Your Academic Website: A Step-By-Step Guide To Building Your Own

As an academic myself, I know that building your personal academic website is probably pretty far down on your to-do list.

Because, let’s face it: that list is pretty dang long.

Research.
Writing.
Class prep.
Teaching.
Grading.
Meetings.
Advising.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Because of that, my goal here is to provide you an actionable, and easy to follow, guide to setting up and running with your own academic website.

Why Build an Academic Website?

We all know how important our research is to us. We toil away for weeks, months – sometimes even years – to put together the research and then write the publication. And then we go through the painful process of peer review. Which means we put up with Reviewer #2. And, once that is done, the publication is out the door and ready to be found by the masses.

Unfortunately, often enough, those masses never come. As it stands, academic journals do an abysmal job of promoting your work within their journal.

And, to some extent, I guess that is reasonable. Academic journals are not in the marketing game. They merely serve as a means to an end.

Because of that, it is often up to us – the academic authors – to promote our work and to spread our theories, etc. You can obviously do this through other means (such as social media), but often times the idea of a personal academic website is overlooked.

Moreover, I have found my personal academic website very important during my job search process. For example, using Google Analytics, I was able to quickly (and instantly!) tell if somebody from a university I applied to was looking at my website (thus meaning they had Googled me). That is a good sign (and I have a whole other post regarding faculty interviews and faculty interview questions).

Personally, many people have reached out to me after organically coming across my website through search results. That being said: your academic website shouldn’t erase the need for social media. Nor should social media erase the need for a personal academic website.

Rather, they should work in conjunction to spread your research and personal brand as far as possible.

My plan here is to provide you an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide on how to construct your own personal academic website using WordPress.

I know what you are asking right now: why WordPress? Why not sites like Wix, or Weebly, or Squarespace?

Let me explain.

WordPress vs. Wix and Weebly

I do not have anything against websites like Wix and Weebly.

They are a very good option if you would like to have your website up and running sooner rather than later.

If you’d like to check out Wix, click here: Show Me Wix

If you’d like to check out Weebly, click here: Show Me Weebly

Wix and Weebly are both what I would consider “all-in-one platforms” as you can purchase your domain name through them, as well as host your site.

Moreover, the “drag and drop” capability of both are enticing for those who have very limited knowledge of web design or web hosting.

You do, however, pay a large premium to build your personal academic website with Wix or Weebly.

personal academic website
The pricing structure at Wix

Above you see the pricing structure at Wix (current as of January 2020).

All told, it is pretty misleading. Even at $13/month, this is a bad deal. You receive very little web space (so that, as your site grows, you will need to upgrade to higher cost plans).

As well, the higher priced plans include seemingly good additions such as the “Site Booster App”, the “Visitor Analytics App,” and a “professional logo.”

The Site Booster App, for example, is simply Wix’s personal CDN network – meaning, your site is stored on multiple servers throughout the world and is delivered to the end user based on geographic location. Doing so increases site loading speed.

But, seriously, EVERY SINGLE WEB HOSTING COMPANY DOES THIS FOR YOU.

Companies like Wix and Weebly promoting this as a “free feature” on the higher priced plans is misleading at best, straight up evil at worst.

Despite that, I can understand why the “drag and drop” editors for both Wix and Weebly are desirable. If you have never seen it in action, take a look at this video:

Pretty nice, right?

I am here to tell you though that, if just a tiny bit of a learning curve, you can do nearly ALL of that with WordPress at a much smaller price and with much more customization.

In the end, that is my biggest issue with sites like Wix and Weebly: nearly every personal academic website I have come across using either of those sites look almost identical.

If building your own academic website is about furthering your personal brand, why would you want your website to look like every other academic that used Wix and Weebly to build one?

