The learning curve involved with starting an online business (or bringing an offline business online) is manageable by practically anyone. However, when you start out you’ll find a lot of words and jargon you may not be familiar with, which can make the task more daunting than it has to be. By learning the definition of these words, you’ll be able to better navigate the world of online business.
Online Business Definitions
There are many technical details associated with the following terms, but you don’t need to know it all to get started. We’ve included what you need to know most to ensure a successful start to your online business without overwhelming you. That said, we have a lot of information on this site that will help guide you and have included links to that in case you require further information.
Your domain name is what people type into their web browser to visit your website. It’s your website URL/address and it will be part of your business email address. It’s broken down into two basic parts, the ‘second-level domain’ is the name you choose for your site. In our case, it’s ‘CanadiansInternet’. The ‘top-level domain (TLD)’ is the domain extension. In our case, it’s ‘.com’.
We have some domain names registered with our host, GreenGeeks. For .ca domain names, consider a Canadian registrar such as HostPapa, as companies outside of Canada aren’t always familiar with the unique registration process. If you don’t want to start from scratch, check out over 1 million premium domains at Buy Domains.
More information: How to Register a Website Domain Name in Canada
Website hosts provide the equipment and data storage/processing required to publish websites online. They operate data centres containing multiple ‘servers’ (see below). Our website hosting is provided by GreenGeeks.
More information: Checklist: How to Find the Best Website Host for your Canadian Business
Your website host provides software & hardware through a ‘server’ that facilitates the publication of your website. It stores your data and uses Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to deliver your site to visitors, as well as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) for your email.
Your website is assigned an IP address by your web host, which is used to connect it to your domain name. This ensures your site will show up when someone types your domain name into their web browser. Once your hosting is set up, you’ll be given two name servers to add to your domain name to connect the two. They’ll look something like this: ns1.server.com.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificate
SSL is a data security protocol used to ensure the safe transmission of information online. It protects us when we make a purchase on a website, for example, as indicated by a paddle lock in the browser address bar.
Google has made an SSL certificate mandatory for websites, whether they need it or not. If you don’t have one in place, the Google Chrome browser will post a melodramatic security warning instead of your website. Your website host can set up an SSL certificate for you.
Data Sovereignty, from the Canadian online business perspective, refers to where that data is physically stored. For websites, it’s data centres and the servers that reside in them. By law, you must store the information of Canadians on Canadian soil, or warn them that it isn’t.
“Data sovereignty means that digital data is subject to the laws of the country in which it is located,” states CIRA. “Data stored in Canada falls within Canadian privacy laws, as well as data that flows only within our borders. Once your data travels outside of Canada’s borders it is open to the laws of the land. In the U.S., for example, Canadians have no right to privacy.”
More information: Canadian Law for Online Businesses – Data Sovereignty FAQs
Content Management System (CMS)
A Content Management System allows you to easily build, maintain and manage your website. The best known CMS is WordPress. It started as a blogging platform and has grown into a fully functional website builder that virtually anyone can learn to use.
Once your website hosting is activated, you can go to your site management page (usually called Cpanel) and install the CMS of your choice. Most hosts now come with popular free platforms and feature easy, one-click installation.
More information: How to Start Any Online Business With WordPress
Ecommerce is a broad term referring to any online sale. It’s often used more specifically in reference to online retail.
Ecommerce platforms are similar to Content Management Systems, but they’re designed specifically for ecommerce. You’ll be able to set up a store, handle fulfillment, manage customers, start an affiliate program, or any number of other things to help your online store function and succeed. Canada’s Shopify is a great example of an ecommerce platform.
More information: Canadian Guide to the Best eCommerce Platform Software
If you prefer to add ordering functionality to your existing website, a shopping cart will work for you. You can buy software or plugins (if they’re available for your particular CMS). For example, Shift4Shop offers both hosted and non-hosted options). WordPress has it’s own ecommerce shopping cart, WooCommerce, available as a plugin.
More information: Choosing the Best Shopping Cart Software for your Canadian Website
If you’re selling anything online, be it products or services, you’ll have to provide a way for people to pay you. You can either install a shopping cart on your website or use an ecommerce platform. Accepting payments online is easiest (and most secure) if it’s included in the shopping cart or ecommerce platform you choose.
Whether you process payments through a payment gateway or have an in-house solution, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with PCI security standards for account data protection.
More information: Online Business 101 – Accepting Online Payments in Canada
Content refers to anything you produce for publication on your website, often as a blog. Text content is the most popular, but images and video are also commonly used. Product descriptions and other sales-focused information on your website would fall under copywriting.
Copyright / Plagiarism
Copyrights and plagiarism work the same online as they do offline, for the most part. You can’t pull content or images from any website and use them on your own without expressed permission. That includes bots or individuals that go around the internet stealing content from multiple websites, which are then (poorly) reworded and published as your own. It’s detrimental in many ways and can land you in a lot of trouble.
More information: 7 Ways Stealing Content from other Sites can Ruin Your Business
Most people who start a blog or other type of website intend to monetize (generate revenue) from it. Ecommerce is a common example, but there are other legitimate opportunities to monetize your website.
More information: 6 Legit Revenue Streams for Virtually ANY Website or Blog
No Follow and Sponsored Tags
Search engines, such as Google, often prohibit the practice of paying for links without including the rel=”…” tags “nofollow” or “sponsored” in the HTML. The “sponsored” tag was recently added to alert search engines that the link is sponsored.
Otherwise, search engines may identify links without the “nofollow” or “sponsored” tag as attempts to exploit their link popularity/authority algorithm, also known as backlinks. If that happens, both your site and the site you’re linking to can be penalized with removal from search results.
You may be approached by marketing agencies or individuals wanting to place a “do follow” link in your existing content, or offering a guest post with a link. Never agree!
If you use a plugin like PrettyLinks, your links will automatically be tagged “nofollow” and you can have the “sponsored” tag automatically included as well.
More information: Should I Sell “Do Follow” Links to Marketers?
The number of visitors your website receives from any source is referred to as website traffic.
Any questions? Please comment below or join us in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.
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Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.
Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.