Internet Business Tutorial
Written for That Network and published in 2005

In the years after the World Wide Web entered our consciousness in 1993, conducting business operations on the Internet was more novelty than necessity. Sure, companies registered their “.com” domain names and pundits spoke breathlessly about the Internet’s potential to revolutionize business, but it took companies years to integrate e-commerce into their existing brick-and-mortar operations.

Twelve years later, it’s nearly impossible to discuss business plans, proposals and operations without taking into account the Internet marketplace. The Internet and related digital technologies make so many aspects of business more economical, efficient and interactive. Just imagine the changes in customer service, fulfillment and direct marketing—and in intra-office communications and culture—that have been driven by Internet technologies in the past decade. Imagine the changes in consumer behavior that have taken place and the number of marketing tools that have been added to a businessperson’s repertoire.

In the 21st century, understanding business requires understanding the ins and outs of Internet technologies and how they can be put to work to the benefit of business owners as well as their employees and customers.

There’s a wealth of information, software tools, and Internet business techniques to help fledgling businesses stake their claim to their share of cyberspace. You just need to know where to turn. The amount of information out there can be daunting, so that’s where this tutorial comes in. We encourage you to use it as a starting point to learn about what it takes to establish and make the most of your Internet presence.

Click these links to learn more about these topics (links disabled):

  • Ÿ  Internet Software & Hardware
  • Ÿ  Types of Internet Connections
  • Ÿ  Internet Protocols & Their Function
  • Ÿ  Domain Name Server & Its Function & Domain Names
  • Ÿ  The Role Of Web Browsers
  • Ÿ  How E-mail Clients Work
  • Ÿ  Internet Security
  • Ÿ  Using Search Engines
  • Ÿ  Internet Marketing Techniques
  • Ÿ  Information Technology Job Roles

Internet Software & Hardware

The first thing you need to establish your business’s presence on the Internet is, not surprisingly, to get your business’s computers connected to it.

Establishing your Internet connection has become increasingly easy over the years, and the vast majority of off-the-shelf computers on the market today have all the components you need to establish a simple connection. The most challenging question is the type of connection you want to establish, and that depends upon several factors, chiefly how much money you want to spend on Internet access and how much and how frequently you plan to use the connection. We’ll explain your connection choices after we look at the software and hardware your computer needs to get started.

Software. An Internet-connected computer needs two pieces of software that often are part of the same package: a web browser and an e-mail client.

A web browser is the software you are using right now to read this tutorial. You can think of it as your steering wheel that lets you drive around the World Wide Web. Most computers that run the Windows operating system come bundled, at no extra charge, with the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie). In fact, Microsoft controls more than 90 percent of the web browser market, according to January 2005 estimates.

These same Windows-based computers come with a free e-mail client called Microsoft Outlook Express (http://www.Microsoft/windows/oe). This software, using the same Internet connection as your browser, lets you send and receive electronic mail (e-mail) and perform other related functions. For a more feature-rich e-mail client, you can buy Microsoft Outlook (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/FX010857931033.aspx), which goes beyond e-mail functions to include tools you will find useful in your business communications.

With Outlook, you can store detailed contact information, schedule meetings, and keep a digital appointment book. Many businesses find Outlook a more complete e-mail and scheduling tool than Outlook Express and are willing to pay extra for it.

Although Internet Explorer is used by a large majority of Internet users, it certainly isn’t your only choice. Netscape Navigator (http://www.netscape.com), which had a greater market share of the browser market in the 1990s than Internet Explorer, is also a feature-rich web browser suitable for business use. A relatively new browser called Mozilla Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox), an offshoot of Netscape Navigator, has made inroads with Internet users in recent months, but hasn’t seen widespread adoption by businesses. Opera (http://www.opera.com) is the best known of the other alternative web browsers you might want to consider. For more about browsers, click the Web Browsers section of this tutorial.

Hardware. Other than computers themselves, of course, your computers will need modems to connect to the Internet. A modem (short for modulator-demodulator) is a hardware device that converts digital information into analog information so it can be sent over ordinary telephone lines. The information is then reconverted to digital information at the computer receiving the information. In other words, a modem helps computers connected to the Internet exchange information.

A built-in modem used for telephone line connections to the Internet are standard issue in consumer and office computers sold today.

Types of Internet Connections

Dial-up Options

“56K” connections. The most-common, and least expensive, type of Internet connection involves a computer with a standard internal V.90 modem with an ordinary phone line running from a computer to a phone jack. This type of connection, often referred to as a “dial-up” connection or “standard dial-up,” requires you to establish Internet connectivity with an Internet service provider, often referred to as an “ISP.”

This method requires you to have an ISP-provided telephone number that your modem dials into to establish the connection. Because of the data-transfer limitations of phone lines, only up to 56 kilobits per second (known as 56Kbps or, more popularly, 56K) of data can be transferred at one time. In the world of Internet connections, this is considered slow.

This type of connection is fine for sending and receiving e-mail messages and for viewing web pages comprised of mostly text. But this type of connection is problematic when sending and receiving large file attachments, viewing multimedia-rich web pages, and hearing and viewing audio and video files.

A 56K connection is recommended as an inexpensive solution for small businesses and home offices with simple e-mail and limited web surfing needs that don’t require extensive use of multimedia or the exchange of large file attachments.

ISDN. ISDN (Integrated Digital Services Network) is a more-advanced type of dial-up connection that can transfer data up to 128Kbps, double that of a standard phone-line connection.

This setup is a true digital connection, rather than the digital-analog combination of standard dial-up, allowing it to use ordinary phone wires at double the normal data transfer capacity.

The faster speed means it costs more than standard dial-up, but it’s better at handling data transfers, and the true digital connection means it’s more reliable than standard dial-up connections.

Many businesses use ISDN for telecommuting or remote workers who need to communicate to a business’s main office. That’s because ISDN give workers access to standard office communications tools, such as an Internet connection, e-mail and fax capabilities, and telephony, because it can simultaneously support voice and data transmission.

ISDN requires additional hardware beyond a standard dial-up connection. A dual telephone wire setup dedicated solely to the ISDN connection is required as well as an ISDN router in your office. (A router is a network device use to data between two or more networks). This equipment typically is installed by your local phone company.

It’s also a good idea to first check with the phone company to ensure ISDN is available in your area before buying any hardware, as about 10 percent of the United States lacks ISDN service.

Broadband Connections

DSL. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) technology uses the same twisted copper telephone lines as standard dial-up and ISDN, but with drastically improved speed. DSL can be up to 140-plus times faster than 56Kbps modems, and up to more than 60 times faster than ISDN. It’s also popular because it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other broadband connection options.

The increased speed found with this type of Internet connection is achieved by using sophisticated modulation technology in a direct connection between DSL-connected computers and the telephone company. In fact, your computers’ physical distance from the phone company determines, in large part, the speed of your DSL connection. That’s why it’s a good idea to subscribe to DSL only if the phone company providing it is located close by, at least within three or four miles.

There are different types of DSL available. The most common are ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) and SDSL (Symmetrical Digital Subscriber Line).

