How To Make An Academic Website

How to Make an Academic Website on The Social Academic

Ready to make your academic personal website?

Creating a personal academic website is a big project, but well-worth it for faculty and researchers. It’s the best way to manage your online presence long-term. And, your academic web portfolio can showcase your

  • teaching
  • research
  • publications
  • speaking engagements
  • service

There are many benefits of academic websites for professors, grad students, and researchers like you.

Listen to “How to Make a Personal Academic Website”
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I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome to my blog/podcast, The Social Academic. Here I share advice articles and interviews with awesome people like you.

Today we’re talking about how to make your personal academic website.

Having a personal website is great because it

  • shares your professional accomplishments
  • helps your colleagues and other scholars in your field connect with you and your work
  • attracts students who are interested in what you’re teaching (they’ll be able to understand what your classes will be like from a good teaching section)
  • allows people to get in touch without having to search through a dense faculty profile
  • provides an engaging way for funders and publishers to better understand you
  • helps people develop longer-term connections with your work
  • connects people with your public social media accounts (including academic or research-based ones)

Most people I’ve spoken with say the process of making a personal website creates a better understanding of the impact of their own work.

There are so many benefits of a personal academic website.

But a website isn’t right for everyone. It does take time and money.

And not just once. A website is an ongoing project that needs regular updating.

Not sure if you’re ready? Be sure to check out this guide to avoid common pitfalls like lack of time, training, or funds.

If you’re sure a website isn’t for you, that’s totally okay! My top recommendation is to update your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is a great way to network with your community.

For the rest of you, here is my step-by-step guide to creating a personal academic website. If you need more guidance, be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to learn about my academic websites training (with live support).

8 steps to take your website from start to launch

Woman in athletic wear ready to climb stairs

Creating a personal academic website is a long-journey. It’s definitely not a 10-minute project like some articles claim.

A website is a multi-day project. This guide should help you move forward efficiently.

  1. Create your content
  2. Pick a domain name and site title
  3. Choose a website host
  4. It’s time for set-up
  5. Preview your site
  6. It’s time to go live
  7. Share your website

Communicating with the public, and with your scholarly audiences, is hard work. Following this guide will help you get your academic website from start to launch smoothly.

Let’s get started.

Step #1 | Create your content

A good website thinks about the content first. So step 1 in creating your personal website is deciding what you’ll include.

I bet you thought we were going to start with choosing a host, or domain name. Nope.

How do you want to structure your website?

The structure and organization of your academic website determines the content you’ll need to create.

If you want to share a lot of information, you can have more pages:

  • About page with your academic bio and headshot
    • Link to CV
  • Research page
    • Current project
    • Research outcomes
  • Teaching page
    • Course descriptions
    • Syllabi
    • Teaching Statement/Philosophy
  • Publications page
    • Abstracts or descriptions
    • Publication links
  • Speaking Engagements page
  • Contact page
  • Links to your social media profiles
  • Blog

If you want a simpler website, a smaller structure is recommended:

  • About page with your academic bio and headshot
    • Link to your CV
    • Links to your social media profiles

The simplest website structure is just 1-page. But it isn’t right for everyone.

The size of your website and how much content you include, will change depending on what you want to share.

That’s why thinking about site content and structure is the kind of thing you want to plan before you get started.

Gather written content for your website

Once you’ve decided on a structure and what you want to include, I highly recommend you write your content before creating your website.

Make a list of the pages you need to write content for, i.e.

  • About Page
    • Academic bio: 300-500 words
    • Research description
  • Research Page
    • Abstract of current project(s)
    • Longer description of research interests
    • Important outcomes or research highlights
  • Publications Page
    • Publication details (not in standard citation format), preferably with an abstract or description

Then, write the content for each page to complete this step.

Need content inspiration? Be sure to check out my post with website content ideas.

Edit your content for the web

Most people don’t write for the web automatically. Academics tend to use

  • complicated or dense sentences
  • jargon / specialized terms
  • long paragraphs
  • no headings (or few headings)

And these are all no no’s for web writing.

For best practices, edit the content you have to

  • use simple sentences
  • define jargon and specialized terms
  • break your writing into short paragraphs (less than 5 sentences)
  • choose headings that help website visitors skim the page to find what they’re looking for

Photography and headshots

Choosing photography now falls under collecting content. You’ll need 2 things:

  • cover photo (also called a splash image, header photo, etc.)
  • headshot

I’m using the word cover photo, because it’s a term you may have heard of for your social media profile. Basically, a cover photo is a large photo at the top of your profile (or in this case website) that will be there all the time. Or that is kind of like a theme photo that represents your website.

