You can design a website that is brilliantly complex, employing all the latest technology or you can choose to design a simple site without sacrificing attractiveness or efficiency. If you keep your customers in mind and design your site to accommodate the lowest denominator (technologically speaking) in your customer base, you will have a fighting chance of succeeding on the World Wide Web.
Don’t skimp on any of the essential elements to your website’s blueprint. All three — storyboard, site description, and website content — are indispensable. For every hour you spend planning and getting all the details right, you save yourself the cost and time of at least three days’ of remedial tinkering and development. Every decision you make now will define and limit the future growth and evolution of your website.
You are now ready to build your website.
Chapter 3: The Devil is in the Details
You’ve chosen your e-commerce model and found the perfect products/services to offer on your e-commerce site. You’ve also thoughtfully planned your website. Using your blueprint and storyboards you’ve completed the design of your website. It is now time to extend everything to the Web.
The basic e-commerce website should:
- Store any number of products that have been selected by the customer prior to the actual processing of the purchase. This system is normally referred to as a “shopping cart,” processing is usually referred to as “check out.”
- Provide a secure server with SSL encryption for transactions, email transmission, and storage.
- Accept credit cards and offer automatic, real-time processing. But offline processing via an encrypted email form is also a viable option if you choose to forego the following options.
- Allow the customer to leave the site, return at a later time, and still find past items in their shopping cart.
- Allow cross selling, i.e.; offers a similar product to the one that the customer is interested in, if the chosen product is unavailable.
- Provide processing status though a numbered tracking system.
Add to this list: acquiring a domain name, a merchant account, and a digital certificate, and you are in the e-commerce business.
Let’s first look at choosing a web address a/k/a domain name. A domain name is your web business’s cyber address — it’s also known as your site’s URL (Uniform Resource Locator). You’ve no doubt seen the many “dot-com” advertisements — www.[name].com (or .org or .net). That is a domain name or web address. It’s how the public will find your web-business unless you have opted for the cyber mall concept.
While you can choose just about any combination of words or numbers for your domain name, we recommend a catchy, easy-to-remember name that can serve to quickly evoke your business and/or the products and services it offers. Come up with several options.
In your quest for the perfect domain name remember:
Your online business depends on the customer correctly typing your URL — the shorter the better. And please, don’t put your entire name or your company’s name in the address. No one wants to input www.the-one-and-only-genuine-original-widget-company.com. Find something simple.
If your brick-and-mortar business has a well-known name that is already branded, re-enforce that brand online, don’t create an entirely new “web name.” Remember that brands are expensive to promote, particularly new ones.
Think twice before you use “web” or “.com” in your name. Yes, we know .com is probably part of your URL but it is not necessarily part of your name, which will, by necessity, be branded. Why? Because technology and the growth of the Internet are moving at breakneck speed and “web” and “.com” will, in the future, appear stale and dated. In the new world of fast moving technology your business should always present the image of being on the cutting edge.
Competition for rights to domain names has exploded. Many people and companies have registered not only the domain names they use, but names they think may be valuable in the future. Check the Network Solutions’ WhoIs directory (www.networksolutions.com/cgi-bin/whois/whois) to see if your chosen domain name is available. If your ideal domain name isn’t available, you might consider contacting the owner of that particular domain name to try to purchase the rights.
Once you have chosen your domain name / web address / URL, the next step is to register it so you can have an exclusive home for your online business. Registering your chosen domain name with a domain registration site ensures that you “own” that specific web address; at least as long as you continue to renew your ownership by paying the required annual fee. The process itself is easy, but there is much you need to know to begin this process.
First, understand the Internet’s system, known as the “Domain Name System,” which keeps track of the millions of computers that are connected to its byways. The Domain Name System (DNS) allows data packets to find their way to their destination.
Every computer on the Internet has a unique address called an “IP address” (IP stands for “Internet Protocol”). But that address is a rather complicated string of numbers, which is hard for the average person to remember.
THE IP ADDRESS
A global, static IP address is a unique 32-bit binary number representing just one resource on the Internet, at any given time. These global addresses are assigned by one of three Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) worldwide that collectively provide IP registration services to all regions around the globe. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) covers IP addresses in the geographic areas of North America, South America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa. APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Center) and RIPE (Reseaux IP Europeens) cover their own specific regions.
An IP address’s 32-bit binary number is actually made up of four bytes of information, and each byte can be represented by an eight-bit binary number or “octet.” Since we find it easier to read and write numbers using digits from 0 to 9 instead of giant binary numbers consisting of just ones and zeroes, IP addresses are expressed as four decimal numbers, each separated by a dot. This format is called “dotted-decimal notation.” The IP address is also called a dot address, because periods are used to separate four sets of decimal numbers, each between 0 and 255, representing all 256 possible combinations of eight bits (00000000 through 11111111). Each of the decimal numbers is called a “quad” because four of them make up the IP address. Thus, an IP address is also sometimes called a “dotted quad.”
Here’s an example:
Figure 6: The theoretical decimal range of IP addresses is from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255. When translated into binary numbers, that’s 00000000.00000000.00000000.00000000 to 11111111.11111111.11111111.11111111. Actually, we’re restricted from using all zeroes for the individual computer (or host) part of an address (it’s an address used for routing, representing the originating network) or all ones (used for broadcasting to all other computers on a network).
