can use this service with or without your own secure certificate (shared SSL is available on all plans.) For a very thorough (but easy-to-understand) definition, check out this page on The Linux Documentation Project website: http://tldp.org/HOWTO/SSL-Certificates-HOWTO/x64.html

5. Merchant account
A merchant account accepts credit card payments and deposits them into your bank account. For a fee, of course. You may set up a merchant account through your existing business bank, through Quickbooks, or even through Costco! Just be sure to check around and compare fees. If you’re working with a CPA, you may want to ask for their recommendations, also. In some cases, simply by having a CPA or professional bookkeeper set up the account, you can obtain lower rates.

6. PCI Compliance
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is an internationally accepted standard for credit card payment fraud prevention. Essentially, it sets standards for data control and exposure that apply to all companies that process cardholder information for VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover or JCB (Japan Credit Bureau) cards. While this topic is too vast to cover in a mere newsletter article, you may find the answers to all your questions at the PCI Compliance Guide website http://www.pcicomplianceguide.org/

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7. Traffic
You can’t sell anything unless you can drive traffic to your website. How you do that is perhaps the biggest challenge you’ll face in your pursuit of ecommerce nirvana. First, let’s talk about the “free” promotional vehicles out there. A blog is a must. Check out the article on Benefits of a WordPress Blog . A Facebook fan page for the business and your own Facebook page are also great places to start. You also can create Twitter profiles for both yourself and the business, a YouTube channel with topically-relevant videos, a LinkedIn business profile, and any number of other social network profiles. Submit your business to as many free business directories, local or review sites, or industry-specific directories you can find. Start a mailing list and send out a regular newsletter with specials and product news. Then see what kinds of promotion your competitors are paying for. Banner ads? MyPoints, Groupon or Living Social campaigns? Look into PPC (pay per click) advertising on Google, Bing or Yahoo. Price out direct eblasts (email marketing) to purchased lists.

8. Statistics
Finally, you need to be able to analyze your site traffic, referral sites and customer base to get the most out of your website. First, you want to install Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools (both free.) And then be sure to take advantage of Smarter Stats, a powerful suite of tools that are included with your Applied Innovations hosting plan. SmarterStats monitors your site performance and traffic. You may view many vital statistics about your site, including number of visits, viewer locations and peak traffic times—information that will allow you to make intelligent, informed decisions about your web investment.

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