If you like taking photos, you may have one already that works for you.

Many people choose stock images for their cover photo.

For your headshot, you don’t need to go out and do a professional photo shoot. If you have photos from your work then that’s a good option.

Selfies are a good option for your headshot too.

You just want your photo to be friendly, like of your smiling face.

And try not to have distractions in the background.

Are photos required? No, but it really does help. So if you’re uncomfortable with photos, consider making an avatar instead.

Whichever you photos choose, you need to have the rights or licence to share them online.

Step #2 | Pick a domain name and site title

Once you’ve gathered/written all your content, you want to pick a domain name. And you want to do this before choosing a host because it’s literally going to be the 1st thing most of them ask you to do.

Your domain name is your main website URL, or web address.

For instance, the full URL to this page is https://theacademicdesigner.com/2020/how-to-make-an-academic-website

So the domain name for the website is theacademicdesigner.com.

Your site title is what your website is called, in my case, The Academic Designer, which is the name of my company.

For a personal website, my top recommendation for choosing your website domain and title is to use your full name.

My personal website is jennifervanalstyne.com (site name: Jennifer van Alstyne).

Using your full name will help your page rank in Google and other search engines.

Afterall, the keyword most people will use to find your website when searching, is your name.

So, decide on a domain name and website title.

And, an easy way to check if your domain name is in use is by typing it into your navigation search bar. If it’s taken a website will show up, and you may need to add a middle initial or keyword (i.e. MatthewMPincus.com, or JenniferVanAlstynePoet.com).

Typically if a domain name is taken but not in active use, it will tell you how you can purchase it.

Step #3 | Choose a website host

What website host is best for you will depend on your budget and technical skills.

Oh, also your time. I almost forgot that one.

So there are 3 things to consider when choosing a website host:

  • budget
  • technical skills
  • time

What’s your budget like?

Depending on where you end up hosting your website, the full annual cost can be anywhere from $0 to around $175 USD per year.

This is going to sound harsh, but unless you have coding/technical skills for web design…

Or you have the time and interest to learn…

You’re going to want to spend some money.

So how tech-y are you?

So how good are your technical skills? If you know basic HTML and CSS, a self-hosted WordPress is a free option you may consider.

If you use any of the other coding languages used for web design, you probably already know how you want to build your website and you just needed some guidance on the content.

But if you’re like most academics, you probably haven’t had web design or coding training. And that’s okay!

There are options for you that don’t require a lot of technical ability:

  • a managed WordPress host like WordPress.com, Bluehost, WPEngine (top recommendation)
  • SquareSpace
  • Wix.com (not recommended, but better than other drag-and-drop editors)

I do not recommend hosting a personal academic website through your university or affiliation, Academia.edu, MLA Commons, your scholarly organizations, etc.

And that’s for a lot of reasons, but mainly these three:

  • you should own and have full control of your website (including the option to move to another host)
  • you need the ability to have good search engine optimization (SEO), and many of those larger sites are not well-indexed by search engines like Google
  • if your research, work, or interests change you want your website to be able to adapt to you long-term

My top choice for academic websites is WordPress.com, a managed WordPress host. For most people the Personal plan is great at $4/mo. But if you want more control over themes and look, Premium is $8/mo.

The benefit of using a managed WordPress host is that they take care of things like security and updates for you.

Got time on your hands? Start thinking about content and technical updates now

A website does take up a lot of time during creation, but not everyone thinks about ongoing maintenance.

You’ll want to update your content on an annual basis, if not more often (i.e. when you add a line to your CV).

But you’ll also need to make sure any plugins and website updates are taken care of on the technical end too.

If your website gets a virus or gets hacked, can you take time out of your busy schedule to deal with it? You’ve got classes to teach, research to do, articles to write.

That’s why paying for hosting that includes security and support is your best option.

And you want to be sure to plan in advance by putting website updates in your calendar now.

Step #4 | It’s time for set-up

Once you’ve chosen a host, it’s time to set up your website.

This is an exciting day, because when you have the content written already, your website will come together fast.

Choose a theme for your website

Most website hosts have themes or looks to choose from for the design of your website.

When choosing a theme for your website look for these 3 things:

  • mobile responsive (your website adapts from desktop to mobile screens well)
  • clean design, free from distractions
  • accessibility-ready (depending on your host)

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you can usually edit things like font and color.

For font, choose a sans serif font (letters without the little feet).

In terms of color, you want something with a high contrast for easy readability. Dark text on a light background is preferred.

