You can’t do anything about building your website without having your hosting squared away. Even if you know the hosting direction you plan to take, you still need a few more pieces in place before you begin building your website.
If finding your host is like renting an apartment, then your domain name is its street address. A domain name requires a lot of thought; you want one that accurately represents your business, is easy to spell and remember, and will get you found on the Internet. Your domain name is so important, I wrote a whole blog post about it.
Most hosting providers also serve as domain name registrars, but you don’t have to register your domain name(s) at the same place that hosts your website. This is actually a good thing because you can get the best price for both domain name registration and hosting without being locked into either. It is perfectly acceptable, though, to register your domain names with your host to keep everything centralized. That is totally up to you.
One thing you should absolutely invest in is domain name privacy. WhoIs.com lets you look up the owner(s) of any URL. By investing in domain name privacy, your personal information is hidden. Instead of listing the private information (your name, address, phone number, etc.) that is required when you register your domain name, it will show your registrar’s information. This is an extra layer of protection between you and anyone who might take advantage of your personal information.
Note that you need to have a domain name in mind before you set up your hosting. Universally, the first question hosts ask when you set up your account is if you have a domain name, or if you want to register one. You should research your hosting first, but have your domain name planned before doing anything about it. After all, you can’t start building an apartment complex without knowing its address.
An SSL (secure socket layer) certificate is — or should be — of special interest to anyone planning to have an e-commerce function on their site, or who plans to collect sensitive information from website visitors. An SSL certificate certifies that a website and its owner(s) are, in fact, exactly what they purport themselves to be. It encrypts information, making sites more secure for purchases or sharing information. Websites with an SSL certificate have “https” before the address in the browser, indicating that it is a safe and encrypted site. No one with any knowledge of the Internet would be willing to shop on or provide exploitable information to a site without this certification.
You will incur a fee for SSL certification, but it is a worthwhile expense. Many hosting companies offer a free SSL certificate for the first year of your hosting plan. Obtaining an SSL certificate is the only savvy way to run an e-commerce site.
Additionally, if the option is available, go with a wildcard SSL certificate. A wildcard will protect your primary domain and any first-level subdomains (for example, yourdomain.com and shop.yourdomain.com). So if like me, you have multiple branches of your website and you want to protect any purchases made or information provided on all of those branches, a wildcard will do that for you.
Years ago, when I first started designing and building websites, I never had a plan. Ah, youth. I’d just get in there and start writing code. Consequently, I almost always ended up hating the design practically before I finished creating it. During the process, I thought of something that would look better or work better than my initial idea, resulting in a desire to scrap all that hard work and start from scratch. Again, with no plan.
When I say you need a plan before building your website, I don’t mean you have to know precisely where every minute detail is going to go. A website’s plan has to be flexible. If it’s not, then not only is it hard to adapt as changes arise during the creation process, it becomes difficult for your website to grow as your business does.
Websites are evolving entities. You don’t have to redesign it every few months; I’ve been down that road and all it leads to is stress headaches. It does have to be able to absorb the little tweaks and adjustments that come with a growing business.
One more thing you need before building your website? ME! If you’re looking to get a quality website at a reasonable price, from someone who understands the challenges faced by creative entrepreneurs, fill out my Design Sorting Questionnaire to get started on your project.