For professors and scientists, a personal website is a big project that’s well worth your time. It’s the best way to manage your online presence long-term. Your personal academic website can include a portfolio of pages that showcase your
- speaking engagements
I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome to my my blog, The Social Academic. Now also a podcast and YouTube channel. This article was updated for 2023.
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:
- Step 1. Create your content
- Step 2. Pick a domain name and site title
- Step 3. Choose a website host
- Step 4. It’s time to set-up your personal website
- Step 5. Preview your site
- Step 6. It’s time to take your website live
- Step 7. Share your website
- Want professional help with your website?
You can make your own personal academic website. You’ve got this. When you do, your website will help people explore your research, teaching, and the things you care about. I’m excited for you! And this guide is here to help.
P.S. Bookmark this page so you can come back to it.
7 steps to take your website from start to launch
Creating a personal academic website is a long-journey. It’s not a 10-minute project like some articles claim. A website is typically a multi-day project. It may take you months. And that’s ok.
I hope this guide helps you move forward efficiently. Following it will help you get your academic personal website from start to launch smoothly.
Let’s get started.
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1. Create your website content
The best way to start making your personal academic website is by planning the structure of your website. If you don’t have an idea about what you want to share, you’ll get stuck.
Let’s decide what to include on your professor website.
Planning your website
The structure and organization of your academic personal website determines the written, visual, and video content you’ll want to create. If you plan on sharing a lot of information, you can have more pages on your website.
Your personal academic website 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
- Teaching Statement/Philosophy
- Publications page
- Abstracts or descriptions
- Publication links
- Speaking Engagements page
- Contact page
- Links to your social media profiles
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 graduate student websites. And professors who want the easiest website to maintain.
The more you want to share, the more pages your site will need.
If you’re unsure about what to include on your personal website, let’s talk. I help professors think through who they help and the real people who will visit their personal or lab websites. I empower professors to have a strong online presence, and a personal website is the best way to do that. I’m here to help you too if you want support.
Gather written content for your website
Once you’ve decided on a structure and what you want to include, write down all the written content you want to share on your website. If it’s text and you want it on your website, write it down.
Make a list of the pages you need to write content for. A sample for a simple 3-page personal website might include
- About Page
- Academic bio: 150-350 words
- Research interests
- Research Page
- List of current project(s)
- Longer description of current research topics
- Important outcomes or other research highlights
- Publications Page
- Publication details (not in standard citation format), preferably with an abstract or description
Write the content for each page in a document to complete this step. You might decide to hire help from a website designer or developer. It’s helpful to have a document with your written content ready to share with them. If you can get support with this project, I encourage it! If you’re looking for help with your website let’s talk. I have amazing website development partners who can handle the technical side of launching your website.
Edit your content for the web
Most professors don’t write for the web automatically. Academics like you may use
- complicated or dense sentences
- jargon / specialized terms
- long paragraphs
- no headings (or few headings)
Each of these can be found in academic writing, but you should avoid them when writing for your professor website.
I’m going to share with you best practices for writing for your personal website. Take the document you’ve drafted and each time, read through to edit with these changes
- Can you simplify this sentence? For instance, if I make this sentence into 2 sentences, will it be easier for people to understand?
- Is this word jargon? Is it a specialized term people in my field know but other people may not? Is it a term people in my specialization know, but other people may not? That word or term needs a short definition.
- How many sentences is this paragraph? Can I break it into shorter paragraphs to make it easier to read on a mobile phone?
- What heading will help someone find what they’re looking for on this particular page? For instance, if I have longer description of my research, what headings can I add to make this easier for someone skimming this page?
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.)
- a photo of you
If you like taking photos, you may have one already that photos that work for your website.
Many people choose stock images for their cover photo. On my personal website, I have photos I took at the San Francisco Botanic Gardens.
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 an option. Selfies are a good option for your headshot too. You just want your photo to be friendly, like of your smiling face. Here are 3 ways to get new photos for your personal website.