Place your content

Once you’ve selected a theme, you’re ready to place your content.

Depending on how big your website is, you’ll need to know how to do these things

  • add a page
  • place text
  • insert a URL link
  • upload a photo
  • make a header

Note that sometimes the cover photo, or what some hosts call a splash image, is in a different site-level section. Where to find that setting is website host-specific.

You may also need to know how to add and edit these site-level items

  • a menu
  • social media links
  • a contact form

Most website hosts have well-written guides you can use to help you perform these actions.

Titles, tags, and other metadata

When you upload photos or other media to your website, it’s important to check that the metadata and alt tags are descriptive.

For my splash image of succulents:

  • title of the photo (Succulents)
  • name of the photo (succulents.jpg)
  • description of the photo (website header green echeveria succulents)

Do this for all photos and images.

Step #5 | Preview your site

Once your content is placed, preview your website.

You want to check your content for

  • spelling
  • formatting
  • readability

And be sure to preview your website on different screens if you have the option

  • desktop
  • mobile

If you are able, try your website on different browsers (i.e. Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Safari).

I usually suggest asking a friend or family member to check your site for you as well.

We often miss our own simple errors. And, you may learn if something is confusing or hard to find.

For instance, you’d be surprised how many academic websites I’ve come across where it’s difficult to find the name of the person who it’s about. Seriously.

Step #6 | It’s time to go live

Okay, so you’ve previewed your website. And you’ve asked a friend to look it over.

It’s time to take your website live!

Please note that if you sell anything on your website including consulting or editing services, you are required by law to have a Privacy Policy and a Terms and Conditions page.

This is also true if you are using Google Analytics or any other tracking pixels or tools.

Do not take your website live until you have these things.

If that is not the case for you, or if you’ve added those policies…

Go ahead and Publish your website.

Congratulations! You have a personal academic website ready to be shared with the world.

Step #7 | Share your website

Once your website is live, you need to share it. In the next couple of weeks, Google will crawl your website (unless you tell it not to, but don’t do that). Once that happens you’re website will start showing up when people Google your name.

But that shouldn’t be the only way people find your website.

Announce your website on social media. Invite people to check it out.

Update your social media profiles to include your website address.

And, don’t forget to add your new website address to your email signature.

Well that’s the whole process, step-by-step. Good luck setting up your personal academic website.

Be sure to bookmark this page so you can come back and check the steps.

Next time on The Social Academic, I’m talking more about “Managing Your Online Presence for Faculty and Researchers.”

Want more guides and articles like this? Subscribe to The Social Academic blog today to get updates right to your inbox.

Get training and live support while you create your website

Woman holding tablet with Create Your Personal Academic Website course descriptions, laptop open with course curriculum

Creating content for your academic website is the biggest step. And the one people tend to struggle with the most. That’s why I created an online training to help.

Not everyone needs my 1:1 done-for-you services. If you’ve found this guide, you’re likely ready to create your faculty or researcher website yourself. And that’s great!

How does guidance throughout the whole process of creating your website sound?

Get your content written and your site launched with my personal academic websites course.

Not only do you get the web writing training and templates you need…

You get email support and access to my monthly live office hours via Zoom so we can look over your site in real time.

And did I mention lifetime updates to the course?

This training will teach you how to

  • plan and build a personal academic website
  • write a clear academic bio
  • host documents like your CV
  • showcase and link to publications
  • share conferences and speaking engagements
  • create graphics and write content for your site
  • share your accomplishments

Get access to the full course, 6 weeks of email support, and monthly office hours.

Hot Topics in HigherEd Online Presence Website

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.

8 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for this informative article! I have two questions:

    1) If I was a teaching assistant, is it good form to include the syllaby that I have worked with but have not designed myself?

    2) My full name (excluding my middle name) is 8 syllables long. Is there a practical cut-off when it comes to including your full name? Will my long name put me at a disadvantage or is it still better to have something that is easily searchable?

    • Hi Élaina, great questions.

      1) Personally, I wouldn’t include a syllabi I didn’t design myself. That’s because people viewing syllabi on your website are doing so to get an idea of your teaching style. From assignments to policies, syllabi can vary widely. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t include it. If you do, I recommend a brief note for transparency (i.e. “Syllabus designed by…”).

      2) Use your full name if that’s what you use for things like publications, speaking engagements, award programs, etc. You want to use the name people will generally by searching for you by. So you don’t want to cut it off even if it’s long if that’s what you use elsewhere.

      Good luck with your site! I’m so glad you found this article informative.

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