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My institution provides a dedicated storage space to host our academic websites, which is reachable via the institution domain (something like http://people.institution.org/John.Doe/).

I try to have a tidy website of a few pages listing my publications, research area, contact, etc. It is currently reachable through my institution domain. I try to also put some efforts in SEO when people look up for my name or particular research area on search engines.

I'm in my last year of Ph.D. and I will undoubtedly move to other institutions in the next few years, so I am wondering if it wouldn't be preferable to host my academic webpage on a dedicated domain http://www.johndoe.com, which would prevent the need to do the SEO all over again each time I will switch to a new institution.

The only advantage to use my institution domain is the affiliation, but this information is present on my website anyway.

I'm a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering in France, if it matters.

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My experience has been that your university webpage will receive more traffic and more notability through search engine otherwise. Based on some of my work put on my page, I am the top result for at least one keyword which has resulted in being asked to review papers! I doubt this would have happened if I hosted it on my own. –  nayrb Jul 19 at 23:47
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Well, .edu domains are considered well in terms of Google's algorithms. You can also always mirror or redirect traffic from an .edu url. That might be the best thing if you already get traffic. My uni gave actually hosting space as in, .edu/~name –  nayrb Jul 20 at 1:24
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.edu TLDs are only used in the US so it's not relevant in my case (my institution uses a generic .fr TLD), but your remark is indeed of interest for people in US universities. –  strnk Jul 20 at 1:40
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Actually a lot of the supposed "extra value" attributed to .edu domains is based on myth; if you do some searching you'll find that for the most part there is no significant benefit. –  CaptainCodeman Jul 20 at 7:58
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@strnk Actually, .edu isn't exclusively used by US institutions: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona uses upc.edu. But, anyway, non-US .edu domains are very much in the minority and, as you say, your institution isn't one of them. –  David Richerby Jul 20 at 20:31

6 Answers 6

up vote 46 down vote accepted

Why don't you just do both? By both, I mean use both URLs. I "do both", so when I graduate, I'll still have my site for others to see. You can do this in many ways, but I had my university student page auto-redirect to my personal home page. The code for that is like a one-liner.

This grants me the opportunity to refer people to different sites depending on the situation. I think myname.com is undoubtedly easier to remember than the nuances in my university student site URL: people.school.org/first.last ... On the other hand, if the situation is more institution-based, perhaps it's better to stick with my college's name. You've got options this way.

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Having a redirect really isn't the same as having both. I have my own site and of course my department links to that on my faculty profile and the standard .edu/~name is a redirect link. But I don't think that would be considered "both" as my info is only on one site. –  RoboKaren Jul 21 at 14:57
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Related suggestion: if you are going to have both, use canonical links. –  Federico Poloni Jul 21 at 15:54
    
Both are good points for sure. TBH I should revise the answer a bit. I was not really considering the faculty case because of my (perhaps invalid) interpretation on OPs mention of leaving the current school though. Plus a department faculty page requires almost no effort to maintain at my school; faculty/postdocs email research/publication updates to the webmaster who changes their dpt. page. Lab group/personal site obviously a different story! –  rch Jul 21 at 16:33
    
Thank you for your answer. I think I will mainly host my website on a domain of my own, and making a redirection from my university page to my domain. –  strnk Jul 25 at 14:21

I find it really strange that no one has mentioned the possible reputational benefits of using the university's website. I don't think there's any way to write this without sounding like a snob, but I'll say it anyways; people are snobbier than they like to admit, and academia is probably worse than many other fields. If you're at an at all prestigious institution (even actually, if you're at a not so prestigious one), you want to emphasize that affiliation. Of course, your work has to stand on its own two feet ultimately, but people will be more open to it if they see you're connected to a serious institution, rather than some dude in his basement (remember, there's always something they could be doing rather than reading your paper). Most academics keep a mental rolodex of where people are located for different purposes, like knowing where to send students or where they might like to visit. Why make it harder for them to figure this out.

A couple of other commenters have mentioned that you should be building your own brand, not the universities, but I don't see how you separate those. Usually, the university has a much stronger brand than you do, so you want to steal a bit of it for yourself. If you're in a situation where this isn't the case, it's still a virtuous cycle where improving the department's reputation should ultimately pay you back, and shouldn't stop you from moving.

That said, I've certainly experienced the trouble of moving my website (many times), so I see the appeal of having a stable website that doesn't have to be moved, but why not both?

