Creating an Online Academic Presence

All of us have an online presence. When you Google your name in quote, what do you find? Or better yet, when a potential employer (a hiring committee) Googles you, what do they find? What do you want them to find? This essay is about having them find what you want them to find.

It’s true that once it’s out there, you can’t take it back. That said, you can create new web content that rises to the top, and make it more likely that what you want on the first page of Google’s results will be there. Key to this is understanding (or making smart guesses about) how Google decides what to show and knowing what to do in light of that (search engine optimization, or SEO). The exact algorithm is secret, but one thing that is known to effect the results is, for example, the URL. If someone Googles “john smith,” all other things being equal, the URL “” will come out high on the results.

Another factor to which Google gives a lot of weight is high page rank—your name in the text of (or, even better, in the URL of) your institution’s website will appear higher than your name on the local animal shelter’s blog. The best thing—what Google really likes—is to see that lots of pages link to a page with a certain term. So if “” has incoming links from a blog, from his LinkedIn profile, and from his institution’s list of grad students, Google rightly decides that this page really does have good information on John Smith.

Important to note is that the “anchor text”—the actual text in blue in the link on the referring site—should always be your name. So a blog about some paper John Smith presented should say:

Click here for more info on the paper John Smith presented

rather than

For the paper John Smith presented, click here.

Getting people to use your name as the anchor text when linking to your site can be difficult, but if you can, encourage them to do so.

Ultimately your job is to decide what pages already exist that have positive and professional content about you, then create more, and optimize these for search engines. Two profiles that absolutely every academic should have are LinkedIn and Both are free, and both are very well indexed (read: liked) by Google. is like a nerd’s Facebook. You can put up pdfs of talks, articles, book reviews, etc., that you wrote. These are then available to be downloaded, though before posting you should check with whomever published the piece for permission. Even if you can’t post these pdfs, you can at least include the reference to it. Make sure that descriptions in these profiles are written in third person, not the first: “John Smith is a Phd candidate…” Google then sees your name in the URL, your name on the page, your name in the pdfs and likes it. Keep these profiles updated and build your network through their “connect” and “follow” features.

Both sites also have a profile section where you can put links to other profiles: crosslink, but also use your name in the link (e.g. John Smith’s profile). You should also create a Google Scholar profile, even if you don’t have any publications yet (it still shows up on Google). Find out if your institution has pages available for students, and create a basic profile with your publications, academic interests, and CV. If possible, it should have your name in the URL, so


Always cross-link: this should have links to all your other profiles to increase their results on Google.

Of all the websites, though, the best is your own. Buy the domain for your name and get some basic hosting, then build a very simple WordPress site. Even if this is bare-bones content, you can have a links page with links to all of your other profiles, increasing their likelihood of turning up higher on Google’s results. Yes, having your own website might seem strange, but it’s a way to ensure 100% control over the most likely thing that will pop up in Google. As always, put links to this website from all of your profiles. We also recommend It’s basically a way to help you do search engine optimization. It’s free, though you can upgrade (no need to), and it helps you make positive websites move up and negative ones drop off the first page.

It’s probably obvious, but we’ll say it nonetheless: make your Facebook private, and restrain yourself on Twitter and other social media. More than half of potential employers say that they Google candidates and look at social media.

©Copyright 2015 by Zachary Nowak