Accepting payments via your website opens up a world of opportunity. You can sell products both digital and physical, as well as offer a range of services. That said, payment systems can be difficult to implement. As awareness of web security grows, customers are reluctant to make payments that seem insecure. Moreover, with so many different payment platforms available, it can be hard to know where to start.

#1 Open a merchant account

A merchant account is a type of bank account specifically designed for businesses. It differs from a personal current account in a number of ways, not least how payments are processed. For example, when money enters a merchant account, it’s held for a few days. This gives the bank time to undertake verification measures, ensuring that the payment is secure and properly authorized. This also makes it much easier to issue refunds because the money is still held in the account.

Merchant accounts are essential for any business hoping to take payments online. Their biggest benefit lies in the fact that they enable you to accept credit and debit card payments. This is a massive advantage. Most customers won’t want to go through an extended payment system and will much prefer simply to use their card. Since credit/debit cards are so widely popular, you’re cutting yourself off from a big audience if you don’t (or can’t) accept them.

#2 Compare payment gateways

If your merchant account is the payment’s final destination, then you might consider a payment gateway the road that it uses to get there. Payment gateways simply connect your website to your account. They make payments much smoother and more secure, granting an additional layer of protection to both you and your customers. In addition, they’ll authenticate cards and often give you some kind of facility to offer refunds.

Many merchant accounts come with their own payment gateways, but you’re under no obligation to use them and can look elsewhere. Major gateways include PayPal, Sage Pay, and WorldPay, but the list is long. However, none of these services are free, and they all offer slightly different functionality, so it pays to compare. PayPal, for example, charges a fee per transaction, whereas WorldPay also has a monthly subscription. Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, and the payment gateway you choose will depend entirely on the type and shape of your business.

#3 Use SSL

No matter how robust your payment system, customers won’t want to use it unless they’re convinced your website is secure. Payment details are valuable commodities much sought by hackers, and internet security is rarely out of the headlines of late. That’s where SSL comes in. SSL certificates tell customers that the website they’re using is safe and their payment details are protected. It’s an additional layer of security that grants peace of mind.

SSL encrypts card data during payment, making it nearly impossible to steal. Once you’ve got SSL certification, display it prominently on both your website and during the checkout process to reassure customers. This should be a top priority and is applicable regardless of your business. Whether you’re accepting payment for physical items, taking bets as part of an online gambling operation, or simply offering a website subscription, SSL certification is vital.

#4 Only ask for necessary details

Most websites demand for more details than they need to make a payment. This makes the process longer, puts customers off, and loses sales. Phone numbers are a good example of this. You almost certainly won’t require a customer’s phone number during payment, so asking for it only adds time. Think carefully and only ask for the bare minimum of details.

The same applies to account creation. All too many websites demand that users create an account to make a payment. Not only is this time-consuming, but in an era where data privacy is in sharper focus than ever, it just equates to more details that can be stolen. Forcing users to create an account to make a payment is a surefire way to lose a sale. Your number one priority should always be seamless, frictionless checkouts that take as few details as possible.

#5 Consider a Payment Facilitator

Superficially at least, Payment Facilitators (or PayFacs for short) might resemble merchant bank accounts or payment gateways, but they’re quite different and are usually a good fit for a smaller business with thin margins. PayFacs offer all the same services, allowing you to take card payments online and with security measures, but they process those payments differently. In addition, rather than putting payments through one at a time, they bundle transactions with lots of other companies.

That makes the service much, much cheaper than a traditional payment gateway. Most won’t even charge a monthly fee (preferring to take a flat rate per transaction), and you won’t have to worry about complying with PCI either. In addition, since payments go through the companies own systems, they’re subjected to an array of security measures. The only downside is that PayFacs are notorious for suspending accounts suspected of fraud and, even if you’re completely innocent, it can be hard work to get your account back.

#6 Make field corrections simpler

The number one annoyance for customers trying to make online payments is a field error. This occurs when they’ve filled in details (like their address, for example) incorrectly or missed a field. These errors stop the payment from going through and generate pesky error messages. There’s usually an easy fix, but lots of websites don’t make it immediately clear where or why the error occurred. Much like forcing users to create an account or demanding too much information, this slows the process down and creates unnecessary friction.

Instead, make it abundantly clear what the user has done wrong. For example, highlight missed or erroneous fields in red and explain what went wrong as part of the error message. Forcing users to trawl back through their form will likely cause them to lose patience and you to lose a sale.