So you want to start an online business and wonder what to do. Well there are two options one get a professional company to build your store for you and spend a lot of your hard earned cash or build it yourself.
These days building a website is not so difficult, there are many community programs and tools out there which make the job easy and best of all they are free of charge. So first thing first lets make a check list of what you need, then I will explain each of the items on the check list.
- Domain name: the name of the website in the navigation bar www. your keywords here.com
- Hosting Space: the place where all the information on your site is stored.
- The actual website: the codes, text, pictures that make up your site.
- A payment Gateway: ways to accept online payments like PayPal or credit card
Now before I get to analyzing each of the points above, here is something important to keep in mind. The Domain name of your site plays a major role in Search Engine Optimization. This is something I didn’t know when I build my first site which lead to bad Google ranking thus little sales. You have to make sure your domain name contains keywords that represent your products best. I highly recommend seeking the advice of an SEO Specialist before you choose your domain name.
So lets get started, where do I get a domain name? There are many domain registrars that offer domain names and good prices, for example Godaddy.com, netfirms.com and planetdomain.com to name just a few. Personally I have been using godaddy so far who have a pretty fast an professional service. Once you have purchased your domain you must point it to your Hosting Space. This is done by editing the A record or CNAME in the setting of your domain. Most large registrars will help you point your domain and it is usually even faster and easier if your get both domain and hosting space from the same company.
No that you have your domain name, it is time to choose a hosting company there are hundreds if not thousands of Hosting companies. Here are the important thinks to keep in mind before choosing a hosting company.
- Where is the server located? If you host a website that is targeting audience in Cyprus for example and you pick a host in America. Then chances are you will have a slow Ping and the shopping experience on your site will be slow and shoppers like fast sites.
- What kind of support and guarantees come with the server? Is there a guaranteed up time? Is there a 24hour support? What does support include? Some of the Host Provides will pre-install the CMS (Content Managment System) for you.
- And finally what is the cost per month. Some hosting companies offer shared hosting which is basically one physical server split in to many virtual servers with individual control. This solution is usually cheap and good for starting your first website.
- Which operating system is used by the hosting company? Personally I recommend Linux, it is very fast and reliable and I have had great experience with it so far.
So now you have your domain and hosting space, it is time to pick the CMS or Content Management System.
What is a CMS? A CMS is one of the most important parts of your online store. The Content Management system has to sides, the front end and backend also called Extranet. The frontend is what the customer sees while the backend is where you enter your products, check your sales and add content to your site. Personally I have tried Joomla with the Virtuemart Plug-in and Magento. And here is some information about both.
Joomla is one of the largest community supported CMS around. It has hundreds of free modules and components as well as thousands of forums on the internet. Joomla has a component called Virtuemart which is also an open source community program. It is simple to install and has a lot of additional Plug-ins as well as a large community for support. Joomla and Virtuemart both run on very simple servers and don’t have many special needs. I have used this solution for my first web-shop (which I still run today).
Magento is aE-commerce solution it is build and designed to sell, while Joomla can be used to build non Ecommerce websites Magento is strictly business. One of my favorite parts of Magento is that it is all Integrated, here are some of the features that are already in the package of version 184.108.40.206 which I am currently using.
- PayPal Website Payment Standards integrated
- Canonical URL’s for SEO
- Google Sitemap (SEO)
- Compare products
- Google Analytics ECommerce Integration
- Easy Backup
- Import and Export Via XML or CSV
There are many more options that come in the Magento Package that must be installed separately in Virtuemart. But its not all sweetness with Magento, the down side is that it is more demanding then Joomla and virtuemart which means you will need a dedicated or Virtual dedicated server. Most shared hosting will not be sufficient to run a Magento store. Which means it will be more expensive to run, a shared host could cost as little as 4-5 Euro’s a month while a virtual dedicate server will start around 20-30 Euros a month and a dedicated server at 150 to 250 Euro’s. I have been using virtual dedicated servers which has been working great on all my stores. I even added 3-4 more websites on the same server without any significant speed issues.
So now that we have almost everything done we need to enter our products, sell them and receive payments. There are various ways of accepting payments depending on your region and country. If you are in the UK or US for example PayPal offers a full integration accepting PayPal Payments and Credit Card Payments without the customer needing a PayPal accounts. If you are not in the UK or USA then there are other options like Moneybookers which has a module for Magento is easy to set-up. Its important that you can accept payments otherwise how are you going to sell? Some delivery companies will do cash on delivery for you but that would be for a more localised sale.
I do recommend that you get an SEO expert to help you with optimization and and that will give you important tips BEFORE you start building your site.
So now that you have the guidelines do some more research and conquer the online world of ecommerce.