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6 Best Website Builders for Personal Academic Sites in 2020

Andrea Schlottman
Andrea Schlottman
46
January 02, 2020

Not every website builder comes with professional-looking templates suited to a personal academic website. And some don’t offer the most important features, such as the ability to add calendars, book office hours, and include downloadable links to papers. But here’s some good news: I’ve found the ones that do.

I’ve scoured the internet for the best, easy-to-use website builders for every type of academic, from grad students to professors and researchers to esteemed chairs.

All the website builders on this list are free (or at least free to try). Read on to find out which one best suits your needs.

Website Builders for Academics – Our Top Picks

  • Wix – The most academic website templates and free apps for student forums and more
  • Site123 – Plenty of useful features like appointment booking for office hours
  • Weebly – Free e-commerce options to sell your research or consulting services
  • WordPress.com – Great free widgets like conference event calendars and embedded video lectures
  • SimpleSite – Free e-commerce, plus an incredibly simple site building process
  • Squarespace – Seamless sharing options for your academic blog or podcast

What We Look For in the Best Website Builders for Personal Academic Sites

Your academic website will play a varied role in your career, serving as everything from a static CV for job hunting to a helpful, up-to-date portal for your students. The website builders on this list all offer the essential features to help you create the site you need.

  • Free plans (or free trials): You can pay to unlock premium features, but only if and when you decide they’re worth the price.
  • Attractive templates: While the quality of your academic history takes first priority, your personal brand matters, too. These templates look great on multiple devices and will establish you as a serious professional.
  • Design flexibility: You’ll be able to personalize your website with the features, layout, and page types you need.
  • Ease of use: You don’t want to waste time figuring out complicated software when you could be working on more important papers or research. These site builders are easy for beginners, with no experience required.
  • Relevant features: I’ll highlight the individual features that make each tool a good choice for academics, such as event calendars, embedded videos, downloadable files, and more.

#1 Wix – The Best Selection of Academic Templates

Wix templates for "professor"

There are around 30 education-related templates on Wix, a handful of which are dedicated to university-level professionals. As well as offering the largest library of templates, Wix also gives you very fine control over the personalization of your site.

If you’re in a hurry, you can choose one of these templates and make only simple edits: filling in textboxes with your experience and publications, uploading your recent headshots, and perhaps changing some colors or fonts. You could easily finish your website in a single sitting.

Publications page on Wix Scientist's Site template

As a researcher or professor, you might especially like these features of Wix:

  • Add Wix Forum to create an interactive community for students or colleagues to post threads, comment, and share information
  • Use Wix Documents so visitors can download files (great for course overviews or required reading)
  • Display an event calendar to showcase upcoming conferences or presentations
  • Sync with Google Drive to embed documents directly onto your site, allowing visitors to view, download, or edit them
  • Use Scheduling Pro for booking appointments (perfect for office hours or other consultations)

Discover more features in our full Wix review.

Pro tip: Spend some time browsing the large template library before choosing one, especially since you can’t switch templates later.

Wix’s free plan comes with 500MB each of storage and bandwidth, which should be enough for your personal academic website as long as you don’t plan to host too many images, videos, or downloadable files. The downside is that on the free plan you’re also stuck with a subdomain and Wix branding on your site, which can make it seem less professional.

As a free user, you can also use Ascend by Wix to send up to 5,000 marketing emails per month – great for sharing links to your recent publications or for keeping in touch with your former students.

Number of templates500+ templates in total, with around 30 related to education
Mobile-responsive templates?Templates are mobile-friendly but not automatically responsive. You may have to adjust your mobile site separately.
What do you get if you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan?With the Combo plan, you’ll get:

 

  • 2GB bandwidth
  • 3GB storage
  • Custom domain (free for one year with an annual plan)
  • Removal of Wix branding
  • 30 HD video minutes

#2 Site123 – Display Research Timelines, Conference Agendas, and More

Site123 is quick and easy to use, with plenty of pre-set pages and content blocks to make your academic website look good and meet your needs in terms of networking, publishing course content, and more.