I think I have positioned my argument against Wix and Weebly, despite the pros of each, down to two points:

  1. Wix and Weebly are both incredibly expensive as opposed to self-hosting a WordPress design for your personal academic website;
  2. Both Wix and Weebly, because of the limitations inherent in a “drag and drop” editor, limit your creativity and, thus, nearly all academic who use these websites have personal branding that are nearly identical.

If I have successfully dissuaded you from using either Wix or Weebly, let’s get to the part of this post where I walk you through, step-by-step, on how to self-hosted a WordPress-based academic website that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Your Personal Academic Website: Step-by-Step

#1. Purchase Your Domain Name With Namecheap

Purchasing your domain name is the vital first step in successfully building your own academic website (and it isn’t hard at all).

First, you need to head on over to Namecheap.

Once there, the process is pretty simple.

First, you will want to type in your desired domain name in the search box:

Generally, you will want this to be your name (like mine: bradcongelio.com).

However, if you have a common name (I lucked out with my last name!), then you may need to add PhD to the end of your name (like in the above picture) or some other slight adjustment to make sure the domain is open to be purchased.

Once you click the magnifying glass icon, Namecheap will run a search to make sure your domain name is open to be purchased. You should see a screen like this:

If the above example, you can see that “bradcongeliophd.com” is avaliable to be purchased (the ‘add to cart’ button). If somebody already owns the domain, you will see a “Make Offer” button that will either be clickable or not, depending if the person who owns the domain is opted into the marketplace.

Once you have found a suitable domain, add it to your cart, create a Namecheap account, and purchase.

Once you click ‘Add To Cart,’ Namecheap will attempt to upsell you on several things (like every good company):

You DO NOT have to worry about any of this. Simply click on “View Cart’ on the right-hand side of the screen.

Once you click on ‘View Cart,’ you will be presented with another couple options before being able to confirm your order.

personal academic website

Leave these settings as is. The ‘WhoisGuard’ will prevent your physical address (provided during the purchasing phase) from being associated with your domain name. Instead, if somebody were to run your domain name through the WhoIs search website, all your personal information is instead replaced with Namecheap’s corporation information.

You also do not need to worry about the PremiumDNS.

Once here, complete the process of creating your account and purchasing your domain name. When done, you should be able to see your newly purchased domain name listed in your dashboard:

personal academic website

Now that you have your domain name, you need to purchase your hosting that will physically store your website.

#2. Purchase Hosting With SiteGround

There are TONS of hosting options out there.

In fact, it is pretty overwhelming to figure out who is good and who is not.

For years – and I mean YEARS – I used a company called HostGator.

But, they were one of the companies gobbled up by EIG during that corporation’s massive growth period. And, ever since, the quality of HostGator went way down hill.

I spent lots of time trying out different hosting services and could never find one I was completely happy with until I came across SiteGround.

So, for the purposes of this personal academic website tutorial, I am going to advise you head over to SiteGround and follow through on the step-by-step instructions to get your hosting ready.

Once at SiteGround, you will want to hover over ‘Hosting’ and select ‘WordPress Hosting.’

On the following page, you will be presented with several different options: StartUp, GrowBig, and GoGeek.

For your personal academic website, you will only need the ‘StartUp’ option.

Yes, it only allows for 10,000 visitor per month … but it is unlikely you will receive that amount of traffic right away. And, if you do, that is a good problem to have and SiteGround allows you to simply upgrade to the next package with no interruption to your service.

Once you select your plan, SiteGround will want to know how many months you want to purchase your hosting for (which is always renewable when it is about to expire).

You can try it out for one month, but I would suggest purchasing for at least 12 months as it allows you to get your WordPress website completely set up and running without having to worry about renewing your hosting on time.

Also, please note that a 1 month subscription will include a one-time setup fee of $14.95 that gets placed on your first invoice.

By subscribing for 12 months, you will not have to pay this initial fee.

As well, once you get through this step, SiteGround will ask you to verify your identify through a telephone text as well as depositing a small amount on the credit card you used and then asking you to input that account.