When you type in or click on a link such as www.microsoft.com, that domain name (www.microsoft.com) has no meaning for your computer, but its associated IP address is a different matter — it is what’s used to connect your browser with the Microsoft site. Thus, when you input “www.microsoft.com,” your computer sends a message to a DNS server on the Internet for the Microsoft website’s IP address, and that 32-bit binary number is used to connect your browser with the Microsoft site. There are millions of computers, millions of websites, and millions of IP addresses.
It’s easy to see how the DNS simplifies using the Internet through the exchange of a familiar string of letters (the “domain name”) for an arcane IP address. So instead of typing 22.214.171.124, you can type, www.google.com, to reach the popular search engine website.
In the final analysis, the Domain Name System was established to provide a “mnemonic” device that makes it easier for people to remember Internet addresses.
Registering Your Website’s Domain Name
When you register a domain name, you are inserting an entry into a directory of all the domain names and their corresponding computers on the Internet.
To register your new domain name you must use the services of an accredited registrar. Domain names ending with .biz, .com, .info, .name, .net or .org can be registered through many different registrars that compete with one another.
InterNIC maintains an up-to-date list of accredited registrars, which can be found at www.internic.net/regist. For information on the registrar accreditation process or to lodge a complaint about an accredited registrar, visit www.icann.org/registrars. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit corporation charged with the responsibility of managing IP address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system, and root server system.
The registrar you choose will ask that you provide various contact and technical information as part of the registration process. The registrar is then charged with keeping records of the contact information and submitting the technical information to a central directory known as the “registry.” This registry can be accessed by any computer on the Internet any time information is needed to send an email message or to find a specific website.
The registrar also will require that you to enter into a registration contract. That document sets forth the terms under which your registration is accepted and maintained by the registrar.
ccTLDs. Some readers may also want to register a domain name using a two-letter country-code, known as country-code top-level domains or ccTLDs. The use of ccTLDs was introduced by Dr. Jon Postel, the Internet architect originally entrusted with responsibility for deployment of the Internet’s domain name system. His objective for the DNS system was to enable local Internet communities worldwide to develop their own locally-responsive and -accountable DNS services, and to encourage all parts of the world to “get online.” That original initiative has grown into the ccTLDs used today to document various countries’ (and territories’) relationships with ICANN. Examples of such ccTLDs include .ae (United Arab Emirates), .au (Australia), .ca (Canada), .fr (France), .jp (Japan), and .uk (United Kingdom). Such registrations are administered by what’s known as “country-code managers.” To identify the manager for your specific country-code, and for information about ccTLD registration requirements, see the IANA ccTLD database, which can be found at www.iana.org/cctld/cctld-whois.
THE TOP LEVEL DOMAIN SYSTEM
To understand the Top Level Domain (TLD) system, you must grasp the role that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plays as the technical coordination body for the Internet. As such, ICANN provides a global forum for developing policies for the coordination of some of the Internet’s core technical elements, including the Domain Name System (DNS). This non-profit organization operates on the basis of consensus, with affected stakeholders coming together to formulate coordination policies for the Internet’s core technical elements in the public interest. The policies are then implemented by the agreement of the operators of the core elements, including generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) registry operators and sponsors, country-code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) managers, regional Internet (IP address) registries, and root-name server operators.
Originally, the agreement to implement coordinated policies for the Internet was informal. But, as the Internet grew in commercial importance, operators and users of the Internet concluded that a more formal set of written agreements must be established. One of ICANN’s activities is to work with the other organizations involved in the Internet’s technical coordination to document their participatory role within the ICANN process and their commitments to implement the policies that result. These have included agreements with Network Solutions (now VeriSign), which operates the .com and .net gTLDs; the companies responsible for operating the “unsponsored” TLDs (.biz, .info, and .name); the organizations sponsoring the “sponsored” TLDs (.aero, .coop, and .museum); Public Interest Registry, which operates the .org gTLDs; more than 150 ICANN-accredited registrars; the regional Internet registries; and the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Let’s look more closely at the Top Level Domain system. There are several types of Top Level Domains (TLDs) within the Domain Name System. They include:
- ccTLDs. As previously discussed, this refers to two letter country-code top level domain names. They have been established for more than 240 countries and external territories. Designated “managers” manage the ccTLDs according to local policies that are adapted to best meet the economic, cultural, linguistic, and legal circumstances of the country or territory involved.
- gTLDs. Most TLDs with three or more characters are referred to as “generic” “gTLDs.” Originally, only seven gTLDs (.com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net, and .org) were created, although domain names may be registered in only three of these (.com, .net, and .org) without restriction; the other four have limited purposes. As the Internet grew, various discussions occurred concerning additional gTLDs, leading to the selection in November 2000 of seven new TLDs. Four of the new TLDs (.biz, .info, .name, and .pro) are unsponsored (uTLDs). The other three new TLDs (.aero, .coop, and .museum) are sponsored (sTLDs). Generally speaking, an unsponsored TLD operates under policies established by the global Internet community directly through the ICANN process, while a sponsored TLD is a specialized TLD that has a sponsor representing the narrower community that is most affected by that TLD. The sponsor thus carries out delegated policy-formulation responsibilities over many matters concerning the TLD.
- .arpa. This special TLD is used for technical infrastructure purposes. ICANN administers the .arpa TLD in cooperation with the Internet technical community under the guidance of the Internet Architecture Board.
For more information on the details of TLDs, go to http://www.icann.org/tlds.