Guide to building your own website

If you have already read my post about Why you need your own website, then you already know the advantages of having your own website as a graduate student. So, let’s get started in building your online presence.

This guide is going to take you through the process of setting up your website from start to finish. I’ve included screenshots and detailed instructions to ensure this is the ultimate guide to building your own website.

Remember, you can create a free site using any number of services such as,, or, but as I said in my “Why you need a website” post, I recommended that graduate students choose a cheap self-hosted solution, which is much more impressive, more professional, and will allow you to have your own domain, rather than some odd looking sub-domain in your site’s url.

Therefore, this guide assumes you will be choosing your own domain, and setting up a self-hosted site using a low-cost web hosting plan.

1. Register a domain name and get a hosting plan

This is really two separate things, and you could accomplish them separately if you wanted to. However, it is much easier to register your domain at the same time as setting up your hosting plan. There are quite a few options for web hosting – just google “website hosting” and you’ll get an idea of how many different providers and different packages there are. I’ve used a couple different hosting providers in the past, and I know people who have used other various companies. By far, the most customer-friendly provider I have had experience with is HostGator.

I currently host my own personal website using HostGator, and uses HostGator too. Their rates are cheap (hosting starts at $3.96 per month), their packages are pretty comprehensive, and their customer service is excellent. Of course, you can look around and compare prices and services among dozens of providers, but my recommendation is to use HostGator. There are so many companies offering web hosting, but most do not have a very good reputation for quality customer service. I’ve rarely needed to contact HostGator for anything since their process is simple and straightforward, but when I have needed a very specific question answered I used their Live Chat service to communicate with one of their representatives, and all my questions were answered quickly.

COUPON CODE: gradstudentsuccess

Another advantage of HostGator is that just for being a visitor of, you are eligible for a 25% discount off of your hosting purchase! Just enter the coupon code gradstudentsuccess and your 25% discount will be applied to your initial hosting puchase, regardless of what plan type or length you choose.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I am going to assume that you are using HostGator. If you end up choosing some other provider, I’m pretty sure that some of the basic instructions and advice contained here will at least apply in some way to you situation.

First, go to HostGator’s main page, and then click on the first big yellow button that says “View Hosting Plans”.  I’ve indicated where to click on the screenshot below with a big red arrow:


Here you will see three hosting options with some of their basic features listed. HostGator offers the ‘Hatchling’ plan, ‘Baby’ plan, and ‘Business’ plan. The Hatchling plan is the cheapest (starting at $3.96 per month) and provides everything that most grad students will need to set up and maintain an awesome website to showcase your research, qualifications, and practically anything else you want to put online.

I strongly recommend the Hatchling plan unless you have some very specific technical reason why you need something else.  Go ahead and click “Order Now” beneath the Hatchling option, as indicated below:


On the next page you will find the “HostGator Order Wizard”, which is a super simple process for entering in your information and completing your order. In the first box at the top of the page, you are asked to enter a domain:


Go ahead and enter your preferred domain name. For graduate students who are building a site to showcase their research interests and other CV information, it makes the most sense to use your first and last name as your domain (your website’s URL). Using your name as your domain will best serve your development of a serious online presence.

I recommend that you stick with the .com extension if at all possible. This is the most common website extension and what most people consider the default extension.

So, if your name is Scott Hoyt, for example, your top choice for a domain name is So, I’ll pretend I’m Scott Hoyt and fill in this form. You go ahead and enter your own name.

After typing in your domain name, you will get one or two messages. Either a green “Congratulations!” message will appear indicating that your desired domain name is available, or you will see a red “Please enter another choice” message, indicating your first choice is not available. If you got the green message, you’re good to go. If you got the red message, like Scott Hoyt did (see below), you need to try something else.


If you are in the same boat as Scott Hoyt, notice that the wizard does let you know if your name is available using other extensions, like .net, .org, etc. You can choose one of these, or you can change your domain name altogether to try to get a different .com. One idea is to include your middle initial. This is what I did to get, because the Disney Channel actor already took Adding your middle initial also makes a lot of sense if this is how you are known professionally. For example, many scholars publish their work using their middle initial, so using it in your domain name too can actually be a plus. Ultimately, it’s up to you what you want your domain to be.

After you have settled on a domain name and the Wizard has given you the green light, the next step is for you to confirm your package type and billing cycle. As I said earlier, I strongly recommend sticking with the Hatchling plan. It’s easiest on your wallet and provides everything you’re going to need. You do have some choice regarding your billing cycle. Like most things, the longer time you commit to it, the cheaper it is. Also, remember you are going to be applying our coupon code, so the prices listed here are slightly higher than you’ll actually pay.


As you can see here, you can choose to commit to keeping your website hosting plan for 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, or 3 years. This is totally up to you, but I would avoid the 1 or 6 month options. If you are not too sure whether or not you’re going to keep your website for an entire 3 years, then choose the 1 or 2 year options, but I think it is pretty safe to say that you are going to at least give it a try for 1 full year. The 1 month and 6 month options are really just too expensive for what you get.

Next, you are asked to create a username and security pin. Use the guidelines shown to create yours.


The next step is to enter in your billing information. Obviously, paying for it is the least fun step in the process, but it really is great value. As a graduate student, you are really going to benefit from an impressive online presence that will go a long way toward building your academic and scholarly brand.

Next, you have several options for Hosting Addons. My recommendation (based on cost effectiveness) is to un-check all addons. Un-checking these saves a significant amount of money, plus you can accomplish what these addons provide using free methods later on. The only one you might want to leave checked (I don’t, but you might) is the Domain Privacy Protection. This feature will hide your name and address from the public WHOIS searches. Generally, I want people to know what my name is and I don’t really mind if they can find my address. My name is on my CV anyway, and many people include their address on their CV too.


Don’t forget to enter our special coupon code. You might have noticed that a default coupon code is already applied, giving you a 20% discount. However, you get an even bigger discount if you replace the SNAPPY coupon code with ours: gradstudentsuccess. (shown at right)

Review your order and finalize by clicking the yellow “CREATE ACCOUNT” button. After your payment is processed, you will receive an email with the remaining instructions on completing your order.

Now it’s time to actually start building your website. Continue to next page.

[Photo by Flickr user CollegeDegrees360 – used under Creative Commons licensing]

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Kyle Massey

Kyle is a current PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin in the College of Education.

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