A bit of a pain in the butt to take care of, but at least you know the company takes security and fraud very seriously.

Once you are in your account, you will want to click on ‘Websites’ in the navigational bar and then again on the orange ‘Create Website’ button.

On the next page, SiteGround will ask you to select one of three options:

  1. New Domain
  2. Existing Domain
  3. Temporary Domain

Because you already purchased your domain on NameCheap in the last step, you want to select ‘Existing Domain.’

At this point, simply enter your domain into the text box and select continue.

When you do so, SiteGround will throw out an error message that the domain you inputted is not “registered with your SiteGround account.” Just ignore this and select ‘Continue’ again.

After that, SiteGround will want to know if you are starting a new website or migrating a website.

Since the purposes of this tutorial are to teach you how to start your own personal academic website, we are going to select “Start a New Website” … though, if you are transferring an existing website and need help, please reach out and I’d be happy to walk you through the process.

Once you selected ‘Start New Website,’ you want to select ‘WordPress’ from the options that appear below that and then enter your e-mail address and create a password for your about to exist WordPress account.

As well, ignore the SG Site Scanner upsell that SiteGround offers to you. No need for that … it is simply bloatware and there are free (and better!) options within the WordPress universe if it is something you are truly interested in. Simply click ‘Finish.’

At this point, SiteGround will go through the process of automatically installing WordPress and all of its associated files onto your hosting account.

Afterwards, SiteGround will send you to a page that is VERY IMPORTANT as it includes the nameserver information you need to connect your domain name to your new hosting account. Which brings us to the next step.

#3. Transfer Nameservers to SiteGround Account

By this point, you have purchased your domain name with NameCheap and also have a WordPress hosting server setup with SiteGround.

As you can guess, though, there is a disconnect between those two. If you were to type in your domain right now, you’d likely get an error message (or a parked page automatically created by NameCheap).

Because of this, you will need to tell NameCheap where to send people when they type in your domain name. Without being too technical, the process of doing so is called “editing your nameservers.”

It is a simple process. Do not worry.

You should be seeing this page on SiteGround:

The ns1 and ns2 numbers under “Point Your Domain” are what you need to connect your NameCheap and SiteGround accounts.

You will need to open a new tab and go back to your NameCheap account.

Beside your domain name, you will need to hit ‘Manage.’

Once you click on ‘Manage,’ you need to select the dropdown box associated with ‘Nameservers’ and select ‘Custom DNS.’

After that, simply copy and paste the two NS1 and NS2 numbers provided to you by SiteGround into the Namerserver 1 and Nameserver 2 boxes and click the green arrow to the right.

You will see a notice that ‘DNS Propagation’ could take upwards of 48 hours. What this means is that it could take upwards of 48 hours for servers all over the world to take ‘notice’ that your new domain name is now pointing towards your hosting account on SiteGround.

Personally, I have NEVER seen it take that long. Sometime five or six hours before I am able to access my site again … but never a full day. Usually I can switch over the DNS and then get to work on my site within an hour or two (if that!).

There is a way to check, however, how to the process is going. If you go to back to SiteGround and select ‘Manage Site,’ you will see the IP address of your website.

If you go to whatsmydns.net and type in your newly purchased domain name, it will show you what IP address is popping up for your website throughout the world:

In this case, you can see that my IP address is nearly finished with the process and my website should be available to the majority of the world.

At this point, it is just a matter of waiting until everything “talks” to everything else and you are able to connect to your website.

In order to see if you are able, you can start trying to load your WordPress Administration Panel Page.

To do so, go here: yourdomain.com/wp-admind ( … or, for example: bradcongelio.com/wp-admin).

If the page loads, awesome! If you get an error message that the page “can’t be reached,” just keep waiting and checking and eventually you will be able to access it.

#4. Installing a WordPress Theme on your Academic Website

Once worldwide serves have done their thing, you will able to go to yourdomain.com/wp-admin and see a screen like this:

personal academic website

Your username and password were created when you selected the WordPress option with your SiteGround account. Enter those and you will be welcomed to your WordPress dashboard screen.

