Communications Toolkit for Academics

Building a website

Your personal or lab website is an important part of your communications arsenal. It is important to create a website that is your hub – a place to house your biography, CV, information about your research and scholarship, and content you produce.

Journalists and researchers use Google regularly to find experts so it’s important you keep your website updated and looking professional and polished.

Creating a website requires a place to maintain and store your content, as well as software to build web pages. This is generally referred to as a Website Builder or a Content Management System (CMS), depending on what product you are using. Both are tools that help you to maintain content and publish it to your website, without requiring you to be a professional web developer. A CMS is often an enterprise-level product and is a more powerful tool than a Website Builder.  A Website Builder often includes web hosting so you’ll have to arrange for an “msu.edu” URL if you use this service.

Website Builder and CMS Options at MSU

Cascade Server Framework:
The Cascade Framework used by MSU currently is being redesigned from the ground up to be responsive (looks the same on various devices), brand and accessibility compliant, and supported by CABS. There is no charge for using the Cascade CMS or storing content on the Cascade server.

Advantages:  

  • Very fast to set up and create a web presence
  • Content is entered on pre-built pages
  • Brand-compliant
  • Supported by CABS
  • Cascade classes provided by IT Services
  • Includes flexible page styles, layouts, functionality, and flexibility and style of a custom website without the time or designer/developer expense.

Third-party CMS or web-builder software:
There are numerous tools available on the market for creating websites. Some examples of these are SquareSpace, Drupal, Word Press and others. Each offers tools to help you build an online presence fairly quickly using drag and drop functions and style templates. In the hands of those with fair design sense and a willingness to learn the functions of the system, they can help you arrive at very favorable results.

However, there are disadvantages to third-party solutions. There is no built-in MSU branding–you must add the brand-compliant masthead and footer yourself.  CABS can provide the MSU images, sample code, and web standards for you to complete these tasks. These solutions also require monthly or annual subscriptions to use the software and store your content.

Third-party developer to design and/or build the website for you:
There are numerous resources in the surrounding area skilled in website design. This approach allows for a great deal of customization, yet can be expensive and time consuming.

Website Content

Content – Plan what information you would like to present. Arrange content logically into categories or "buckets" that will become your main navigation. Think about what information you’d like the home page to contain – who you are and what your site will offer. Write new content or freshen existing content for the pages. Gather info for staff, news and other pages.  Think about images to display with your content.  Still not sure where to start? Here are the basic buckets you should start with:

  • Home page (current highlights)
  • Projects/Research/Lab
  • News and/or Publications (Articles, papers, etc.)
  • Biography (Include both a conversational description and link to your CV)
  • Contact Information

Example of basic content tabs: 

Example of website navigation buckets

Images – Gather images and diagrams for your home page and other content pages, including staff, news articles, events, publications, resources/links, etc. Resize the images to the actual display size and save as optimized for the web.

Social Media Accounts – If you plan to include social media links on your website, create new accounts or gather info about your existing accounts.

Reciprocal Links – If you would like to provide links to other websites and have them in turn display a link to your website, contact the site owners and make arrangements.

Web Hosting – A few weeks before launching the website, arrange for web hosting.  our website must reside on a web server before browsers can retrieve the pages. IT Services provides web hosting at a nominal fee. Some colleges have space on their web servers for websites in their departments.  

To request web hosting with IT Services, use this online form

Find more information about webhosting on the Technology at MSU website

Domain Name – The domain name is the “user friendly” Internet address of your web server. A few weeks before launching the website, request a domain name. This may take several days to approve. When your web hosting is in place, your domain will point to the web server where your site is being hosted.  

Use this online form to request a new domain name regardless of website building or web hosting choices.  

The Technology at MSU website has more information about domain names. 

MSU A-Z Index (optional) – Consider what you may want to add to the MSU A-Z Index page.  Note: A valid domain name is required. 

When your site is launched, use this online form to add your site and contact info. 

Well-executed faculty websites

Christopher P. Long, dean, College of Arts and Letters, Michigan State University
http://cplong.org/

Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research, Michigan State University
http://www.rose.canr.msu.edu/

Richard Lunt, assistant professor, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University
http://www.egr.msu.edu/~rlunt/index.htm

Mohammad Hassan Khalil, associate professor and director of the Muslim Studies Program, Michigan State University
http://khalil.cal.msu.edu/

Randy Olson, postdoctoral researcher, University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics
http://www.randalolson.com

Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
http://thepimmgroup.org/stuart-pimm/

Christine Wall, professor, Department of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University
http://walllab.evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/

Dr. Paige Jarreau, blog researcher, Louisiana State University
http://www.fromthelabbench.com/

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