taking your business online

Selecting a good domain name

The domain name also referred to as the website address or the URL (Universal Resource Locator), enables consumers to locate online traders. A typical URL would look like the following:

In the above scenario, ‘mca’ is the domain name, distinguishing the Malta Communications Authority from other organisations, the ‘.org’ is the suffix which indicates to which Top Level Domain (TLD) it belongs whilst ‘.mt’ denotes the country. There are only a limited number of such TLDs, and the ones used in Malta are:

.gov for Government agencies

.edu for Educational institutions

.net for internet service providers

.org for Organizations (non-profit)

.com for Commercial business

A good domain name will describe who you are, what your business is and where it is located. It is, very important that you choose a domain name that best reflects your business as this can help consumers remember the name easily and trace your website without difficulty. It will also make you more credible whilst boosting your brand name. However, the name of your brick and mortar store might not always be the best domain name for your website, unless it is widely known or it is a household name. Many website owners believe that a short, simple domain name might be better than a longer one. However this might not always be the case. Consumers are getting more familiar with domain names, and besides, it is also possible to bookmark sites – consumers can easily access a site by clicking on the name in the bookmark directory. It is important to note that should you change your web host[1], your domain name goes with you. Regular visitors or consumers who know your website’s name would not need to be informed about this change. They would simply type your domain name and they would be brought to your website which would be merely hosted in a different location.

Choosing a descriptive domain name is key for a successful commercial website, otherwise you risk being ignored by search engines. Moreover, you could go the extra mile by registering possible combinations of your domain name to prevent competitors from using your name or others setting up fake websites.

 

Registering for a Domain Name

The accredited body that has the responsibility of managing the registration of domain names in Malta is the Malta Internet Foundation, more commonly known as NIC  Malta (Network Information Centre), a committee that was inaugurated in January 1999.

You would need to:

  1. think of a few good domain names that would suit your business and not limit to just one domain name. According to Verisign, the number of registered domain names, as at end March 2016,  reached 326 million, so there is a good chance that a domain that you select might already be in use!
  2. obtain the DNS IP addresses and names of your primary and secondary name servers from your web host company. This information can usually be obtained from the web host company’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or other documentation on its website, usually under a category like “domain name” or “DNS” or “domain name transfer” and similar.
  3. register your right to use that name with NIC Malta. Access NIC Malta and follow the steps on the website.

Planning the website

A well planned website can attract the right users! You need to ensure that the website is well organised and easy to navigate to find products and/or services whilst providing sufficient information to allow customers to take informed decisions. Having the appropriate customer service mechanisms in place, providing email confirmation of orders and clearly indicating the total cost before customer commits to the sale, all contribute towards reassuring the latter of your trustworthiness.

When planning the website, regardless of whether you are doing it in-house or outsourcing it, you need to:

  1. Be clear about what you want to achieve;
  2. Know your customers and understand their needs;
  3. Make your products and services easy to find;
  4. Make it easy for customers to buy from your site;
  5. Avoid using too many colours & limit the amount of graphics to the minimum necessary;
  6. Make sure that the website ranks highly in search engine results. You can achieve this by implementing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) on the website. This allows for traffic to be directed to the website and is crucial for customers to discover your online store;
  7. Ensure that the website is easy to navigate;
  8. Ensure that links to other pages are obvious;
  9. Ensure that your website works on both desktop and mobile devices.

It is important to keep in mind that the manner in which you present your business will greatly impact your eCommerce growth. A badly-designed website or an outdated website can ‘kill’ an online business.

Once your website is up and running, it is important to start understanding how customers are reaching your website and their behaviour once they are there. This can be easily achieved through the use of website analytics as these  provide insight into the use of your website, in terms of:

  • how many people visited your site;
  • how many of the people who visited your website were unique visitors;
  • how visitors reached your website (did they follow a link or did they reach your site directly);
  • what keywords visitors searched with on the search engine;
  • how long visitors stayed on a given page or on the entire site;
  • what links visitors clicked on and when they left the site;
  • what device visitors used to access your website; and
  • which pages were mostly favoured by visitors.