With ADSL, data downloads take place up to 8 megabytes per second (Mbps), and uploads are up to 1Mbps. This type of service is ideal for businesses needing access to the World Wide Web and the ability to send and receive large multimedia files.

SDSL offers the same download and upload speeds: up to 1.544 megabits (not megabytes) per second. This symmetrical speed makes it ideal for e-mail and web servers on small networks as well as interoffice communications. It is also often more expensive than ADSL and doesn’t support standard phone services.

Broadband connections such as DSL—in a huge advantage over standard dial-up and ISDN—are an “always-on” connection, meaning computers with DSL connection have continuous connections to the Internet. This is an important consideration if you have many workers who need frequent access to the Internet and the ability to send and receive large data files.

Cable. A cable Internet connection, unlike the previous types of connections we’ve discussed, doesn’t use phone lines at all. Instead, this technology takes advantage of existing television cable lines and “cable modems” to transfer data at very fast rates: 42Mbps for downloads and 10Mbps for uploads.

This type of connection is heavily marketed by cable companies to residential areas, given that most homes are already wired with television cables. This makes it a popular choice for home offices, although the subscription rates are higher than dial-up connections and DSL. Still, the price is generally reasonable for small businesses and the high-speed, always-on connection makes for a highly reliable and very fast Internet connection.

Because of the continuous connection that flows through phone cables, cable connections, like DSL connections, are not highly secure from unauthorized entry by hackers. It’s highly recommended that computers with these types of connection are protected by a firewall (a set of related hardware and software used to protect a network).

T1 and T3. These high-speed Internet voice and data networks are very expensive and recommended only for larger companies using a computer network.

A T1 line is a high-speed, always-on, highly reliable connection established usually with fiber-optic lines that can carry 24 digital voice channels or data at a rate of up to a phenomenally fast 1.544 megabits per second. T1 connections are often used for both a company’s phone system as well as a high-speed, always-on Internet connection. A T1 connection is usually shared by many workers at a company simultaneously needing continuous high-speed Internet access.

A T3 line is used most often for huge networks, like those that comprise the Internet or for hosting heavily visited websites. Digital data is transferred at 44.746 megabits per second, a huge broadband connection needed by only the largest networks and website hosts. 

Internet Protocols & Their Function

Learning how computers connected to the Internet exchange data of all types is useful for understanding how the Internet works. The Internet is essentially an immense network of computers that communicate with each other through the transfer of data. To successfully accomplish these transfers, sets of rules, called protocols, are needed. These often-elaborate sets of formal communication rules are designed to ensure that the transfer of data occurs across networked computers with as little data loss and as few errors as possible.

There are different protocols used at different stages of the data-transfer process. Of the dozens of protocols used, let’s take a look at some of the most-common ones you will come across as you operate your Internet business.

HTTP—Hypertext Transfer Protocol. You can think of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) as the set of rules that gave life to the World Wide Web. You see HTTP in action wherever you go on the Web; it’s the acronym (http://) at the front of the nearly every web address you see.

HTTP governs the exchange of files on the Web. Your web browser uses HTTP to send requests to servers requesting the information they have stored. This is what happens, for example, when you type a web address (also called a URL [universal resource locator]) into your web browser’s Address Bar and press Enter. The server then uses HTTP to receive the request and deliver the requested file(s) back to the sender.

In short, HTTP is the mechanism that allows the exchange of data over the World Wide Web to take place.

SSL—Secure Sockets Layer. Secure, encrypted communications over the Internet are handled by the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol that’s used by web browsers and web servers. SSL is the industry standard for e-commerce websites to ensure the safe delivery of customers’ sensitive information over the Internet. SSL works as an additional layer of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and a web page secured with SSL displays “https” in the Address Bar of the web browser rather than “http”. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.

TCP/IP—Transfer Communication Protocol/Internet Protocol. Transfer Communication Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) are two separate protocols, but they work together as the basic communications protocol that forms the basis for the entire Internet. If HTTP can be described as giving life to the World Wide Web, then TCP/IP is what gives life to the entire, all-encompassing Internet, of which the Web is a part.

It’s helpful to think of TCP as the caretaker of data as it travels over the Internet. TCP establishes communication between two networked computers, breaks the data into groups called packets, checks to ensure the data’s integrity, and fixes any problems it may encounter.

IP takes the data presented by TCP and actually delivers it to the networked computer receiving it. IP also establishes the presence of all computers linked to the Internet. An IP Address is a website’s location on the Internet, expressed as a numeric form of four sets of numbers (from 0 to 255) separated by dots in this format: 123.152.278.21. This is a numeric form of a website’s domain name. Even if a website’s URL has a name (such as www.mywebsite.com), it also has a numeric equivalent expressed in these four sets of numbers.

PPP—Point-to-Point Protocol. The rules for connecting a computer to the Internet using standard dial-up telephone lines are governed by Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP).

SMTP/POP3/IMAP—Simple Mail Transfer Protocol/Post Office Protocol 3/Internet Message Access Protocol. Just like TCP and IP work together to govern communications over the Internet, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (STMP) and Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) set the rules for the transfer of electronic mail (e-mail).

SMTP is the protocol used to transfer e-mail messages from server to server. For example, when you send an e-mail message to someone at a different company, the message first goes to your company’s server and then to the server of the other company. SMTP governs this server-to-server transfer.

POP3 is the protocol an e-mail client needs to receive this same e-mail message from the server. The e-mail client uses POP3 to communicate with the server and obtain the message.

The POP3 standard is being replaced with the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), which has improved functionality over POP3, including manipulating messages stored on a server—such as viewing a message heading and its sender—without actually downloading them by opening the messages. This feature, for example, is found in the Microsoft Outlook e-mail client.

FTP—File Transfer Protocol. Predating the World Wide Web, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is still an often-used standard to transfer files over the Internet.

FTP is text-based (as opposed to a graphical user interface found with the Web) and is often used to copy files from an individual computer to a server, which makes it especially useful for transferring files to a host server when creating a website. FTP software is used to accomplish this, and WS_FTP (http://www.ipswitch.com), Fetch (http://www.fetchsoftworks.com) and Cute FTP (http://www.cuteftp.com) are three of the most-popular FTP software titles available.

Files can also be retrieved from an FTP site, which is often a simple listing of files in a directory, although some newer sites have a web page interface. The URL begins with “ftp://” rather than the ubiquitous “http://”.

These sites generally are secured by requiring a username and password to be accessed. Many Internet sites have material stored that can be obtained by the public for free by using FTP software to download it. This is referred to as “anonymous FTP,” because the files can be obtained by logging in using the word “anonymous” as the username.

FTP sites are especially useful when transferring memory-intensive files too large to be transferred as files attached to e-mail messages.

NNTP—Network News Transfer Protocol. USENET, the text-based special-interest newsgroups that was an early component of the Internet, uses Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) to allow users to post and read newsgroup messages. NNTP works with newsreader clients that often come bundled with web browsers.

Domain Name Server & Its Function & Domain Names

You now know that protocols govern the different levels of communications on the Internet, but that’s not the whole story. It’s also important to understand how the different domains that make up web addresses (also called URLs, short for universal resource locators) organize the Internet’s massive amount of information.

