So you’ve decided that you need a personal academic website – great, that’s a good idea! Now you need to decide how people will find it. For that, you need a domain name.
What is a domain name?
First thing first is knowing exactly what a domain name is. A domain name is just the address at which your website lives. When you send a postcard to someone, you include their address so the postman knows where to deliver it. This is the same for your website but instead of an address you have a domain, and instead of the postman it’s your web browser.
The big difference is that whilst an address for a house is permanent, you can point your domain name to any website you choose. This is important as your domain name will form part of your online identity, it should stick with you for the whole of your career, and it may just be that the website or host that you choose for your initial website isn’t what you’ll always use. That’s why it’s important not to use a subdomain from a web host.
What’s a subdomain?
If you head over to Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, or WordPress.com, you can start a website absolutely free. They’ll give you limited features but theoretically in a few short minuted you can put together a very simple personal academic website for yourself.
However, with the free tier you are only able to use their subdomain. A subdomain is when you get to customise just the first part of the web address and are stuck with the remainder being your hosts address – think www.acamedia.uk versus acamedia.wordpress.com.
With a subdomain you have to share the host address along with yours. Whilst this works for a lot of people I’d suggest against it because a) it looks unprofessional, and b) you don’t own that domain. If somewhere down the line you no longer feel like switching from Wix to WordPress, you won’t be able to use yourname.wix.com on a WordPress hosted site.
If you purchase your own domain name, you can take it with you wherever you go. As long as you renew it each year, it’s yours forever.
The main caveat with this is that most free web hosts will charge a monthly fee to let you use your own domain – this is because they no longer get the free advertising from you sharing a subdomain link. I touch on these costs here.
Benefits of having your own domain
We’ve already covered the main benefits of having your own domain. It looks more professional, it’s unique to you, you can take it with you where you go and point it to any website you choose. Another important factor to consider is email.
Your email address is primarily how people will contact you. It’s how you’ll register for other sites, it’s what you’ll put on your CV, maybe a business card, maybe a job application. You might be tempted to use your academic email address, but much like a subdomain, these aren’t permanent. If you’re reading this and you have 2 decades at the same institution and have no intention of going anywhere – sure, use your .ac.uk. However, if you’re a PhD candidate, a post doc fellow, or an ECR, there’s a high chance you won’t have access to your current address forever. This doesn’t just mean the address, it’s the data in your inbox, it’s the connections you’ve made (some Universities will let you set a forwarding address, some won’t).
The only way to guarantee permanence is to use your personal email address. Your options here are then to either use a free email account such as Gmail, or Hotmail, or Yahoo, or to get yourself a professional personalised email address using your own domain.
For example, you can get in touch with me on email@example.com – looks a lot better than firstname.lastname@example.org, right?
What domain should I choose?
There’s two parts to this question; the second level domain (before the dot) and the top level domain (after the dot). How popular your name is is going to determine what you can use after the dot, but honestly, this doesn’t matter too much. What’s important is what comes before the dot – and that should be your name. Some academics include their title, but again I’d avoid this as it can change (unless you’re already a Professor).
If you can’t get yourname.com then aim for another top level domain. Traditionally you had .com, .co.uk, .net, .org. In the last 5 years, thousands of TLDs have been added, giving you a vast amount of choice one what can use. This site uses .uk – a bit snappier than the traditional .co.uk (and necessary as acamedia.co.uk was already taken!). A few top level options that I think would be suitable for your personal academic website domain name:
The cost of each of these varies but typically the first year is around 99p and you’ll pay around £1 a month after that.
You can check out availability using the domain search on 123-reg.co.uk which is a domain name registrar that I’d recommend.