Say you’re a small business owner with a website with which you sell your goods and services, but you can’t afford the SSL encryption or merchant account necessary to do this. What are the options available to you?

Most web users are familiar with PayPal and the service it offers. What many small business website owners don’t realize is that PayPal can be used to accept payment for your goods and services online until you can spring for SSL security and a more sophisticated shopping cart system.

PayPal is extremely easy to set up, even for someone with low or no web savvy, and the average web user feels very comfortable using PayPal. It’s been around for quite awhile, and most people feel safe handing their money over that way.

The only real downside of using it is when the user hits “Buy Now” they don’t go to a shopping cart but to a PayPal login page, which can lead to confusion and potentially lower sales. Also, because of the way the Paypal log-in page is set up, many users mistakenly believe they must have a PayPal account to proceed, which isn’t the case. However I highly doubt PayPal will be correcting that any time soon, as it’s in their best interest to recruit as many new users as possible.

However, for a small business website owner, who needs to sell a few goods or services, and does not have the time or money to invest in the necessary technology to do so, PayPal is going to be your best solution.

Now, if you’re just starting your website, Paypal may very well be an absolute necessity. It’s very easy to set up, even for someone with little or no web design experience. You simply log in, create products, assign a price, and PayPal will give you a “Buy Now” button, which you can simply copy and paste onto your page. As time and your budget allows, you can invest in more sophisticated methods of accepting credit cards online.

Whatever you do, please don’t even consider using a standard web form to transmit credit card data to your e-mail address. Quite a few clients have come to me and asked why they cannot just do a simple form with a credit card field and have them form e-mailed to them. The answer is simple, standard Web forms have no security built-in, and for a relatively competent hacker it would be a fairly simple task to intercept this information in transit. This method of credit card data retrieval is so dangerous; no ethical web designer in his right mind would do so.