Stand-out features for academics include:

  • Timelines to visually showcase your publications or research milestones
  • Contact forms so students, colleagues, or publishers can get in touch
  • Calendars to display upcoming talks, dissertation defenses, or other departmental events
  • Booking scheduler to make appointments
  • A blog to publish your latest work, announcements, etc.
  • Team pages to introduce your research partners or co-authors
  • Online agendas for conferences or department meetings
  • Multiple language display (on the Advanced plan and up)

Site123 also has an app market, but it’s much smaller than Wix’s and you’ll have to pay for a premium plan to access it. In fact, many actions on Site123 require a paid upgrade – including access to the full library of fonts and colors.

You can learn more about the benefits of upgrading to a paid plan in our expert Site123 review.

If you have any questions as you create your site, you can also pull up the 24/7 live chatbox. I’ve used this feature plenty of times and never had to wait more than 30 seconds for an answer.

Site123 has great tutorials for beginners and 24/7 live help chat

With Site123’s free plan, you’ll get 500MB of storage, but you’ll be stuck with Site123 branding and a Site123 subdomain.

Number of templates150+ templates, none specifically for academia (but 6 for CVs/portfolios)
Mobile-responsive templates?Yes
What do you get if you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan?With the Basic plan, you’ll get:

 

  • 5GB bandwidth
  • 10GB storage
  • Custom domain
  • Removal of Site123 branding
  • 100 mailing list messages per month
  • Access to App Market and plugin library
  • More customization options

#3 Weebly – Attractive Themes with Lots of Personalization Options

Weebly Personal templates

Weebly doesn’t have themes specifically for academics (Wix is the only builder on this list that does). However, you can choose any theme that appeals to you and customize it however you like.

All Weebly themes are mobile-responsive, and unlike with Wix, you can change them at any time (even after your site is live). Find out more in our in-depth Weebly review.

When editing your site, you can choose from 25+ preset page elements or add another 50+ free apps through the Weebly App Market. For an academic site, you might like these elements:

  • Contact form for students or colleagues to easily get in touch
  • Embedded documents via Scribd, which site visitors can download (ideal for curriculum, assignments, or course reading)
  • Embedded videos via YouTube
  • A social button to connect to your LinkedIn profile
  • RSVP forms (great for planning department meetings, talks, or round-tables)
  • A blog to publish regular commentary or course announcements

With Weebly’s free plan, you’ll get 500MB of storage, but your site will have a Weebly subdomain, and branding for Square, Weebly’s parent company. In order to get a custom domain, it’s definitely worth upgrading. If you post a lot of course videos for your students, you might also enjoy the HD video player that comes with the premium plans.

Number of themes60+ themes available, none designed for personal academic websites specifically

 

You can also purchase third-party themes on ThemeForest and import them.

Mobile-responsive themes?Yes
What do you get if you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan?With the Personal plan, you’ll get:

 

  • Custom domain
  • 500MB storage
  • E-commerce features: unlimited products, online payments, and more

 

This plan includes Square branding.

#4 WordPress.com – The Best Blogging Features to Publish Your Writings

WordPress templates

WordPress has a library of over 300 themes, some of which are free and some are paid. If you upgrade to a paid plan, you can import themes from outside sources like ThemeForest.

None of the built-in WordPress.com themes are specifically categorized for academics, but of course, any theme can be customized to suit your needs. You can also change your theme at any time.

WordPress.com is user-friendly, but it’s not quite as intuitive as the other site builders on this list. If you’re just starting out, the editor may seem overly complex, and you may have to spend some time finding the different options. To save time figuring it out, start with the tips from our in-depth WordPress.com review.

For a personal academic site, you might find some of the free widgets very helpful:

  • Display an event calendar for courses, conferences, or other key events
  • Add a contact form for students, press, or colleagues
  • Add a Google Translate button
  • Embed videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or another platform
  • Display your latest blog posts and/or top commenters

While these widgets add useful features, the most powerful add-ons come as plugins, which are only available to paid users on a Business plan and above.

WordPress.com offers generous storage with its free plan (3GB), though you’ll still be restricted to a WordPress subdomain and branding. Upgrading to the custom domain plan is so cheap that I’d definitely recommend it.

Number of themesNearly 300 in total, none specifically for academics

 

You can also purchase themes elsewhere and import them.

