7 distractions that could make your online business suffer

Online spending continues to rise at a rate of knots, so guarding against potential online problems which could disrupt your business is essential

In this blog, brought to you in association with .co.uk, the number one domain for British Business, we reveal the 7 most common threats to your online success, and how to combat them.

With UK consumers spending £87bn online in 2013 and figures only going one way, there’s never been a better time to take your business online.

Low start-up costs and the ability to launch almost instantly mean starting an online business has never been easier or more popular.

Yet, establishing a trusted reputation can be harder than you think. In this blog, we reveal the seven most common threats to your online success, and how to combat them.

1. Fraudulent purchases

You need peace of mind that every customer that buys from you is genuine. Putting secure payment facilities in place helps to protect you against becoming a victim of online fraudsters.

Sites that don’t display a reputable payment processing provider are more likely to be susceptible to fraudulent buyers seeking to exploit a weakness.

Minimise your vulnerability by keeping an eye on any strange customer behaviour; signs of a fraudulent purchase might include late night orders, high value products or frequent purchases to different addresses. You should also set up with a trusted, secure payment processing provider such as Worldpay, PayPal or Sage, who often operate fraud detection tools to help you identify other signs.


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2. Hacking

It is often the smallest firms that fall prey to malicious hackers on the look-out for easy targets as they often don’t have the resources to invest in the most sophisticated software, so make sure your start-up is as prepared as possible. Pick a safe place to store your site data – a secure hosting provider is normally a good investment – and keep backups of all your essential information.

Any customer data such as names, addresses and credit card details should at the very least be encrypted but consider additional safety measures in this area. Letting data fall into the hands of hackers is a sure way to permanently damage your start-up’s credibility.

Remember that it’s not just hackers looking to steal someone’s identity that might target you, but spammers. It’s important to monitor posts and comments on your sites, as spambots may be using your business to gather customer email addresses. Spambot programs harvest user data from contact forms to populate their spam lists and will repeatedly post automated spam content on a site and insert unwanted advertising links, so these kinds of posts can be a sign your site has been compromised.

3. Protecting data

Protecting customer data isn’t just good practice – it’s the law. As the recipient of personal data from clients, your start-up is a ‘data controller’ under the Data Protection Act and you must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that you are responsible for the integrity, security and availability of customer information you hold.

Under the Act, you must also follow a set of ‘data protection principles’ including using information received for limited purposes and keeping personal information for no longer than absolutely necessary. Visit the government’s guide to the Act for guidance and the full list of principles.

4. Plagiarism

If you create your own content on your site such as articles, pictures or video, you automatically obtain copyright protection for your work.

An easy way of checking whether your text or images have been stolen and reproduced elsewhere is using a Google search – simply paste an excerpt of an article into the search bar or drag the image you wish to check into a Google Image search window, which will scour the web for similar images.

Equally important is making sure you don’t fall foul of copyright law yourself. Make sure to carefully check the terms of use for any content you wish to use, and if in doubt, it’s always best to ask permission.

5. Storing cookies

Cookies’ in an internet context are small text files containing information about a user’s browsing habits that are stored on their PC.

As a web start-up, cookies can be a useful tool to personalise what your customer sees on your site according to their browsing habits; but from May 2012, a new EU law requires you to expressly seek permission before storing cookies on users’ hard drives.

Draw attention to your cookie policy on the homepage of your site and allow your customers to opt-out if they wish in order to comply with the law.

6. Negative trending

Often one of the trickiest problems to deal with is an irate customer’s bad review of your business, which could damage your reputation. For example, if the complaint goes viral, as a dispute between a customer and restaurant owner over a plate of chips did in August this year, that bad review can drag your start-up into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

When dealing with a negative review, don’t be pulled into an online argument with the author even if you think the criticism is unwarranted or unfair.

Post a simple, polite response acknowledging their concerns and ask if there is anything you can do to placate them. If the matter needs to be discussed further, open a private channel of communication with the customer rather than dragging the affair out in public.

When the complaint is resolved, consider asking the author to amend their original review to reflect this. However, if constant bad reviews are becoming too much to deal with, there are also numerous ‘reputation management’ firms that can help you to rescue your online image.

7. Trolls

The source of much fascination from lawmakers and media outlets recently, ‘trolls’ can be loosely defined as individuals who go online looking to cause trouble or provoke a reaction; with a web-based start-up, this can take the form of offensive or off-topic comments on your webpage or social media.

The golden rule here is to never engage with a troll, as this is normally exactly what they want you to do. As a first resort, there are numerous ways of blocking troublesome users through IP addresses, usernames or email addresses; if the problem is more severe, consider pre-moderating user comments on your page or disabling them altogether.

Also be aware of the distinction between trolling and legitimate criticism; your goal should be to protect your business, not silence any dissent.

If you’re thinking about taking your business online .co.uk have plenty of tips and advice to get you started. Visit www.agreatplacetobe.co.uk and follow @dotuk on Twitter.

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