Domain Name Server

In addition to protocols, communications over the Internet and by electronic mail (e-mail) are governed with Domain Name Servers (DNS). (You will also see DNS sometimes referred to as Domain Name System or Domain Name Service.)

The location of a website on the Internet is determined by its Internet Protocol (IP) Address, which is also discussed in Internet Protocol & Their Functions. This is a string of integers divided into four parts by dots with each number ranging from 0 to 255. For example: 139.201.99.2.

This numeric system is how computers understand web addresses. Now imagine if we humans had to memorize or record these numbers to visit the Internet’s hundreds of millions of websites. That’s why we use alphabetic names for websites—such as www.thatnetwork.com—that are the equivalent of their numeric counterparts. For example, the domain name www.thatnetwork.com has its own numeric IP Address.

This is where DNS comes in. The DNS system is essentially a huge database—undergoing constant change—that’s used to map domain names to IP Addresses and IP Addresses to domain names. So when you type www.thatnetwork.com in the Address Bar of your web browser, the DNS system takes this request, recognizes this domain name’s numeric IP Address, and then sends the IP Address to your web browser so it will display the web page you requested.

As you can see, navigating the Web without DNS would be difficult indeed.

Domain Names

It’s also useful to understand the different parts of a URL, which is comprised of parts called “domains.” The chief domains of a website are its host name, second-level domain, and its first-level (or top-level) domain.

Let’s use the components of the That Network home page URL as an example.

Host name. The That Network URL is www.thatnetwork.com. The host name is the “www”, which is short for the World Wide Web. This means this web page is hosted on the World Wide Web.

Sometimes you’ll see the “www” is not there and replaced with a different host name. For example, the popular search engine and website portal Yahoo! has different host names for its features. Yahoo!’s Finance section, for example, resides at http://finance.yahoo.com, and its Games section is at http://games.yahoo.com. This means these two parts of the massive Yahoo! website reside on different hosts.

Second-level domain. In our initial example (www.thatnetwork.com), the second-level domain is “thatnetwork”. This is often informally referred to as a website’s “domain name,” although the term “second-level domain” is technically correct.

This is the part of the domain name that identifies the business, organization or other entity operating the website. It’s, if you will, the “brand name” of the website. Each second-level domain, combined with the top-level domain, must be unique. That is why registering a second-level domain is required. See Registering a Domain Name for more information.

First-level (top-level) domain. The first-level domain follows the second-level domain and is designed to describe the type or location of the website. In our example, the first-level domain of www.thatnetwork.com is “com”. COM, short for commercial and often referred to as “dot com,” is the most-common first-level domain, and you will see it wherever you go on the Web.

Other popular first-level domains are ORG (organization), MIL (military), EDU (educational institution), and NET (network). In recent years, new first-level domains have been approved, including BIZ (business), AERO (aerospace) and TV (television). There are also two-letter first-level domains for each country. A complete nation list can be found on the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority website at http://www.iana.org/cctld/cctld-whois.htm.

Registering a Domain Name

To get a website on the Internet, you must register a second-level domain name combined with a first-level domain name.

Say, for example, you have a business called Acme Whazzits and are looking to sell your products by creating an e-commerce website. You’d probably want to register “AcmeWhazzits.com” as the name of your website.

The second-level domain must not already be taken by someone else, although a second-level domain name can be combined with different first-level domain names. In our example, “AcmeWhazzits.com” and “AcmeWhazzits.biz” and “AcmeWhazzits.net” can be three entirely different websites.

The domain registration process, which has changed over the years, is a fairly quick and painless process. Dozens of websites offer domain registration services for a fee. You just need to pick the best one for you. A comprehensive list can be found on the InterNIC website at http://www.internic.net/regist.html.

Each domain registration website has similar requirements. You enter the domain name you want to use to see if it’s available. If it is, you provide the necessary contact and technical information and pay the fee.

Be sure to only use domain registrars that are accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Only ICANN-accredited registrars are authorized to register the first-level domains of AERO, BIZ, COM, COOP, INFO, MUSEUM, NAME, NET, ORG and PRO.

According to the ICANN website (http://www.icann.org), ICANN is “an internationally organized, non-profit corporation” that governs various Internet technical specifications, including assigning domain-name registrations.

After a domain name is registered, you now have the Internet “location” ready to build a website.

Web Browsers

It might surprise you to learn that the Internet, in its most basic form, has been around since 1969 and was used for years as a tool by scientists and within the federal government as a simple way to share text files among computers. The Internet didn’t because the Internet that we recognize today until the World Wide Web was invented in 1989 and web browsers became commercially available in 1993.

That’s because the World Wide Web put a graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced “goo-ey”) on the Internet, making it much easier to use than the command-line driven Internet. It also made the Internet far more useful, because the Web supports files that contain color, graphics, photos, sounds and video while the pre-Web Internet was simply text-based.

An appropriate analogy is when Microsoft’s old text-only, command-line DOS (Disk Operating System) was replaced by early versions of its Windows operating system. Windows 3.1, for example, was really still DOS, but it had an easier-to-use, point-and-click interface.

The GUI for the Internet comes in the form of a software program called a web browser, just like the one you are using now. There are several brands of web browsers available (see Internet Software & Hardware), but Microsoft Internet Explorer is still by far the most-widely used with market share in January 2005 at near the 90-percent mark.

The web browser software is essentially a navigational tool to get around the World Wide Web. You can either type a web address (also called a URL, short for universal resource locator) in the browser’s Address Bar, or use the navigational buttons to move from web page to web page.

Web Navigation

If you are fairly new to life on the Web, you will find the following descriptions of Internet Explorer’s features helpful. Other browsers have different features, but most are similar in nature to what we’ll describe here.

Web addresses. Each page on the Web is assigned an address (a URL)—just like a postal address for buildings and homes. These addresses are typed in the white Address Bar.

Most often, you will use the Address Bar to reach the home page of a website. To reach That Network’s site, for example, type http://www.thatnetwork.com. This will take you directly to the site, but here’s a shortcut to reduce your keystrokes. Because nearly all web pages begin with “http://” followed by “www.”, just type “thatnetwork.com” in the Address Bar, and the browser adds the “http://www.” for you.

Links. When words on a web page are underlined and in a different color than other text, this indicates they are links (also called hyperlinks or text links). Mouse-clicking these words take you to another page within the website or to an external website—no Address Bar typing required. Buttons and images can be links, too. To know for sure, place your mouse cursor over the item. If the arrow icon turns into a pointing-finger icon, it’s a link.

Buttons. Your browser’s buttons are your steering wheel and brakes—it’s how you navigate the Internet road. Here’s what the main buttons do.

  • Back and Forward. The Back button takes you to the previous web page you visited. Click this button more than once to go back the corresponding number of pages. Click the Forward button to go back toward where you started.
  • Stop. The Stop button stops a web page from being displayed in your browser.
  • Refresh. The Refresh button reloads the web page you are currently visiting.
  • Home. The Home button takes you to the web page that appears when you first open your browser.
  • Favorites. Clicking the Favorites button opens a pane in which you can view and click pages you have bookmarked for a return visit.
  • History. The History button shows the web pages you have recently visited.