Mobile-responsive themes?Varies by theme, but most are.
What do you get if you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan?With the Personal plan, you’ll get:

 

  • 6GB storage
  • Email and live chat support
  • Free domain for one year (with an annual plan)
  • Removal of WordPress.com branding

#5 SimpleSite – A Quick, No-Frills Website Perfect for CVs

6 Best (Free) Website Builders for Personal Academic Sites-image6

If you’re teaching a full course load without a minute to spare, you might appreciate SimpleSite’s efficiency. Instead of browsing through templates, you’ll enter a few pieces of information and – lo and behold! – your website appears.

Compared to the other site builders on this list, SimpleSite offers much less functionality. You can create a static CV or brochure-style website just fine, and any site you create will be mobile-responsive. However, you won’t get the robust page types of Site123 or the useful free apps available on Wix.

If you’re not sure if that’s going to be enough for you, read our expert SimpleSite review to learn more.

To personalize your academic website, you can:

  • Add a contact page for students or colleagues to reach out
  • Add an image gallery
  • Insert a slideshow from your last class or conference presentation
  • Embed videos from YouTube or Vimeo, or upload them directly

With SimpleSite’s free plan, you’ll get a SimpleSite domain name, SimpleSite branding, and up to 15 site pages in total.

Number of templatesNo template library to choose from. You enter basic information to have a website generated for you.
Mobile-responsive templates?Yes
What do you get if you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan?With the Pro plan, you’ll get:

 

  • Free domain included with your subscription
  • Unlimited pages
  • Removal of Site123 branding
  • Five email addresses

#6 Squarespace – The Most Professional-Looking Templates and Seamless Appointment Scheduling

Unlike the other site builders on this list, Squarespace doesn’t have a free plan, but it does have a 14-day free trial. (No credit card is required to get started, either, so there’s no risk of accidentally being charged.)

Squarespace has earned a reputation for clean, design-forward templates, all of which are mobile-responsive.

Squarespace templates

Although none of the templates are specifically categorized as “academic websites,” the ones in the Personal/CV category are especially well-suited. The Pursuit (Jodie Romero) template above, for example, has built-in sections for languages, awards, experience, and more. It would be quick and easy to fill with your own details.

Get more pro tips in our in-depth Squarespace review.

While many users like Squarespace for its trendy templates, that’s not its only attraction. With 18 preset page options and plenty of built-in integrations, you can:

  • Insert an appointment scheduling block for office hours, synced with Acuity Scheduling
  • Customize your contact form for students, colleagues, or press to get in touch
  • Add an event calendar for course exams, conferences, etc.
  • Use a blog to publish course updates, researcher notes, or even a podcast
  • Offer downloadable forms (great for assignments, readings, and meeting agendas)
  • Enable multiple site contributors to help manage your site

There’s no separate app market or plugin library with Squarespace. Instead, everything is built-in for a very streamlined and user-friendly experience.

All Squarespace plans come with unlimited storage and bandwidth, plus the option for a custom domain.

Number of templates100+ templates, with none specifically for academics
Mobile-responsive templates?Yes
What do you get if you upgrade to the cheapest paid plan?With the Personal plan, you’ll get:

 

  • Custom domain (free for one year with annual plan)
  • Unlimited bandwidth and storage
  • Up to two contributors for your site
  • Basic website analytics

So, What’s the Best Website Builder for Your Personal Academic Site?

Here are my recommendations.

If you really want a completely free website (and don’t mind that you’ll be stuck with a subdomain, site builder branding, and limited storage), then I’d choose one of these builders:

  • Wix – because all of its templates are free, all design features are free, and many of its apps are free (including Wix Forum, Wix Documents, and other helpful tools for your classroom)
  • Site123 – because you’ll get most website customization options for free, plus a very quick and easy website building process with 24/7 live chat support if you need it
  • WordPress.com – because the free themes and free customization options are decent, and you’ll get more storage space (3GB) than with any other free website builder on this list

Top Recommendations for Affordable Upgrades

I’m no professor, but I wouldn’t feel good about directing students or colleagues to a URL like 45833429.mywixsite.com or professorjanedoe.site123.me. For that reason alone, I’d be willing to pay a small monthly fee to use my own custom domain.

And if I were going to pay a little more anyway…I’d probably go with one of these website builders:

  • Wix Combo Plan – because you’ll get a free domain for the first year, without paying for extra storage and bandwidth you probably don’t need
  • WordPress.com Personal Plan – because it’s the cheapest plan that allows you to connect your own domain
  • Squarespace Personal Plan – because it has the most professional-looking templates that will put your work in the center of attention
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