Like it or not, we are in 2018 and if you want to show anyone who you are or what you've done they expect to see it on the web.
Most employers now research their job candidates online so having an online CV is the norm for professionals looking for a job, especially for those who want to show they have creative or technical skills.
Having your own website means you are in control of what is shown about you and how.
You also make it easier for people to find you when they search online.
One Single Point Of Contact
A personal web address is the one reference which you can give anybody and everybody because it (hopefully) never changes.
It doesn't matter if your job changes, your email or phone changes, or which social media platform you and your friends happen to use this year or next. Your web address will always remain the same.
It's the only contact point you need to give. Your business card could literally just have yourname.com printed on it. Mine says "nlong.org".
There's another benefit. It makes it much easier for people to link to you and your work in their own articles, whether online or hardcopy. They just need to link or print the page URL. Go ahead and advertise this post to all your friends with "nlong.org/personal-website-address". I do appreciate it :-)
Enable People Searching Online To Find You
Once your site is up and running, you'll come up in search engine results. So people can find you without having to wonder whether you're on a social network, and if so, which one.
If you include keywords such as your school or university, your address or your company name it makes it even easier for old friends to re-find you because it will filter out the other people that share your name and you'll come higher in search rankings.
Don't Let Someone Else Own Your Work
Making posts and uploading content is an investment of time.
By keeping work on your own site, you:
- are not reliant on a social network being around in the future.
- don't risk loss of access because your social network's policies change unexpectedly.
- stop allowing Facebook or Google to steal the value of any investment you make in creating great content, articles, images, videos or podcasts.
But it goes beyond that. We have recently seen some of the unethical practices of social networks. It is becoming increasingly important to own and control both your personal data, and the work you create.
This doesn't mean shutting yourself off from social networks. That doesn't make sense if your friends are only contactable on certain platforms.
So you still post on those platforms when you've got something you want them to know.
The difference is that instead of writing your great ideas on the social networks, you write them on your website, and then you use the social network platforms to post a link to your article.
That way you are using the social networks, rather than them using you.
Build Your Own Website
I know, I know. Facebook seems so world dominating that it is hard to think of it not being around forever. But do you remember FriendsReunited? And MySpace? Both were the social networks of their time that "everyone" was on, but both went the way of the dodo, and there's nothing to say Facebook won't either.
With the recent Cambridge Analytica data scandal and related "#deletefacebook" initiative a number of people I know have already deleted their Facebook accounts completely. My children prefer SnapChat, and my teenage son has never had a Facebook account and doesn't want one.
It is highly unlikely that Facebook will maintain it's current critical mass, so you should assume that many people will move to different platforms in the future.
Don't Rely On Your Favourite Social Media Platform
Remember that the social networks are in control of all the stuff on their platform, whether it's your content or your contacts. You are only one rule violation or one policy change away from your account being closed out.
And don't forget that big companies go bust very suddenly (remember Enron - voted "America's Most Innovative Company" for six years). The same could happen to Facebook or LinkedIn or Slack.
It would be very foolish to base your life or your business on the assumption you will be on one particular network for ever.
The more you invest in one social network, the harder it is to move from it.
The big social media companies know it gets harder for you to move the more time you spend posting content so their goal is to keep you posting on their site.
It's not only content that you put your time investment into. Particularly if you're looking to build up a following, there can be a significant investment in building your network of friends, followers and subscribers. This can be another reason why you might feel stuck on one platform.
Having your own website gives you a powerful alternative that can give you back control...
Marketing 101: Build your own subscriber list
If you blog, make regular posts, or produce any kind of newsletter, building your own email list rather than relying on social networks has a huge payback. Just read any post on the internet by someone who knows how to market - it's pretty much Marketing Lesson 1.
Social networks use algorithms to decide what to post on your contacts' feeds, and these algorithms are not aligned with what benefits you. Their only goal is to keep people on their sites for as long as possible so they can get advertisers to pay them more.
