In a previous post, Important Decisions When Developing An E-Commerce Web Site, many aspects of developing an e-commerce site were discussed. A small part of those post covered the acceptance of payments. In this post you’ll learn more about SSL Certificates and their importance for e-commerce sites and even for sites that don’t collect payments.

First, let’s cover PayPal and why it isn’t as important to have an SSL certificate if payments are made through PayPal. In those cases, the actual payment information is entered on PayPal’s Web site (which is secured with an SSL certificate) so it isn’t as important. When you want to directly accept credit cards (without processing them via PayPal), you need an SSL certificate.

What does an SSL certificate do? It validates your identity as a company. Part of the process for getting the certificate validates that are you also a legitimate business. When the certificate is installed on your site, it will encrypt data going to/from the site so that it is nearly impossible for that information to be intercepted or hacked. While I say nearly impossible, the chances are so slim and the computing power needed so high that it just isn’t going to happen. This allows you to safely take payments and customers to feel comfortable providing their payment information.

There are various ways for your Web site visitors to know the site has SSL installed. For many years, a padlock would appear next to the URL at the top of the browser. With newer, stronger SSL certificates, the name of the company will appear and green is used to indicate security. Below are examples from two different browsers viewing a secure site.

Where do I get an SSL certificate? Typically you’ll go to the same place where you have registered your domain name or you have your Web site hosted. Our preferred vendor for our own sites and our clients is GoDaddy. If you go to the Web Security page on their site, you’ll see a few SSL options they offer. For most sites, the “Protect one website” option is the best choice.

Once you have purchased the SSL certificate and have provided the information needed for verification, it needs to be installed on the Web site. This is why it is often best to buy from the same company providing Web hosting. They’ll typically install it for you right away or make the process simple to configure.

Our preferred vendor for credit card processing is Stripe and our preferred WordPress shopping cart is WP-EasyCart. The two integrate very well together and connecting Stripe to WP-EasyCart takes only a few minutes. But it will only work if you have an SSL certificate installed.

While an SSL certificate is required for e-commerce, it is also beneficial for all sites. Remember, it validates your business identity and secures the flow of data in both directions. For this reason, search engines like Google will give secure sites a higher ranking than the same site without security. Basically, the search engines trust you more! Purchasing an SSL certificate could be the “SEO Optimization” your site needs and the small investment could pay off with a traffic boost.

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