Menus. The words at the top of the browser are called menus, and many of their functions are the same as the buttons. To learn how to use these features, experiment with them by selecting menu items (such as File, Edit, and View) to see what they do. Don’t worry; you won’t damage anything by fiddling with an item you don’t fully understand.

Browsing Your Computer. Internet Explorer can be used for more than just browsing the Web. It also can be used to browse your file directories and open files stored on your computer or on other computers connected to your network.

To do this, go to the File menu, select Open, and then click the Open dialog box’s Browse button to find the file you are looking for.

This is especially useful way to use your browser when you want to view image files, such as digital photographs.

How E-mail Clients Work

Just as web browsing software provides a graphical interface for navigating the World Wide Web, electronic mail (e-mail) software, often referred to as an e-mail “client,” provides an easy-to-use interface for managing your e-mail messages.

E-mail is the most-popular use of the Internet. Literally trillions of messages are sent worldwide in a single year. To participate in e-mail, you need a client. It can be standalone software, such as the popular Microsoft Outlook (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/oe) or Eudora (http://www.eudora.com). Or, it can even be a web-based client, such as the wildly popular free e-mail services offered by Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) and MSN Hotmail (http://www.hotmail.com).

The basic features of all e-mail clients are just variations on a theme. After you have set up e-mail software and an e-mail account (and your own e-mail address), you can send, receive and forward messages; send and receive files attached to messages; and organize messages into folders and maintain a digital address book of names, e-mail address and other contact information.

Some clients offer more features than this, such as calendars, scheduling and sophisticated e-mail organizing and message blocking tools, but all e-mail software at its most basic lets you perform the tasks described above.

E-mail messages are transmitted from computer to computer using protocols built into the e-mail client and the e-mail servers that route messages to the proper recipients.

Here’s what happens after you address an e-mail message, type its contents, then hit the Send button.

  1. The digital e-mail message uses SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) to communicate with a mail server. If you are a working in a home office and have an Internet connection subscription with an Internet service provider (ISP), the message is first sent via SMTP to your ISP’s e-mail server.
  2. The server, using Domain Name Server (DNS), determines who the recipient of the message should be and then uses SMTP to deliver the message to the e-mail server associated with the designated e-mail account. A failed delivery results in a message reporting the problem that’s sent back to the e-mail’s sender.
  3. The recipient’s e-mail client then uses either POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) or IMAP (Internet Access Mail Protocol, which is gradually replacing the older POP3) to accept the message into the e-mail client from the recipients’ e-mail server.

For more about e-mail protocols, see the How Protocols Work section.

Internet Security 

The Internet has revolutionized how we communicate because of the power of millions of computers connected to a single worldwide network. The flip side of this strength, unfortunately, is that networks, including the Internet, are susceptible to unauthorized access by unscrupulous people.

Internet users of all types must be aware and knowledgeable about the dangers posed by computer viruses, identity theft, and the spyware and adware software employed by unethical businesspeople.

E-commerce entrepreneurs must also know the ins and outs of conducting secure financial transactions on the Internet—both to protect themselves as well as the financial and privacy concerns of their customers. A host of sensitive information, such as Social Security, bank account and credit-card numbers, is now exchanged over the Internet. Responsible businesses need to understand how to make this information safe and secure during its digital travels.

Encryption

The process of encryption is how communications over the Internet are made inaccessible to unauthorized interception. Encryption involves scrambling the data by processing it with a mathematical algorithm that converts the communication to an unreadable string of letters and numbers. If the communication is somehow intercepted, it’s impossible for the eavesdropper to interpret it. After the communication reaches its intended recipient, a similar algorithm reverts it back to its original, unencrypted form.

Here’s a description of the two basic types of encryption used to secure communications over the Internet. Both use the analogy of a “key” to lock and unlock communications.

Symmetric-key encryption. In symmetric-key communication, each computer involved in the communication uses a “private key,” which is a type of code, to encrypt and decrypt communications. All the computers in the loop must have access to the code, and secure communication outside the network cannot take place.

For example, in symmetric-key encryption, Computer A uses its private key to encode and send a communication to Computer B, which has access to this same private key. Computer B then uses its private key to decrypt the message and, when applicable, encrypt a response that’s sent back to Computer A. It’s not much different than handing a written coded message to someone and then telling that person how to decipher it.

An example of symmetric-key encryption is Data Encryption Standard (DES) and its successor, Triple DES, which provides a much-greater degree of security than DES.

Public-key encryption. Public-key encryption (also called asymmetric encryption) is more commonly used than older symmetric-key encryption standards like DES because it provides for a greater level of security and encryption flexibility.

This type of encryption involves a combination of public and private keys. In this scenario, Computer A has a private key known only to itself and a public key it distributes to any other computer (Computer B), whether known to Computer A or not, that wants to communicate with it. Computer B then uses its own private key plus the public key provided by Computer A to decrypt and read the message.

The most-popular software offering public-key encryption is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), which is a client that allows computers to encrypt and securely share e-mail messages or nearly any type of file. PGP is available from PGP Corp. at (http://www.pgp.com), and freeware and shareware versions with similar features are available elsewhere online.

Public-key encryption vs. private key. Public-key encryption is most commonly used in today’s e-commerce websites because it provides a higher-degree of security for data—the chances of someone intercepting and decoding data secured with public-key encryption are amazingly miniscule. That’s because today’s public-key encryption products use 128-bit encryption, as opposed to the 40- and 56-bit encryption offered by public-key encryption like DES.

The higher the bit number, the greater the protection, because higher numbers mean more complex algorithms are being used. In fact, 128-bit encryption means only one of 2128 possible combinations will decipher the code. That’s literally trillions of trillions of possible solutions but only one answer.

Authentication

Another aspect of secure communications is authentication, the verification that the encrypted communications has come from a reliable source. This requires processes beyond the encryption process.

Usernames and passwords. The most-common authentication involves the use of usernames and passwords, a process you see most every day while using the Internet. For example, while encryption lets you communicate with a secured website, often times, information only can be shared once the user enters the username and password. The computer system receiving the information, checks this information against its secured files, and grants or denies access based upon the username and password provided.

Digital signatures. A digital signature, which uses public-key encryption, is an authentication process in which an electronic signature is added to an encrypted communication to help the recipient determine if the sender is authentic. If the digital signature is altered in any way during transmission, it makes the signature invalid, and the recipient knows the sender is not authentic.

Digital certificates. A digital certificate, like a digital signature, is attached to an encrypted communication for verification purposes. The certificate verifies the sender’s identity and gives the recipient the opportunity to send an encrypted reply.

Certificates are an important feature in e-commerce as they allow customers sending sensitive information over the Internet to know that the information has been encrypted. A certification authority, the organization responsible for ensuring the security of the delivered communications, must issue certificates.

The two largest certification authorities are VeriSign (http://www.verisign.com) and GeoTrust (http://www.geotrust.com). These private companies offer an array of products that enable e-commerce sites to conduct secure financial transactions and other communications over the Internet.