Now, this is where it gets fun (and, admittedly, a bit overwhelming).

In all honestly, this is also where I am likely to be least helpful because there are THOUSANDS of themes for you to pick from and each one is going to operate differently.

What I can do, though, is provide you a little insight on the best ones and where to find them.

The core WordPress themes that come preinstalled are not the greatest. Because of this, you will need to go out and find one that fits you needs.

In my case, I am using a theme from GeneratePress.

I love GeneratePress themes for one main reason: they have drag and drop capabilities kind of like you would see if Wix and Weebly.

… it certainly isn’t as powerful, but it IS powerful enough to allow you to make a beautiful website that isn’t a cookie cutter sites that looks like all kinds of other personal academic websites.

When it comes down to it, my best advice for finding a WordPress theme is as follows:

  • GeneratePress
    • GeneratePress has TONS of options that are wholly customizable (as long as you also purchase the premium plugin that goes along with the themes). Find a theme that you like the looks of and then customize it to fit your needs. As well, the people who have created this theme provide OUTSTANDING support on their forums.
  • ThemeForest
    • ThemeForest provides a massive amount of choices of WordPress themes. Some are much more difficult and in depth than others.

Once you have selected you theme, download it and you should have it as a .zip file.

When you have the .zip file, go back to your website (domain.com/wp-admin) and, on the right-hand navigation, select Appearance -> Themes.

Once there, select ‘Add New’ at the top of the screen. Then ‘Upload Theme.’ Go through the process of selecting the correct .zip file, and then finish the upload.

Afterwards, it is just a matter of hitting ‘Activate’ and the theme is now live and good to go.

#5. Final Steps On Your WordPress Theme

Once you have the new theme uploaded, there are a few things you may or may not want to go.

First is a custom logo. I am not all that great at graphic design or using Photoshop so I regularly use Fiverr.com to hire somebody to create my logo for me.

As an example, the logo for this site (found at the top) was done on Fiverr for $12.

As well, if you want to see where your traffic is coming from and how people are finding your page, you will want to install Google Analytics.

First, on your WordPress page, go to Plugins -> Add New. Search for ‘Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics.’ Once you find it, click ‘Install’ and then ‘Activate.’

Once done, head over to ‘Google Analytics’ (just Google it, it will be the first thing to pop up). Create an account (keeping all the options as is … no need to mess around with what Google is giving you here).

After you have created your Analytics account, go back to the Analytics Dashboard plugin on WordPress and go through the authorization process to allow the plugin to communicate directly with your Google Analytics account.

When it is finished, you will see a block for the analytics on the main dashboard of your WordPress installation.

personal academic website

At this point, it is a matter of adjusting the WordPress theme to your liking.

As well, you will likely want to create a separate page for things such as Research, Teaching, Service, etc.

personal academic website

As the picture above shows, select Pages -> Add New to add that type of content to your site. After doing so, you will also need to go to Appearance -> Menus to make sure visitor can select the page from the site’s main menu.

A Brief Overview of Building Your Personal Academic Website

Quickly, these are the steps we have taken:

  • Purchased your domain at Namecheap
  • Purchased your hosting at SiteGround
  • Connected your domain at Namecheap to SiteGround through DNS
  • Installed WordPress through SiteGround
  • Uploaded an awesome theme to WordPress from GeneratePress or Themeforest
  • Edited the theme to your liking
  • Created relevant pages

Need Further Help With Your Personal Academic Website?

I understand that, even with a step-by-step guide like this, that building your personal academic website can be a difficult task.

Especially with everything else we have on our plates as faculty members.

Because of this, I am more than willing to offer my services to help you get up and running.

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Brad Congelio

An Assistant Professor in the College of Business at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Brad Congelio uses data science and analytics to investigate the sport industry.

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