How to build a great academic website

I recently wrote a post describing the reasons I think it’s a great idea to develop an open archive of your work if you are a researcher, scholar, graduate student, teacher, professor, programmer, etc. Since people ask me ALL THE TIME how I built this website, I want to describe how to execute this.

Structurally engineer your academic website!

What can I say, I’m a structural engineer.

First, I’ll explain how to choose the right platform, and then give the step-by-step details how to actually implement it.

First, The Platform

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because there is really one clear choice: Wordpress. [For the skeptics, I list some alternatives below.]

[caption id=”” align=”aligncenter” width=”260” caption=”Nice logo! What DOESN’T WordPress have? “]WordPress[/caption]

WordPress provides all the infrastructure you could need, whether you want a really basic site with several static pages, to a fully functioning blog with interactive content. Here are just a few reasons why WordPress wins:

I use the self-hosted version of WordPress, available via WordPress.org. With this approach, you install WordPress on your own hosting and you have precise control over every detail of the site. Don’t panic! This process is straightforward and I’m about to walk you through it.

The Implementation

Alright, let’s roll up our sleeves and go step-by-step through the process. I’ll point out that each step here could be it’s own series of posts, so I will provide links to further resources for each step.

  1. Choose a domain name. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing your domain, but for researchers, you are your own brand so I recommend http://yourname.com. This is a good choice because your research and site can evolve over time, but ultimately it will still be about you and your work. I use NameCheap.com to register domains. Cost: ~$10/year.

  2. Find a web host. I suggest going with one of the ones recommended by WordPress. The key thing to look for in a host: 1-click WordPress installs. I have used Bluehost for years and have been very satisfied. When you purchase your hosting account, it will walk you through connecting your domain (from Step 1) to your hosting account. Cost: ~$7/month.

  3. Install WordPress on your site. If you chose the right host above, this should be as simple as a single click. Look for something called SimpleScripts or Fantastico in your hosting preferences. If you prefer to get your hands dirty, you can install WordPress manually via the famous 5-minute installation guide.

  4. Explore and Customize. Now you’re ready to poke around in the settings and customize the name of your site and other options. Log in to your site, set up your profile, and get to know your way around.

  5. Choose a Theme. I purchased and recommend a premium theme called the Standard Theme. It’s meticulously coded and well-supported. I found it very straightforward to implement the aesthetic feel I wanted using the Standard Theme. Anyway, there are over a thousand free and premium themes to choose from, many of which can be installed from within the Appearance tab inside WordPress. See Wordpress: Using Themes. Find some themes you like and try them out until you find the right one. Did I mention you should buy the Standard Theme? Only $49. :)

  6. Start Building Pages. You are a researcher, so you’ll want to start creating pages like an “About” page to give your bio, a “Research” page to share an overview of the projects you are working on, a “Teaching” page to post your teaching statement and experimence, and a “CV” page to list your education and publications. Perhaps you’d like to make Subpages for each research project under your Research page. See: Creating and Using Pages.

  7. To Blog or Not to Blog? I’m not going to try to convince you one way or the other in this post. If you want to blog, your site will likely be set up now with the blog front and center and you are ready to start cranking out posts. If, instead of looking like a blog, you want your URL to point to a static page (perhaps your About page), here’s how to do it: Using a Page as Your Front Page. Your site will now look less like a blog and more like a regular website.

  8. Where to Get Help? WordPress has outstanding documentation. Whenever I have a question or run into a problem, I can almost always find the answer in the WordPress Codex. If you’re just starting out, you might want to bookmark the page: Getting Started with Wordpress. You should also subscribe to a great site like Tentblogger.com, consistently one of the best resources for Wordpress sites that I’ve seen.

The Alternatives

The method I described above is not the only way to build a great site. Here are several good options that aren’t as flexible but are probably easier to implement and possibly cheaper:

One important note: Within the last two bullet points, you may not have the option of running these services on your own domain, so you’re at the mercy of that service to keep running in the future. This is a major advantage to building your online platform with a central hub at http://yourname.com – your home base will never change, even if you change the software running it in the future.

The Conclusion

Time to button this up. I hope this post has given you all the details you need to roll out your own academic website, portfolio, or blog. If you do build a site following this guide, please leave a link to your site in the comments so I can check it out. Good luck!


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”