E-commerce websites offering secure transactions capabilities are authorized to display the certification authority’s logo as a sign to customers that their transmitted information will be encrypted.

Another way for customers to determine if the they are on a secured website is when an “s” follows “http” in the Address Bar of their web browser. HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is the Web’s standard encryption mechanism. The protocol is ordinary Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) operating with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which we discuss in the next section of this tutorial.

A small, gold, “locked” padlock displayed on the bottom of a web browser’s interface is another sign that a secured website is being displayed. Double-clicking the padlock provides information about the certificate and the certification authority. This can be useful for customers who want to learn more about the authenticity of the security features on a HTTPS-protected website.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS). Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a widespread use of public-key encryption. The S in HTTPS means SSL is in place to encrypt data transmitted through the website, and is the standard used by the VeriSign and GeoTrust certification authorities (see digital certificates).

While PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) works well for single computer-to-computer encrypted data exchanges, SSL is the industry standard for e-commerce because of its high level of encryption (128-bit, see Public-key encryption vs. private key). It’s also scalable, allowing many users to send secure information to web servers.

More and more, you’ll see SSL referred to as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or perhaps as SSL-TLS. TLS is the successor to SSL, is based upon SSL but, although having only slight differences, is not interchangeable with SSL. Only newer web browser versions support TLS.

Spyware & Adware

In 2003, the proliferation of “spyware” and “adware” (sometimes together, with viruses, called “malware”) became the latest negative part of the lives of Internet users. These software programs are employed by hackers and dubious entrepreneurs to spy on Internet users computing activities for equally dubious activities.

Spyware is unintentionally downloaded software that monitors an Internet user’s computing activities. Spyware can be used by hackers to steal sensitive information, such as Social Security and credit card numbers, or it can be used by companies to gather information about customers.

Although not as invasive as spyware, adware often goes beyond accepted e-commerce practices to gather information about Internet activities in order to target users with online advertising, such as spam and pop-up advertisement windows.

Spyware and adware practices are considered unethical because, it addition to the obvious privacy concerns, it can cause software on infected computers to malfunction. Often, the web browsers themselves are the targets.

Adware can cause computer screens to be flooded with ad pop-up windows and other unexpected changes, such as home pages being deleted in favor of a questionable website and website listings mysteriously appearing on Favorites lists. Often, the user’s e-mail account will see an unexplainable spike in spam messages and messages sent without the user’s knowledge, meaning the account is being used to further spam proliferation.

Even more serious, infected computers, whether they are offline or online, can behave erratically or run slowly when infected with adware or spyware. Sometimes, software programs open and close slowly or randomly, or a computer’s hard drive will be at work grinding away when the computer is idle. These may be signs of “keyboard loggers,” malicious programs that allow hackers to monitor keystrokes and capture sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords.

How bad is the problem? Microsoft claims that half of all computers crashes reported by customers are related to adware and spyware.

The problem with spyware is that it is hard for an Internet user to detect it. However, spyware and adware prevention has become an important consideration, as many Internet service providers (ISPs) including America Online (http://www.aol.com) and EarthLink (http://www.earthlink.net), among others, provide spyware and adware protection for free to their subscribers.

Third-party spyware and adware blocking software is also useful, with the most popular titles including Spybot (http://www.safer-networking.org/en/spybotsd/index.html), Ad-Aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware) and PestPatrol (http://www.ca.com/products/pestpatrol).

Spyware and adware programs try to infect users’ computers without their knowledge. One tactic is to prey on users’ ignorance by bundling their programs with free software that users download from the Internet. No one would intentionally download these programs, so the spyware or adware is bundled with a free, useful program. This practice is rife in file-sharing programs, the backbone of many music-swapping applications.

Here’s how the scheme typically works. Free software is downloaded, and an End User License Agreement (EULA) appears in a dialog box. Often, this is lengthy and convoluted legalese that must be agreed to by clicking the dialog box’s “Agree” button to begin the downloading process. Many, if not most, users will skip over the legal mumbo-jumbo and click the “Agree” button without fully reading the EULA.

Users should be aware of warning phases in EULAs that may signal the presence of spyware and adware, such as “we may make your information available to third parties” and “you agree to allow third-party software to be installed into your computer.”

This EULA verbiage can give the company permission to include the spyware or adware along with the free program. This “permission tactic” lends legal legitimacy to the practice, but the reality is that few users will read or understand the ramifications of the EULA.

A more sinister technique includes sending spam with an executable file (a file with an .EXE extension) attached. When the user double-clicks it, adware or spyware is unleashed. Another alarming technique is when malicious software code is embedded into a user’s web browser when he or she simply visits a website or clicks a pop-up ad window. Many hackers use these techniques to exploit security holes in older versions of the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser.

As an Internet businessperson, you need to be aware of adware and spyware. Not only must you protect your own Internet activities from this malicious software, you should realize that its use is considered an unethical practice that can damage your company’s reputation and expose your company to litigation risks.

Viruses

While many computer viruses are mere nuisances that cause a handful of minor problems, “successful” computer viruses often make news headlines worldwide because of the havoc some of them create on the world’s computer networks. Many of the most damaging viruses are called “worms,” such as 2001’s “Code Red” as well as “Slammer,” a particularly clever and ruthless worm that, for all practical purposes, crashed the entire Internet 15 minutes after it was launched on January 25, 2003.

As an Internet businessperson, you need to aware of what viruses are and how to protect them from infecting your personal computers and networks. A widespread virus can cause Internet business millions in lost revenues, computing downtime, destroyed data, and wasted manpower as employees can’t use their computers to work and wages must be paid to computer security experts to clean up after the virus.

Here’s a look at how viruses work and the most common ones you’re likely to encounter.

Viruses. The word “computer virus” has become a kind of catchall term for any type of maliciously constructed computer code that can attack computers. But specifically, a virus is actually a small computer program, designed to intentionally cause some aspect of a computer to malfunction, which comes imbedded in a larger software program or within a single file.

This process involves inserting the virus code into the larger program’s overall code. When a program such as a word processor or spreadsheet, for example, is launched, the virus code is deployed as well, carrying out instructions written by its author to replicate itself and possibly damage data.

A computer virus gets its name because it behaves like a biological virus: it replicates itself and infects other computers it comes into contact with. But unlike biological viruses, computer viruses are always man-made, never created by a malfunctioning computer or program.

Many basics viruses are shockingly simple to create, and do little more than replicate themselves across many computers on a network. It’s unusual for simple viruses to cause serious damage to data, but they can quickly gobble up network resources, grinding a computer network to a halt until the viruses can be removed.

Early 1980’s forms of viruses, such as boot sector viruses, are practically nonexistent today. These viruses were usually spread by exchanging diskettes, which have been replaced as a storage device by compact discs (CDs) and digital video discs (DVDs), which are highly secure.

Instead, the most-common viruses today are spread as attachments to e-mail messages, tricking the message recipient into double-clicking an executable file (which has an often-hidden .EXE extension). This launches the virus on the computer and then replicates by sending a copy of itself and the message to other e-mail addresses found in the address book of the recipient’s e-mail client software.

