How To Make An Academic Website

For professors and scientists, a personal website is a big project, but well-worth it. 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

I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome to my blog/podcast, The Social Academic. A personal website can be life changing professors, grad students, and researchers like you. In this guide, discover the 7 steps to an academic website:

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

Psst! Register for this live VIP event

A graphic for the 10 Keys to Build an Incredible Brand for Academics live event with Dr. Sheena Howard and Jennifer van Alstyne. When: December 10 or December 11. Time: 2-4pm Eastern Time. Register now.

7 steps to take your website from start to launch

A person walking up stairs wearing athletic sneakers.

Creating a personal academic website is a long-journey. It’s definitely not a 10-minute project like some articles claim. A website is typically a multi-day project. This guide should help you move forward efficiently.

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

Let’s get started.

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. This is the biggest step of creating your website

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. A website for professors might include things like:

  • 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. This tends to work well for PhD student websites. The more you want to share, the more pages your site will need. Think about site content and structure 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, e.g.

  • About Page
    • Academic bio: 150-300 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.

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

What images do you want to include on your website? At a minimum I recommend these

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

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 license to share them online.

Want your academic or scientist website to be super engaging? Try adding video!

2. Pick a domain name and site title

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

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.

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 (e.g. MatthewMPincus.com, or JenniferVanAlstynePoet.com).

3. Choose a website host

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

Here’s my guide to choosing the best website host for your personal scientist website.

4. It’s time to set-up your personal website

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 want to know how to do these things

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

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

  • a menu
  • social media links
  • a contact form

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 photo of many green echeveria succulents)

Do this for all photos and images.

5. Preview your site

Once your content is placed, preview your website. You want to check your content for

  • spelling
  • formatting
  • readability

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

  • desktop
  • tablet
  • mobile

If you are able, try your website on different browsers

  • Chrome
  • Firefox
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Safari

I suggest asking friends and/or family 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.

You’d be surprised how many personal websites I’ve come across where it’s difficult to find the name of the person who it’s about. Seriously.

6. It’s time to take your website 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. Look to your country’s regulations about this. You will also need a Privacy Policy and Terms page if you are using Google Analytics or other tracking pixels or tools. Do not take your website live until you have those 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.

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.
  • Add your new website address to your email signature.

Good luck with your website project!

A desk workspace with a propped up monitor and laptop screens. On the desk are a mouse and an open notebook with a pen.

Well that’s the whole process, step-by-step. Good luck setting up your personal website. Be sure to bookmark this page so you can come back and check the steps.

Get help. Hire Jennifer to create your academic website for you.

Doing it yourself but want structure and support along the way? My personal academic websites course is perfect for you.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.

Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at https://theacademicdesigner.com

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