Are photos required? No, but it really does help. If you’re uncomfortable with photos, consider making an avatar instead. Whichever photos choose, you need to have the rights or license to share those photos online.
Do you want your academic or scientist website to be super engaging? Try adding a video too!
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 internet 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
Which website host is best for you will depend on your time, budget and technical skills.
4. It’s time to set-up your personal website
It’s time to set up your website. This is an exciting day, because when you have the content written already, your website can come together quickly.
Start by choosing 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. You want a website that is
- mobile responsive, which means your website adapts from desktop to mobile screens well
- a clean design with a top menu and social media menu
- accessibility-ready, which means the theme has built-in features to help people with disabilities explore your website (Accessibility-ready may be an option depending on your website host)
Once you’ve chosen a theme for your website, you can usually choose things like font and color. For font, choose a sans serif font for your body font. A sans serif font means that you want letters without the little feet. So, no Times New Roman for your body font. You can use a serif font (with the little feet) for your headings font though.
In terms of colors on your website, you want something with a high contrast for easy readability. Dark text on a light background is preferred for accessibility.
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 (Update for 2023: I no longer recommend using contact forms, as they don’t always work across devices/countries)
Titles, tags, and other metadata
When you upload photos and other media to your website, you need to add in information like the title of the photo. There are also other options to add information about your media like Alt Text, a written description of your photo. Providing Alt Text for your photos helps more people understand the photo you’re sharing. Especially people who use screen readers to interact with your website. Alt Text also helps Google’s website crawlers better understand your website, so that it shows up in relevant search results.
When you upload photos or other media to your website, it’s important to check that the metadata and Alt Text are descriptive.
Write descriptive Alt Text for all of the images on your website.
For my splash image of succulents the metadata includes
- title of the photo (Succulents)
- name of the photo (succulents.jpg)
- description of the photo (‘Website header photo of many green echeveria succulents’)
5. Preview your site
After you’ve placed the writing and photos on your website, preview your website. Check your website for
Preview your website on different screen types if you have the option
Try your website on different browsers
- Microsoft Edge
Ask your friends and family to read over your personal website for you. We often miss our own simple errors. You may learn if something is confusing. For instance, if your family notices a bit of jargon, a term they don’t understand about your research, how would you explain it to them in a phrase or sentence?
You may also learn that something is 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. I even wrote an article about it for The Social Academic.
6. Is it time to take your website live?
If that is not the case for you, or if you’ve added those policies…
It’s time to take your website live!
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 with people.
In the next few weeks, Google will crawl your website (unless you tell it not to, but don’t do that). Then your website will start showing up when people Google your name. But Google and search engines 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.
- Share your website as a way for people to keep in touch with you after a talk or presentation.
- Update your bio to include your website.
And, please share your website with me! Send me a direct message on social media, I’d love to congratulate you on your website personally.
Good luck with your website project!
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.
Please share this guide to making your personal academic website with your friends and colleagues. Ask your university library or faculty development office to share it as a resource. This guide has helped professors and grad students around the world make their website a reality.
I hope it helps you too! If it does, send me a message to let me know.
You’ve got this! Make 2023 your year to launch your personal academic website. You’ll be happy you did.
I’m wishing you the best of luck with your personal academic website.
Feel like you can’t do this alone? Or you don’t want a do-it-yourself website?
My name is Jennifer van Alstyne. I’ve been helping professors make their personal websites since 2018. I’m here to help you too.
Let’s chat about your personal website and online presence on a no pressure Zoom call. I’m happy to help you in the right direction, even if it isn’t working with me.
Good luck with your website project! Next, get inspired for what to include on your website with these award winners from the 2022 Best Personal Academic Websites Contest.
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer LLC to help professors build a strong online presence for their research, teaching, and leadership. Jennifer’s goal is to help people feel confident sharing their work with the world.
Jennifer’s personal website
The Academic Designer LLC