Most viruses spread by e-mail cause little real damage, but there are exceptions. The so-called “Melissa” virus closed down the e-mail servers of many large companies, including Microsoft whose Microsoft Word the virus exploited to spread itself.

Melissa was included in a Word document uploaded to an Internet newsgroup. Newsgroup visitors, thinking the document was useful, double-clicked it to open it, launching the virus that was sent to the first 50 listings in their address book of their e-mail client. Recipients received an e-mail message, often with their first name in the subject line (gleaned from the address book), tricking them into opening it.

Worms. The term “worm” is usually lumped in with the viruses, although there are some important distinctions. A worm, just like a virus, attaches itself to a program or file. But unlike a virus, a worm is designed to travel across computer networks, using Internet protocols without any participation by computer users. The virus’s intention is to replicate itself so quickly that it slows down a network or crashes it. Worms exploited security holes in networks, traveling around one or more networks until its code finds a way to penetrate security measures and reach computers.

The most-notorious worm is Slammer, which just three minutes after it was launched was doubling its numbers every 8.5 seconds as it clogged and shut down computer networks worldwide. Another recent worm, “Blaster,” is design to infect computers so others can remotely control their operation.

Trojan horses. A Trojan house is like a virus in that it is hidden within a larger, useful software program. That’s why it borrows its name from Greek history: You think you are getting something desirable until it opens and you find out something is trying to attack your computer. Unlike a virus or a worm, a Trojan horse cannot replicate itself. Its purpose is to attack a single computer at a time.

Trojan horses are often found on websites, disguised as a free software download for something useful or fun, like a utility or a game. One well-known Trojan horse, in the ultimate irony, masqueraded as a program for anti-virus protection.

Once downloaded, a Trojan horse can damage data, even erasing a hard drive. Some Trojans even create a way for user to gain control of individual computers.

Macro viruses. A macro virus exploits a feature in software programs, especially word processors and spreadsheets, called a macro. Macros enable users of these programs to record and save a set of keystrokes (usually tedious, often-repeated tasks) that are employed when an assigned shortcut is typed by the user.

When a file containing a macro virus is launched, the virus launches a macro programmed by the author. This usually causes the file to perform fairly harmless buy annoying tasks, such as inserting funny or obscene text when a certain key or key combination is typed.

Macro viruses, like the Melissa virus discussed earlier, are typically spread as attachments to e-mail messages.

Virus prevention. All the talk about viruses and their counterparts shutting down networks, allowing hackers to steal personal information and erasing hard drives can be scary stuff. And, sometimes, it is. But there are many ways you can guard yourself from the vast majority of viruses and their variants, ranging from some commonsense, defensive computing practices to installing software protection.

  • Be wary of file attachments. The easiest way to stop many viruses is simply to be careful with e-mail, Internet communications, and downloading files. Since many viruses are spread by e-mail, it’s a good idea to never open file attachments from people or companies you don’t know or aren’t expecting.

Executable files (with an .EXE extension) and Visual Basic files (with a .VBS extension) are particularly suspect, as these are common platforms for delivering viruses, worms and macro viruses.

  • Safe downloads. Viruses and, especially, Trojan horses make their way unto computer systems when computer users download questionable software programs. To prevent these attacks, only download files from websites that you are confident are reliable. Also, if you install software from only CDs, the risk of virus infection is miniscule.
  • Antivirus software and firewalls. Installing antivirus software and firewalls on personal computers as well as computer networks has done an increasingly good job over the years at stopping virus attacks. Antivirus software blocks viruses, Trojan horses, macro viruses and other variants from attacking computers.

A firewall is a set of programs that protects a network from access outside the network, and the most-popular antivirus software and firewalls titles come from Symantic (www.symantic.com) and McAfee (www.mcafee.com/us).

McAfee’s Internet Security Suite 2005 and Symantic’s Norton WinAntiVirus PRO 2005 are both security suites with software for antivirus and firewall protection as well as protection from pop-ups, spyware and adware. Another popular option, if you use Windows XP, is Microsoft’s Windows Firewall as part of its Service Pack 2 for the XP operating system (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/security/internet/sp2_wfintro.mspx).

Using Search Engines 

What would the World Wide Web be without the powerful database searching tools provided by search engine websites? It would be basically like an immense library with millions of books on shelves stretching down endless corridors—all without any librarians or even a single card catalog.

The estimated number of web pages stands at more than 8 billion, and that number is growing all the time. But with search engines, you can type in keywords you want information about and be presented with results in just a matter of seconds—a truly amazing fact given the vast collection of information on the Internet.

Finding the best search engine for your purposes often boils down to personal preference. Here are the Web’s top six search engines, which together comprise over 90 percent of searches conducted by users, and, not surprisingly, are some of the Internet’s best-known brand names.

This section will discuss the different types of search engines and provide some ideas on how to get the most from your search engine use.

Indexes. Most search engines, including Google (by far the most popular), are index-based. Internet users like them because they return a large number of accurate results quickly.

Before a search engine can find web pages and files, it must first search the Web to locate and index all the data that’s out there. A search engine accomplishes this with sophisticated software robots called “spiders,” which scour web servers to search for web pages and links to yet more web pages. Spiders record all the words they find, creating a massive set of keywords that are then written to the search engine’s database.

Directories. With directories, the search engine user compromises a bit of comprehensiveness for better organized and fewer irrelevant search results.

Directories are compiled by people based on websites that are submitted to their directories by website creators. Yahoo!’s directory is a good example of directory-based search engine.

Some search engines, called meta-search engines, are designed to solely to search the results of other search engines. These are powerful tools when you want complete search results, especially when trying to uncover difficult-to-find information. The most-popular meta-search engines include Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com), Mamma (http://www.mamma.com) and Metacrawler (http://www.metacrawler.com).

Search engine tips. Getting the most from your search engine searches is more than just typing a word or two then clicking the Search button. How you combine the keywords in the search will help you get more accurate results. Each search engine website has its own set of features, but here are a few tips that apply to most any search engine you’ll use:

  • Quotation marks. Putting quotation marks around two or more keywords will return results that exactly match the phrase. For example, typing “That Network” will return only results that contain this exact phrase. Typing “That Network” without the quotation marks will return all web pages containing the word “that” and the word “network”. This would result in millions of search results completely unrelated to what the searcher was looking for.
  • Boolean operators. In mathematics, Boolean refers to a variable that can only have an answer of true or false. This same principle applies to search engine searches. Boolean operators (typically AND, OR and NOT) let you include or exclude keywords from your search results. For example, typing Vatican AND pope would return results that contain both words. Typing Vatican OR pope would return results that contained either word. Typing Vatican NOT pope would return results that contained “Vatican” but not “pope.”

Some search engines, including Google, have eliminated true Boolean searches in favor of “advanced” searches that let you accomplish the same type of searches by filling keywords into different fields (http://www.google.com/advanced_search).

