The level of technical sophistication required on the part of the student or postdoc for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) varies depending on how much control is wanted. My advice here is moderately technical, and I’m sure that SEO professionals have much more sophisticated tricks up their sleeve.
Step 1: Buy a domain with your name in it, preferably a .com. For example, my homepage is www.davidraikow.com. This is easy to do. Just go to a domain registrar, like GoDaddy or Bluehost (they are many), search for a domain name and buy it. It should cost about $10 a year, but the price will vary depending on the registrar and the top-level domain (.com, .net, etc.). If possible use your first and last name. If taken, buy a domain name with your first and last name in it (registrars will typically offer suggestions for alternatives).
Step 2: Buy hosting services. Most registrars offer site-hosting services. For your purposes a basic level, less than $10 a month, will be sufficient. The host does not have to be the registrar. If the host is different, you will need to change the nameservers listed for that domain at the registrar. My homepage is hosted on Bluehost.
Step 3: Make a homepage. This does not require any knowledge of html. A perfectly functional and attractive homepage can be built using WordPress. I use it. Specifically you’d be using the blog-producing product described at WordPress.org “installed” at the host under your domain name, not the blog hosting website WordPress.com. On Bluehost it’s really simple. Hit the “install WordPress” button. Once installed, open a new window and go to your new domain. You will then be able to log in and start working.
ALTERNATIVE 1: Go to WordPress.com or Blogspot or another blog site and make a free blog. This is cheaper (free) and easier, but it comes at a great SEO price. A website at www.(yourname).com will rank higher than blog, all things being equal.
ALTERNATIVE 2: Establish a profile at LinkedIn or other professional social networking site. Again, this is free and easy, but with the same SEO sacrifice. Plus, you will not be able to put as much stuff in a LinkedIn or (heaven forbid) Facebook page.
ALTERNATIVE 3: Establish a website at another host with a different website building service. I’ve used Squarespace.com for some online experiments, and they have a great on-line webpage building platform that is more sophisticated than WordPress. The cost is price.
Step 4: Populate your homepage with the information you want employers, and anyone else, to see. This can include a blurb, resume(s), reprints, and links to your departments, employers, social network profiles, and blogs. Write posts that describe your experience and accomplishements.
Step 5: Get links to your site. This relates to my previous SEO post about graduate schools and employers. We all need to convice our graduate school departmetns and employers to create better profile pages, especially those listing former students, postdocs, and employers. These profiles need to have one link before all others: a link to your new homepage. Expect pushback, however, as people are busy and more likely than not will see a request to add a link or two to a past grad webpage as a hassle. But if many past grads start making these requests, perhaps the culture will change, and grad schools will realize that dedication to their students requires more than lip service.
Step 6: Verify your site with Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Google offers what are called “webmaster tools” and “analytics”, which allow better control of how search engines find and catalog your site, and help you keep track of traffic patterns. There are several methods to get a site verified, and they are described inside your Google Webmater Tools account. Basically you are verifying that you are the owner of the site.
Step 7: Make a sitemap and register it with Google. A sitemap is a file that describes the structure of your site. It helps search engines find all your content. You don’t have to write this file yourself, as there are automatic sitemap plug-ins you can use in WordPress, websites that will gneerate sitemaps for you, and other resources. Once your sitemap file is written and in the right place (your public folder, again this can be done automatically), you can Google Webmaster Tools find it.
Step 8: OPTIONAL: Buy online ads using your name as the search keyword, and have the ad link to your new homepage.
That’s what I know. If you have additional suggestions, post a comment.