Pitfalls of Personal Academic Websites You Want to Avoid

Have you thought about an academic website or online portfolio for your work?

For many academics, the idea of a personal website is a nice one – for someone else. Someone with the time and skills.

I’m Jennifer van Alstyne of The Academic Designer LLC. I help people like you communicate how and what you do online.

Welcome to my blog, The Social Academic. Here I share advice on managing your online presence, and sharing your work effectively in places like social media. I also interview amazing academics and researchers like you about their work.

A surprising number of academic websites are outdated. Many are unmanaged.

Some are not updated, lose their domain or get malware.

Why is that?

Why are academics putting hours of work into something that helps communicate their work, and then abandoning it?

A personal academic website is empowering. It has great benefits. Your website can help people

  • understand your work
  • get to know you
  • get in touch

It can present your work in ways the public and your personal connections can understand. 

To get the benefits, you need a website you can manage long-term. You must avoid common pitfalls like lack of training, time, or funds.

Most faculty aren’t trained in how to create a website. They don’t realize how much work goes into it.

Often they don’t account for the associated costs before starting.

The lack of training and time often results in the loss of the benefits. Benefits like engaging the public, media, and larger academic community.

Because academics don’t get the awesome payoff, many allow their websites to fail.

This post is about how

  • training
  • time
  • and funds

should play into your thinking before you start your academic website.

Training and 3 skills you need to build your website

Personal academic website example

Let’s talk about some of the skills you need to build a website.

#1 Website development and coding

If you are building your site, you need web development skills.

If you are using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you don’t need quite as many of those skills.

And if you use a drag-and-drop editor like Wix, you don’t need any of those skills.

You can also hire someone to set up the backend of a website for you. I recommend this for anyone deciding to self-host their website.

#2 Content for your website is a big project

Content needs to be prepared before your can design your website.

Photos and headshots need to be selected.

You need to write about your work in ways people can understand. And, what information do you want to include?

This is a time-consuming process people don’t always plan for.

Writing for the web is a lot different than academic writing. Online readers like shorter sentences with more paragraphs. This too takes time.

Once the content is gathered, it needs to be laid out in ways a new visitor can navigate and understand.

It needs to be properly mapped for Google for people unfamiliar with you to find it.

#3 Sharing your academic website is a step some people forget

Once your website is complete, it needs to be shared. People need to visit it for you to get the benefits.

Many people who start websites don’t share them with their audience. I’ve even heard people ask if they should have a unaesthetic website as not to appear to care too much.

Because academics tend to be wary of “self-promotion,” many academic websites don’t get visited often.

An unshared website is missing out on awesome benefits like

  • Reaching new audiences
  • Getting students who actually want your course
  • Updating your friends and colleagues what you’re up to
  • Being approachable to funders and the media

Time to create and maintain your website, probably more than you think

Watch in the sand

Don’t take on this project if you aren’t ready to invest time in yourself. And this is a project for you.

Time is the biggest issue when it comes to personal academic websites.

Learning the skills above takes time. Implementing them takes more.

There are videos that will show you how to create a website in a short amount of time. But, how many of those websites still exist and are updated a few years out?

Not as many as you’d think.

No one is going to promote you right now. And no one is going to promote you without their own agenda except you.

Academic work, research, teaching…deserves to be seen and understood.

The best benefit of a personal academic website is that by sharing some of who you are and what you do, people can understand you more. You’ve given them opportunity to get to know you a bit.

Once a website is launched, if people don’t see the benefits right away, they tend to stop updating it. If they stop sharing their site, those benefits don’t magically appear later.

Time is needed after your website is launched to update the site (backend security, CMS and plugin updates), and your site’s content.

You’re not ready for an academic website if you aren’t prepared to dedicate time each year for management. Or, prepared to hire help.

Want a website, but don’t want to spend a lot of time? A 1-page personal website may be right for you.

Funds you need to get started and maintain your website

Woman putting coin into a piggy bank

The last reason personal academic websites are unmanaged or abandoned, is funds.

Websites don’t have to cost money. For a $0 or low cost website, you do the 

  • development
  • writing
  • design
  • graphic
  • layout
  • and sharing of your website

There are annual fees associated with having a website. Those fees depend on how much work you are prepared to do yourself.

We already talked about management of the backend of your site, and of your sites content.

There are also costs associated with the host of your website and domain name.

Join me for a YouTube LIVE on academic personal websites on November 9, 2020. Subscribe to my channel and set a reminder for the event.

Do you have an academic website? I’d love to hear about your experience. Let me know in the comments.

When you’re ready to create your site, check out my post with step-by-step instructions on how to make an academic personal website.

And, if this all sounds like too much, maybe a 1-page academic website is right for you.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.

She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.

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