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+1, this is the only answer so far that bears even a remote semblance to my experiences in academia. (Well, except @RoboKaren's remark about content management systems. That one's spot on.) The implied view in some of the other answers of treating your current employer as your antagonist in your academic career is frankly bizarre. –  Christian Clason Jul 20 at 22:46
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+1, you are discussing the untold importance of our affiliation, I was expecting someone to talk about it. I'd love to see other people view on that. As per "why not both": it would be a burden to maintain two separate websites. If they just have the same content then it's not even useful to keep them both... I'd rather go for @rch answer for that purpose: redirecting my university page to my own domain. –  strnk Jul 21 at 1:47
    
@strnk: FWIW, the redirection also works the other way around, always, with no hassle at all (in terms of setting it up and potential conflict with your institution's interests). –  Raphael Jul 21 at 7:05

Reasons to use your own host/tld:

  1. You don't expect to be at your current (or future) institution for very long.
  2. Your institution uses a painful CMS system, requires you to use ugly templates, or has content or size restrictions.
  3. You don't want to ask your department head or IT manager/webmistress for permission every time you want to update your page.
  4. Your personal brand is more important than the university brand (see #1).
  5. You are part of a multi-university project.
  6. You created your own domain website when you were a graduate student and never found a good reason to switch to your employers' sites, even a dozen plus years after graduation (my case).
  7. etc.

Reasons to only use your university website:

  1. It's the default position.
  2. It doesn't cost you any additional hosting or domain registration fees.
  3. In many cases, the department or IT admin will help you set it up using one of their templates, meaning you do not have to learn web design
  4. In some cases, the database that populates your research publications will be pulled from your Faculty Annual Report (or vice versa). This means that keeping the university CMS happy results in less paperwork overall in terms of reporting your research activities to the university.
  5. The google-juice (SEO) of the university will likely be higher than your own.
  6. Some may argue it looks more professional to have an .edu/~name site rather than a private.com website.
  7. Loyalty
  8. etc.

And of course, one can always do both. The cons of doing both are:

  1. Requires updating both.
  2. Visitors may be confused about which site to go to (or you have the same info mirrored, which leads to #1)
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Keeping your website on your university is the default position so I didn't think it required explanation. I'll edit to add. –  RoboKaren Jul 21 at 14:49
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I'd like to suggest 3b. for the reasons to only use one's university site: Sometimes, these include a central (for the department, or even larger organisational units) database of publications and templates that automatically show a filtered view of each website owner's publications are available and maintained already. Even when that central database is not updated "centrally" (such as a secretary always entering all new publications made by someone from the department), it means at least that only one of the co-authors of each publication has to input the publication data. –  O. R. Mapper Jul 21 at 21:40
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@O.R.Mapper - done. The A.SE CMS engine doesn't allow for nested lists so I added your reason as reason #4 in the use-the-university list. –  RoboKaren Jul 22 at 5:41
    
@RoboKaren: OT: Actually, it does: It seems than you just need to indent the nested list items by at least one more space than the parent level. –  O. R. Mapper Jul 22 at 7:15
    
If I double indent, it'd list it as 3* or 3+, not 3b. As far as I can tell, one can't do <ol style=lower-roman> style a. b. c. d. ordered lists in A.SE. If it's possible, let me know! –  RoboKaren Jul 22 at 13:47

I think you should do both, but in a different way that has been suggested by Raphael and by rch. Both of these other suggestions involve doing some sort of invisible "redirect" from one page (almost always the temporary institutional page) to the permanent page on your domain. RoboKaren suggested having two pages which is the closest to my answer. I suggest you should create a page on your institution but have it be a small "soft" redirect that asks people to click through.

Keep an institutional page but keep it very simple. Have the page give the following information (at most):

  • A short narrative biography of you and your research or teaching interests.
  • A nice recent picture of you. [Nice, but optional.]
  • A link to your CV on your website. [Optional]
  • A list of 2-3 recent selected papers. [Optional]
  • A very prominent link to your actual homepage on your domain. I do this with text like, "For more detail on my research and teaching, visit full academic homepage.

Ben Webster is correct in citing the importance of association with your institution for status reasons In order to get the benefit, put the name and the logo and/or seal for your institution prominently on your personal page in a way that makes it clear that you are associated with the institution but also clear that it is your personal page.

This is what I have been doing for years. One benefit is that many institutions make updating institutional pages tricky (e.g., you need to go through a webmaster). This is a nice compromise in this situation because you only need to update the biography, picture, etc. infrequently.