  • Math symbols. Similar to Boolean searches, you can use plus (+) and minus (-) signs to include or exclude words from your search. For example, typing winter + coats would return sites that contain both words, while typing winter – coats would return all search results for the word “winter” that did not have the word “coat” on the web page. The plus feature isn’t particularly useful (typing winter coats without quotation marks does the same thing), but the negative sign is a helpful tool in narrowing the scope of a search.
  • Unique phrases. A clever way to find a narrowly defined set of search results is to type in a unique phrase you think might be on the types of web pages you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for information on starfish off the west coast of Canada, it would be more useful to type the keyword phrase starfish in the Pacific rather than just starfish.

Search engines are fairly easy to use, and the best way to learn their features is to pick one or more you are comfortable with and try different keyword combinations and practice with the website’s searching features.

Internet Marketing Techniques

The Internet has made fundamental changes in how companies of all sizes operate their businesses. Worldwide communications over the World Wide Web has mean business processes have been streamlined: digital automation has meant fewer people can do more work quicker; operating costs have been reduced because of these efficiencies; and better, cost-effective customer service can be provided through electronic mail (e-mail), websites, and digitized interactive voice response (IVR) phone systems.

The Internet and the Web are ever-evolving, and Internet marketing practices over the years have needed to change with them. E-mail marketing, for example, was once seen as the best inexpensive and effective promotion tools until the explosion of unsolicited commercial e-mail (“spam”) turned off the Internet masses, changing the face of how legitimate marketers communicate without offending.

Today, the most widely used tools for marketing commercial enterprises are search engine optimization (SEO) (sometimes referred to search engine marketing [SEM]), e-mail marketing, banner advertisements, and tried-and-true networking. Here’s an introduction to some of the Internet marketing techniques that can be used to build brands and generate sales.

Search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines have long been a part of the World Wide Web, but it took search engine kingpin Google to make it the most-popular and easiest way to find information on the Web.

It’s so easy to find products and services with Google and other top search engines that much recent Internet marketing has focused on ways to get e-commerce sites to appear at or near the top of search results. When a simple keyword search on Google, Yahoo! or MSN can return literally millions of web pages, the difference between being the third listing on the page or the 33rd can mean the difference in tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

For example, a Google keyword search for “doors” turns up 31.7 million web pages. On the first page of 10 results, five are for door retailers. Imagine the advantage they have over the competition that might be 50th, 500th, or 5,000th on that list.

Theories vary on how to optimize a website’s keywords to produce the highest position in search engines. Whole Internet marketing companies have spend countless resources trying to crack the mathematical algorithms Google uses to ensure their clients have top search engine placement. You can pay these companies to gain great search-engine ranking results, or you can do it yourself. There are even SEO software titles claiming to make SEO easy, and entire books have been dedicating to helping businesses achieve top search-engine rankings.

Much of the focus in SEO schemes involved the frequency and placement of keywords. Say, for example, you have a website promoting your Nevada-based real estate company. Ideally, you will want to place high in search-engine rankings every time someone does search-engine keyword search for “Nevada real estate” or “real estate in Nevada” or “Nevada Realtors”, just to mention three possible keyword combinations.

Placing these keyword variations on your website may help search engines find your website. Whether they will or not depends, in part, on the frequency of your keywords and their density, meaning the total percentage of the entire page that’s made up of keywords. Keyword density theories vary, but generally companies strive for a density of about 2 to 10 percent of keywords in their marketing and sales copy.

The placement of the keywords is also important. Including many of a web page’s most-important keyword phrases in the page’s META tag is one common tactic. A META tag is a piece of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) code that describes the content of a web page. In our example, then, the HTML code for the Nevada real estate company might look, in part, something like this: <META>Nevada real estate, real estate in Nevada, Nevada Realtors</META>.

Another common practice is including a good, strategic description of the page in the TITLE tag, which is the piece of HTML code that displays the title of a web page at the top of a web browser’s interface. Many websites also incorporate keywords at the beginning and ending of their marketing and sales copy as well as at the beginning and end of individual sentences.

Registering an e-commerce website with a search engine is another important aspect of getting products and services before potential customers. Registering a website is usually free or at least inexpensive. Google, for example, lets you register any web page at http://www.google.com/addurl.html, although they make no guarantees when or if the link will be added to its database. A similar free service is provided by Yahoo! http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest. MSN offers a range of submission services for a fee (http://www.submit-it.com).

If you want to ensure you have a high search-engine ranking on a particular search engine, you can pay for a piece of this prime search engine real estate. Google, again, is the leader in this type of search engine advertisement with its text-only “Sponsored Links” displayed alongside the free listings. Other major websites offer similar advertising services.

Banner advertisements. Advertising with “banners” on websites was all the rage in the late 1990s and was considered by many as the best way to reach potential customers online. Some of the enthusiasm about banner advertisements has faded, but pitching products with banner ads has endured.

Banners ads, even elaborate ones with graphics and movement, are basically simple HTML files inserted as a rectangular graphical form into a web page, and many are easy to create inexpensively. If web page visitors are interested, they will click the ad, which acts as a hyperlink to the e-commerce website that the advertiser wants them to visit.

There are typically eight sizes of banner ads offered, usually as horizontal rectangles although vertical ads and squares are also popular. The size of the ad and its complexity (and sometimes its memory size) helps determine its cost, much like an advertisement placed in a newspaper or magazine.

Ads can be as simple as just text, although that’s not probably the best option in the multimedia world of today’s Web. Usually, text is accompanied by artwork or a graphic of some kind, and creating full-motion ads with video and even audio are increasingly popular. More complex ads will require experienced professional designers skilled at making the banners attractive while conforming to the technical specifications of the website on which the retailer is advertising.

An important consideration when buying banner advertising is being able to measure its effectiveness. One measurement offered by advertisers is “click-through,” which is the percentage of Internet users visiting a web page who click on the ad. Even small click-through rates of 1 or 2 percent are considered effective.

Another measure is the number of “impressions” or “page views” an ad makes. This is simply the number of times a web page containing the ad was viewed, regardless of whether the visitor clicked the ad or not. This is roughly analogous to selling a radio ad based upon the number of listeners, without any real idea if they did or didn’t pay attention to it.

Retailers will want to gauge the effectiveness of their banner ads by determining their sales achieved from banner advertising compared to the cost. Most banner ad sales firms will be able to provide this information in their sales pitch.

There are many approaches about where to place banner ads. Sometimes, of course, salespeople will come knocking, hoping you will advertise on their websites and detailing their success rates with sales figures, click-through rates and promised impressions.

Alternatively, you can do the knocking and approach websites on which you want to advertise. This approach gives you better control over which websites your banner ads will appear. Often, Internet marketers will represent many different websites, so you may not always know exactly where your ads will appear. This may be off-putting to some who want tight control over their company’s advertising and marketing messages.

If ad budgets are tight, an alternative may be to join a “banner network,” in which you exchange space for websites’ banners and other links with other website operators. Joining some of these networks is free (if you agree to their terms and conditions), but most charge fees. It’s important to keep in mind that you can lose some control of your advertising and marketing messages as you may not be aware of all the sites on which you are advertising.