A number of web analytics software are available (Examples of free web analytics: Google Analytics, Yahoo Web Analytics, Facebook Insights, etc), to help you monitor your website’s performance and determine which areas of your site are popular and which areas are not generating any traffic. It also provides you with data that can be used to restructure your website to create a better user experience.

 

Some quick tips to keep in mind when planning your website:

‘About us’ or ‘Who we are’ section

You should aim to populate this section with clear information about your business, explaining to customers what your company does, including the products and services you offer. The more information a customer obtains about you, the more likely that traffic to the website will convert into sales. Therefore, this section should be placed in a prominent place on the website.

 

Implementing an online catalogue

You need to keep in mind that customers cannot touch, hold, smell, taste or otherwise handle the products they are interested in and hence you must provide as much detail about the product or service as possible, accompanied by good quality photographs. Customers like to get a visual sense of the product and they want to make sure it matches their expectations before committing. The more attractive and appealing products look to customers, the more likely that they will be enticed to purchase from your website.

In addition, you need to ensure that your online catalogue allows for quick and easy browsing, with the facility to search by keywords and phrases. This becomes even more important as the volume of products/services available increases. Besides, the design of your online store should allow customers to know, at all times, at what stage of the buying process they are.

Selecting a shopping cart for your business

Implementing a shopping cart will allow customers to add and purchase items from your online store. Besides completing sales, a shopping cart allows you to load and maintain inventory, ship orders, add images and descriptions, track and chart sales, market to customers, and promote products using social media. A plethora of ‘off-the shelf’ carts exist so you need to thoroughly assess the shopping cart that best fits your business before investing in one.

Terms and conditions

A contract’s terms and conditions (T&Cs) must be clearly specified and it is advisable to highlight important elements within a contract, especially for non-refundable products, such as event tickets. Customers need to understand that in such cases they cannot cancel their order once completed. Ideally, they should be able to click on an ‘I Accept’ or ‘I Agree’ button before completing the order. This will further prompt them to read through the T&Cs before committing to a sale. In any case, it is always advisable to discuss such policies with a legal adviser.

A returns and refund policy

Customers tend to prefer sites which have a clear Returns and Refund policy. Therefore, it is important that it is easily accessible and ideally, it should be included in all communications with the customer. However, you need to clearly specify the terms under which returns are accepted (Example: who will bear the cost of returning the product/s, etc.) and the circumstances that would merit a refund, prior to the conclusion of the contract. The absence of such a policy is likely to deter customers from buying from your website. You can find further information in the FAQs section under ‘Respecting Consumer Rights’ , specifically 1 (n), (o), (p), (q) & (r), 4, 5, & 6.

Security

Various research studies show that most customers seek some form of security assurance before proceeding with a purchase. Therefore, it is advisable to display any security or accreditation logos on your website because this will help mitigate any security concerns that customers might have. Moreover, it also pays to inform customers that you are handling their personal and financial data in a secure manner, by notifying them about your business practices and the manner in which you intend to process the information submitted.

Privacy policy statement

This will reassure customers that their personal data is being handled in an appropriate and safe manner. Particularly, a privacy statement will specify:

  • The type of information that you may collect;
  • What you may do with the data;
  • Where and how you will store the customer’s data;
  • How a customer can access and correct any information submitted to you;
  • The type of security measures adopted to protect the loss, misuse, or alteration of the data under your control;
  • How a customer can complain if s/he believe their data has been compromised or mismanaged.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

One of the most popular means of providing customers with the information they require is a section entitled ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ or ‘FAQs’. Good ‘FAQs’ help customers orient themselves with your online store, whilst simultaneously answering almost all of the most common questions concerning your website’s policies, content or procedures. They are usually written in a question and answer format and may be separated into different categories for ease of reference. Effective FAQs considerably reduce requests for information by email.


[1] This is the company that provides space on a server it owns or leases for use by its clients.