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2000 Guide to the Internet
by Bob Brooke



Perhaps you've worked for someone else long enough and it's time for you to branch out on your own. The Internet offers unlimited opportunities for doing business. Although the debate continues to rage on the topic of Internet commercialism–originally it was created for academic and research use–the graphical environment of the Web seems to be perfect for commerce. A would-be cyber vendor trying to sell T-shirts online just a few years ago would have been roundly "flamed" for even suggesting that the Internet could be a potential market.

Today, the Internet community has expanded to such a degree that the newest participants have come to expect and even demand online business activity. This is especially true with any computer hardware- or software-related company. If you can't find a ready resource for online support of a computer product, you should take that as a signal that the company is less than fully committed to customer service.

There has never been a better time to launch a business. Web site than right now As a business communication medium, a Web site has the capacity to encompass the functions of marketing, advertising, research and providing corporate information. Initially, your business should focus on one or two of these key areas to determine how to establish your presence on the Internet.

What Makes a Successful Business Site?
For successful communication on the Internet, you need to have customers come to you–and come back to you–with an information exchange that leads to increased revenue. The first thing you should do to be successful on the Internet is target who will buy your product. You need to find where these people go when they're online. What do they do? What do they read? And can you reach them regularly and at a low cost?

There's no point in trying to sell to a particular group of consumers if you can't easily identify them and reaching them is costly. If your market is so specific that in order to reach just one customer you have to advertise to thousands of people who would never buy what you're selling, then the Internet may not be for you.

But if you choose e-commerce (doing business on the Internet), you must give your customers what they want and more. You must add value and linkage to other useful information on the Web. And by all means, you must never offend potential customers by giving them only what they need, as opposed to what they want.

Creating a professional-looking site takes some doing. Experience has shown that the design of a Web site isn't as important as the words used. After all, it's the words, not the graphics that sell products! The words download almost instantly, while graphics take longer. The entire home page should be on a customer's computer screen in less than 20 seconds.

The key to using the Internet successfully is attracting people. If your site isn't user friendly, people won't visit it, despite all the high-tech software you used to design it. Your site should also be capable of being updated immediately while incurring marginal costs, have a multimedia combination of presentation technologies, and encourage and promote cross-marketing.

The Internet's technology encourages businesses to become linked electronically. By linking with other Web sites, you'll gain access to even more people who are online. Interactivity, at some level, is essential to the success of your business Web site. Your business must solicit and respond to those potential customers who are looking for interactive communication. At a minimum, your Web site should provide e-mail for customers and others to contact it. You can also accomplish interaction by providing opportunities for guest books, monthly surveys, registration for free items, requests for more information about your business and your products, requests for samples, files transfers of documents, and accepting orders.

Lastly, your business' domain name can be as important as its business name. The name you choose should be easy to remember so customers can go directly to your Web site. If your company conducts business using a registered trademark, you should be able to obtain that name for use as your domain name, although there are no guarantees that it's not already in use by a different type of business.

Online Security
Since so many people have access to information on the Web, it became necessary to find a way to secure private information such as credit card numbers. Each Web server and browser have built-in encryption, or the manipulation of data in order to prevent any but the intended recipient from reading that data, which allows a secure link between the user and the company owning the Web page. This allows a user to order an item using his or her credit card without it falling into the wrong hands. 

This is done by using a Security Certificate, a chunk of information, stored as a text file, that’s used to establish a secure connection. It may contain information about who it belongs to, who it was issued by, a unique serial number or other unique identification, and valid dates. In order for a secure connection to be created, both the server and browser must have a valid Security Certificate.


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