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Updating Your Web Site

During the summer, I try to get caught up on many projects that are never finished. One of the most daunting is revising my web site.  I use my site as a hub for linking all my scholarship, teaching, and other projects. While I usually post a few blog posts each semester, it’s easy to fall behind on the rest of the updates.

As we’ve talked about here on ProfHacker, maintaining your own site can be a great way to make your work visible. Miriam Posner has a primer on creating a web presence, and Jentery Sayers has pointed out the advantages of having a website while on the job market. Julie Meloni offers some advice for starting out with web hosting, and George Williams has tips on how to use Google Drive as a web publishing platform. There’s also lots of content management systems that make having a site easier. Amy Cavender suggests taking a look at Drupal, and many of us at ProfHacker are fans of WordPress.

But establishing a web presence isn’t enough. Keeping the design and content up to date makes sure that your site remains a reflection of your current professional identity, and not just a snapshot of what you were working on when you first built the page. Some of this is just like maintaining your CV, which might also be a main section on your site. And design can be more than looking good–as more people are accessing the web on tablets and smartphones, it’s important to check your site out on those devices.

Here are a few things I’m keeping in mind as I work on my current redesign:

  • Know what you want to showcase. A web presence can just be a curated set of links, but it should have a purpose. If you’re on the job market, it’s easy to know what that purpose is, but it can be harder for those at different career stages. Who is the audience for your site? What do you want them to know about you? Whatever the answers, that’s the information that needs to be front and center.

  • Think responsive design. Responsive web design is a guiding concept for thinking about how your site will work across any platform. Many platforms make it easy to get started with responsive design: there are lots of responsive themes for WordPress that do the work for you, and some of them are free. If you’re using a traditional WordPress theme, consider using a plug-in like WPtouch to handle mobile devices with a customized theme. On the coding side, it means planning for touch screens and avoiding Flash, and often having multiple stylesheets to handle different screen sizes and device capabilities.

  • Decide what update schedule you can commit to. My original site was built on WordPress and thus tended to heavily feature the blog. Blogging is awesome, but it’s a commitment. I’m finding it much easier to use Tumblr for quick thoughts and save blogging for bigger posts. My redesign will switch to a main page that highlights larger projects, and keep the blog on an interior page for the occasional update. The new site should take less intervention on my part during the semester without looking neglected.

  • Use auto-updating wherever possible. I use RSS feeds to link to content I write on other sites, or my ProfHacker post list would be months behind. I also keep my CV as a link rather than as a page on my site so I can stick to only updating the one file. There are lots of ways to manage this: Brian Croxall suggests Dropbox, and Jason Mittell suggests using Google Docs (a trick that still works with Google Drive, and I’m using it now.) Of course, that only helps when I actually keep the main CV updated!

Thanks to a new WordPress theme, my redesign is mostly done (and my site is no longer retro orange.) Do you have a web presence? How do you maintain it? Share your tips in the comments!

[CC by 2.0 photo by Flickr user Julay Cat]

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