Things to do
- Book a domain name that as closely matches your real name as possible. A typical choice is to choose the domain names www.firstnamelastname.com and www.firstnamelastname.org and have one of them redirect to the other. If a middle initial is a key part of your identity, include this in the URL. Make sure you have the domain names booked in your own name and your own account, even if you choose to get a friend or some other service to host your website. Having control over the domain gives you flexibility.
- Make sure you renew your domain registration. Domains are typically registered annually. Do not let the domain expire.
Examples of simple personal websites
- benkuhn.net for Ben Kuhn
- paulgraham.com for Paul Graham
- paulfchristiano.com for Paul Christiano
- katjagrace.com for Katja Grace
- careyryan.com for Ryan Carey
- pamelajstubbart.com for Pamela J. Stubbart redirects to her about.me page
- yudkowsky.net for Eliezer Yudkowsky
- jonahsinick.com for Jonah Sinick
- vipulnaik.com for Vipul Naik
Website as personal identity
You can create profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, and other places, but these may not offer you sufficient flexibility to describe yourself in the precise manner you desire. Having a personal website can allow you to present yourself better.
The main goal of a personal website is to serve as your personal online identity for public consumption.
What to avoid
The general remarks about privacy in your online identity apply. In particular, avoid including the following information on your website:
- The names of your family members.
- Your home address.
- Your phone number (keep contact information restricted to an email address and social media accounts).
- The names of employers for part-time or full-time jobs that you are doing (unless the employer gives consent, or your public persona requires you to associate yourself with a particular employer).
- Information explicitly attributed to others that is conveyed by them to you in private fora (online or offline), unless they give you consent.
What to include
- If you are considering employment or internships, it is beneficial to include a downloadable CV or resume (for instance, in PDF format) for potential employers.
- You can include a brief online biography and links to various places you have been publicly affiliated with. (Do not include employers who do not have your consent).
- Include links to your work that you would like to associate with your long-term identity. This includes papers, code, music, art, and writings of yours. In cases where these were published in other venues, make sure you are not in violation of copyright or non-disclosure agreements.
Choices for hosting and content management system
The comments here apply generically to all websites, not just your personal website.
Choice of web host
- You do not need to host your website through the same company that you use to register the domain.
- You could choose between full hosting on a website (Such as Amazon Web Services, Linode, Dreamhost, Bluehost, GoDaddy) or using a service that enables you to create websites (such as Google Sites). If doing the latter, you may need to set up a website redirect from your domain name to the Google Sites or other service. In general, the former is preferable if you'd like more flexibility with how you create the site. The latter may be easier to start with, but making changes later can cause links to break.
Choice of content management system
- You could eschew all content management software and simply create the pages in HTML. This solution leads to pages that load quickly, but there are issues with organization of the content and with keeping track of it. It's also more effort to make stuff look nice, because you have to deal with the CSS by yourself.
- You could use WordPress (downloadable at wordpress.org). This is the same software that is used for wordpress.com blogs, but downloading it to use for your own website works somewhat differently from using it on wordpress.com. You have more flexibility because it is your own installation, though some aspects of integration with wordpress.com are not available. However, you can later connect your website with wordpress.com and get some WordPress features.
- There are other content management softwares such as Drupal and Joomla. There are also websites such as Weebly and Wix that promise to help you quickly create websites. We'd recommend using any of these instead of WordPress only if you have investigated the issue carefully and have clear reasons for preferring it.
- If you're looking for collaborative creation of content with minimal emphasis on either authorship or date of publication, consider using MediaWiki, the software used for Wikipedia.
For more details on content management systems, see Wikipedia's list of content management systems.
Things to add to your site
- Install web analytics as early as possible. For WordPress sites, you can connect the site with wordpress.com and install WordPress Analytics (part of the Jetpack). For most content management systems as well as for HTML-based sites, you can easily install Google Analytics. Having two different sources of web analytics can be useful because each web analytics system has different strengths and weaknesses. For more, see Wikipedia's list of web analytics software, Web Analytics Software Comparison: Identifying The Right Web Analytics Tools For Your Business, and other search results you get on search queries related to web analytics.
- You should decide whether to create a Facebook Page for your website. In general, if it is a purely personal website, it's better not to create a Facebook Page for it -- just link to your personal Facebook (and other social media) profiles. If, however, you are using the website to build a brand around yourself, then having a Facebook Page and linking them is recommended. We do not recommend the brand-building for most young people because their own views, beliefs, and goals may change considerably over the next few years.
Combining the website with a blog?
If you have a personal website attached to your name, there is a high probability that the website will be attached to you for the next several years. In that time, your interests and goals may change considerably. You need to be particularly careful about this when you are young.
These are the three typical options:
- Have a blog section on your main website.
- Have a separate blog on a standard blogging platform, such as WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or Quora. You could link to it from your main personal website, but it is still not highly salient for people visiting your personal website.
- Have a separate website devoted to your blogging, using a domain name that you own.
Some advantages of Option (1):
- This gives people a single place to go to in order to see what you've written and done.
- Traffic to your blog and personal website feed into each other: people who visit your blog can easily read the rest of your website, and people who visit your website can easily see your blog. Search engine rankings may also be better because of this.
Some advantages of Option (2):
- Blogging platforms offer a variety of advantages in terms of making content easy for people to discover and reshare. Quora and Tumblr are particularly good in this regard.
- Blogging platforms have a wide range of features that might be hard to replicate on your own website. However, this is not so much of an issue -- it's possible to install WordPress on your own domain.
- You can choose a domain name and identity that differs from your own, theming the blog around a specific interest. In particular, it's easier to explore controversial topics.
Some advantages of Option (3):
- This is particularly recommended if your blogging interests are organized around a specific theme and you're considering expanding to include other contributors.
- Owning the domain and having control over the hosting allows you to customize the appearance considerably.
The information on these pages is not guaranteed by us:
- The Ultimate Guide to Building a Personal Website by Thomas Frank, College Info Geek
- How to Start / Create Your Own Website: The Beginner's A-Z Guide by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com
- How To Make Your Own Website – In Under 10 Minutes at easywebsitecreation101.com