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I wonder why you propose putting teaching material on the privately-hosted site. Arguably, this material that a) belongs on the institution site and b) never has to move with you. More so, it should probably stay even if you leave. –  Raphael Jul 23 at 8:23
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@Raphael, you are right. I put material that is specific to a instance of a specific course (i.e., COM597B in Spring 2014) in the course management website run by my institution. I put general resources or curriculum I have developed (curriclum for a course on innovation and online communities) and that I have used and will use at any institution on my personal website. I agree that my curriclum should stay available to students at my old institution. That said, few institutions will promise to keep websites up after you leave. –  Benjamin Mako Hill Jul 23 at 13:18
    
I see, that makes sense. (The point "they'll take it down, anyway" keeps coming up and I don't think I like that situation; researchers' websites are sometimes the only place to get preprints and other information. My department still hosts websites of professors that have been gone for 13 years. Even students keep their email accounts.) –  Raphael Jul 23 at 13:55
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@Raphael, the preprint stuff is a big issue. If it's allowed, it's always a good idea to put preprints in an institutional archive (usually run by the libraries) in addition to a personal website. No website is permanent. –  Benjamin Mako Hill Jul 23 at 15:13

Always use your own domain to own your career. Your career is an effort that lasts for 40+ years. It is very unlikely that your current institution will make that webspace available to you forever. You might leave or they might decide against your interests.

Use the university site to give a very brief summary of what you do and link to your own website. That way you can harvest the SEO traffic and visitors of the university page. Do not put real content there because it is a waste and it might actually rank in search engines. You want to rank with your own website.

This point is bigger than the issue of where to put the website. Try to have other people link to your own website. Try to use your own email address if possible. Do not artificially make yourself dependent on your employer. This will give him power over you because it makes transitioning away harder.

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"try to use your own email address" : even in publications ? I didn't think of e-mail address while writing my question, but you raised a good point. That's something I don't really see (at least in my domain). Most people tend to associate their name with their affiliation. It boils down to the same problem as where to host the website IMHO. –  strnk Jul 20 at 17:35
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This is ridiculous. You admit you know have no specific knowledge about academia, and proceed to give nonsensical advice based on life in a totally different field. Using a university's website and email address gives them no power over you; if anything it allows you to steal a bit of their reputation. –  Ben Webster Jul 20 at 19:45
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@Parsa I have never heard of an academic being obliged to use or not use a particular website URL or email address, regardless of who is funding the research project. That doesn't mean it never happens but you present it as a universal truth and it certainly isn't that. I've actually noticed that with several of your comments and answers on this site. –  David Richerby Jul 20 at 20:57
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@usr: Note that as an (competent, successful) academic you have a public track record of your skills, namely your publications. While a professional website still has uses, it's not as important for self-presentation as it may be in your industry. –  Raphael Jul 21 at 7:04
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@DavidRicherby I mistyped; I meant you should probably use the institute email for professional/official purposes, i.e. display your affiliation there. –  Raphael Jul 21 at 9:01

You are trying to find a design solution for a technical problem that does not exist.

You mention SEO as your primary concern (for whatever reason¹). So when you move your professional website to another institution, (have your admin) put a 301 (Moved Permanently) in your old website's .htaccess and search engines will automatically update their databases accordingly.

This assumes that you can keep your old (sub)domain/page at least for a few months; as far as I can tell, this is common. Many groups/departments maintain lists to alumni at their current position, anyway; it is as much advertisement for them as it is for you (if you're good).

Note that you can still use one domain as an alias for the other. Which direction you choose is probably irrelevant in most cases. I'd argue that it is important to have something at an institution URL so that you have a representative address that looks official and leaves no doubt that you are, indeed, the John Doe from the University of Illustriousness and not some dude who happend to be the first to register john-doe.com.


  1. As a researcher, I figure that your publications are your business cards. These are indexed in other places and your moving does not change how they can be found (and thank the powers that be for that!). Search engines pick up on your new website in a matter of days (for some you can even trigger indexing yourself) which should be enough, assuming that there is little more value but contact data besides the publications there. But ymmv.
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Occasionally, one finds an institution, such as a previous employer of mine, which claims that it is technically impossible even to forward email to somebody who has left! –  David Richerby Jul 21 at 7:47
    
@DavidRicherby That's a bummer. I guess there is no upper bound on incompetence after all. That said, I would assume that group/department websites are often under more accommodating care (advisor/department staff) than email services (central technical division), so website forwarding/linking may actually work out better than email in such cases. –  Raphael Jul 21 at 9:02
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While I agree with your point on redirection my employer doesn't provide any way for me to do that after the end of my contract. No 301 redirection on my old web site nor even e-mail redirection. –  strnk Jul 21 at 13:01
    
@strnk Hm. Can you set up the 301 before you leave, pointing towards a place you control (and put a temporary clone of your site)? A couple of days, weeks at most are enough for Google et al to process it. –  Raphael Jul 21 at 13:36
    
If I have a "place [I] control" then I would rather use it as my main server and put 301 redirections to there since it's more permanent. That would avoid the hassle of having to copy my website back and forth and possibly adapt it to a server config each time I move to a new place. –  strnk Jul 21 at 15:19

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