There are many types of banner networks in business, so you need to research them carefully and make sure you are getting the best value for your marketing dollar. Two of the largest and best-known ad banner sites are DoubleClick (http://www.doubleclick.net) and 24/7 Real Media (http://www.247realmedia.com).

E-mail Marketing. E-mail marketing has gotten a bad name, and who can really blame weary consumers from turning a deaf ear to e-mailed marketing pitches when they receive hundreds and even more than a thousand utterly useless spam messages each day.

Still, using e-mail to market products and services and communicate with customers can be effective when used responsibly and ethically.

First of all, it’s inexpensive, as you can send simple text messages to many customers for just pennies. Second, it’s effective if you can tailor the message to your customers’ wants and needs, don’t inundate them with marketing pitches, provide a degree of customization and personalization so they feel like valued customers, and provide an opportunity to easily join or leave your mailing lists.

One easy and ethical way to gather the e-mail addresses of interested customers is to let them request more information about your products and services through your website. Creating a simple website form that will direct messages to your e-mail account is matter of some basic HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) skills.

Perhaps you can provide them something useful in exchange for their e-mail address, which can go a long way toward promoting good will with your customers.

Say, for example, you have a website specializing in sales of high-quality yarn. When customers give you their e-mail addresses requesting information, you can have them receive your free e-mailed newsletter, where you offer tips on choosing the right yarn for different types of crocheting, crocheting tips, etc—maybe even an offer code giving them the opportunity to receive $2 off their next purchase if they are a repeat valued customer.

This type of pro-active marketing is a great way to keep valued customers coming back to shop at your website.

Another tried-and-true method is acquiring e-mail lists from reputable list brokers. If you choose a targeted list wisely, you gain access to an excellent database of potential customers who are likely to be interested in your products and services and will not mind if you contact them via e-mail.

For more sophisticated e-mail marketing campaigns, you may want to consider an e-mail marketing service that has set up shop on the Internet. Many offer many products and services, such as e-mail lists, bulk-mailing software, message customization, and ways to track customer response and ROI (return on investment).

If you plan to engage in direct e-mail marketing (sometimes called “permission marketing”), make sure you have a structure in place to allow your customers to “opt-in” (sign up to receive e-mailed marketing message) or “opt-out” (send a message to stop receiving marketing messages). When you don’t give customers options, this is the equivalent of spam. And in today’s Internet marketplace, gaining a reputation as a “spammer” can go a long way toward ruining your Internet presence and credibility.

Networking. Whether it’s called networking, word-of-mouth or some trendy buzzword, such as “leveraging” or “viral marketing,” getting the word out about your products and services with every human contact you make has been one of the most effective marketing tools long before e-commerce.

When you operate an e-commerce website, the key entity you own is your domain name, which is effectively your company name. And the best way to succeed in your business is to attract as many potential customers to your website as possible by continually spreading the domain name, your address on the Web, in any ethical way possible.

If, for example, you’re the proud owner of FunnyWidgets.com (not a real website), you will want to get this domain name in front of as many customers as possible.

First of all, you can include this web address on all your business cards and as part of your signature at the bottom of all your e-mail messages. Just think of all the times business cards are passed on and messages are forwarded, creating countless opportunities for your Web address to be noticed at little cost.

If you attend trade shows, look at all the companies that give away freebies, such as T-shirts and pens and refrigerator magnets, imprinted with their web addresses. Doing the same will give potential customers an item that will get the FunnyWidgets.com address before them every time they use the item.

Press releases are another inexpensive and effective marketing tool—if they are targeted to the appropriate newspapers and magazines. A press release about your new products sent to Widgets & Gizmos Quarterly magazine, for example, might lead to a call from a writer seeking more information and an article—and plenty of free publicity to your target audience—about your products and company.

Even though you are operating in the online sphere, don’t forget traditional forms of advertising. Print, television and radio ads have often proven effective in attracting website visitors. Even billboards can draw in visitors as passing motorists make a mental note of a catchy website name and are curious to see what it’s all about.

Back in the online world, there are other ways to promote your website, although you’ll want to be careful not to antagonize Internet users weary from blatant marketing pitches where they don’t belong. Posting information, along with your website address, in newsgroups and mailing lists can draw in visitors if you are providing information newsgroups and mailing list subscribers want and not just blindly spamming them.

Another online marketing technique is to approach websites with products and services related to yours and offer to publish links to their websites if they will reciprocate. Driving web visitors from you website to theirs and vice versa is often a great way to boost sales for all involved.

Information Technology Job Roles

The advance of computer technology has spawned a new class of worker: the Information Technology (IT) professional.

Trained and certified computing experts in dozens of specialties are required to run all aspects of businesses’ internal and external networked communications. As an Internet business owner, you need to determine which IT functions you need and the type of professionals best-suited for these jobs.

Each business is different, so a job role considered crucial at one company may be considered nonexistent at another. Here are basic, generalized job descriptions for some categories of IT professionals to help you determine your hiring and contracting needs.

Analysts—Analysts evaluate different aspects of an IT operation, depending upon their role. Programmer analysts test and evaluate software applications so they achieve business requirements. Business systems analysts develop and implement business, financial and operations systems that align with business requirements. System analysts (or network analysts) test and evaluate internal and external networks.

Business development manager—A business development manager (or marketing manager) is responsible for managing sales, marketing and product development to achieve a business’s objectives.

Database administrator—A database administrator (or database architect) develops policies and measures that ensure the integrity and security of the company’s databases, which may contain a huge array of information, including data on customers.

Hardware engineer—A hardware engineer (or hardware architect) is responsible for the design, development, testing and implementation of hardware systems.

Help Desk professionals—Help Desk professionals are technicians who help users solve technical problems with software, hardware, networks or other aspects of digital communications.

Information systems technician—An information systems technician (or specialist) is responsible for the continued functioning of all computer systems, including repair, replacement and troubleshooting.

Programmers—Responsibilities of a programmer (or software engineer or application developer) include writing, coding, modifying, testing and analyzing the performance of software programs. When creating new programs, a programmer is involved in all stages of production and is responsible for fixing software errors as needed once a program is operational.

Security administrator—A security administrator (or security engineer or security architect) is responsible for protecting a business’s networks by developing systems designed to detect intrusion through the development of firewalls, secure remote access, encryption, secure virtual personal networks (VPNs) and other security messages. IT security professionals often have a CISSP certification (Certified Information System Security Professional).

Systems administrator—A systems administrator (or systems engineer or operations administrator/engineer) is responsible for internal computer software systems and networks and troubleshooting software and network connectivity issues.

Webmaster—A webmaster is responsible for managing many aspects of a business’s website, including oversight and administration of its design and content, ongoing development, security, network administration, and the creation of applications, particularly in the Java language. Some webmasters have a certification called Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW).

Web developer—A Web developer (or Web application developer) designs and implements software for websites and fixes errors as needed. Many web developers specialize in specific computer languages, such as C++, HTML, JavaScript, and CGI.

Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)—A Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is a specialist in the design and implementation of Microsoft Windows operating systems and the Microsoft Windows Server System.

Chief information officer (CIO)—A chief information officer is responsible for the management of a business’s entire IT structure and the management of employees.

 

 

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