There is no guarantee that someone who is linked / a friend to you will see a post you make on social media. Business posts or articles of interest on a particular topic get buried in the deluge of family photos, fake news, cute cat videos and adverts.
It's not just about marketing and commerciality to benefit you. Subscribing by email (or RSS feed) to a blog benefits your friends and end readers too:
- People can be much more specific in only subscribing to the topics (as well as the people) that interest them.
- They will receive your updates into their email inbox or feed reader so they can read them at a time of their choosing.
- They don't need to have the app on their phone to read on the go. Everyone has email.
- All the emails or posts on similar topics can be grouped together - if someone is working on a particular project perhaps they only want to read on that topic and not be distracted by others.
- (Dependent on your email service) there are no adverts and other unrelated clickbait surrounding them.
- And when people don't want to read your posts any more, they can unsubscribe. This is much less emotionally traumatic than having to 'unfriend' someone.
If you read blog posts I highly recommend using a feed reader that brings them all together in one place, ensures you don't miss a post and allows you to read at your desk or on your phone. The one I use is InoReader. (I'm not on commission for anything I'm recommending in this post by the way...)
Creating an email list is very easy. Services such as MailChimp do all the work for you, and you can easily embed their subscription/newsletter sign up form in your website.
But having your own website enables you to do other important things too...
Stand Out From The Crowd
You build your own unique brand that people remember. It allows creativity and personality to shine through. Particularly useful if you are looking for a job, selling a service, or just trying to deliver information or create change in the world.
A website is an easy to access portfolio, that you can show people by taking them straight there, even if it's on a smartphone in a bar or a restaurant. They don't have to use the same social network as you.
As you gain more recognition, awards, certificates or other achievements, you can show them off on your website.
You get to choose what goes on there, how it's formatted and what it says.
A personal website is useful even if you have another website for your business or you work for someone else, because you can demonstrate your own expertise and knowledge.
Humans are sophisticated beasts well attuned to judging another person's character from the smallest clues. By showing your persona on a website, you can build more trust with people looking to use your services.
With photos and videos, people you have never met in the real world can come to feel that they almost know you personally. And when all else is equal, we prefer to choose information or a service from someone we know or trust.
Your online persona or brand
Your website becomes your personal online identity and can be structured as you like. Anything from a single page summary to a multi-page website.
Content might include:
- A Personal Introduction or Bio
- Work Experience / Résumé / CV / Skills Summary
- A Personal Blog
- Samples Of Your Work
- An Image Gallery (particularly useful if your work is more creative or art based)
- Testimonials / References
- Professional Recognition / Awards
- Links To Social Media
- Contact Info
Your Website Is The Hub - Social Media Is A Tool
By having your own website, and making your interesting posts there instead of directly onto social media, you own all of your content. Once it's on your website, you can still post a link to your article on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, SnapChat, Slack (my fingers are hurting just typing all those names) or wherever else you want to, to make sure people know you've posted something interesting.
The difference is that now you are in control. You get to decide what the article looks like. You get to decide who is notified via email or other channels. You don't need to worry about human censorship or automated algorithms deciding to de-prioritise or ignore your work.
You even have the choice to put adverts on your site (don't worry - I'm not going to do that here) to make YOU money rather than letting Facebook and Google make the money from your hard work.
Reduce The Noise
There's a side benefit to posting proper articles that also benefits your followers: you're much more thoughtful when writing an article for your own site.
So your posts are more interesting to read than a whole splurge of impulsive thoughts tapped out on your phone while you're eating lunch.
Think of it like this... you're doing humanity a favour... cutting the crap and allowing people to spend their precious reading time on the more important.
Bonus: You're Building Your Skills
Don't forget that it's not just the website that is the output of this process.
Unless you ask someone else to do it for you, you'll build your web design skills, useful in almost any business these days, even if it's only to have a sensible conversation with your corporate web designer.
Don't be scared if you don't currently have any web design skills. Whatever your level there is a way to build a website:
- At the most basic level you can have a one page site (even if it's just a temporary placeholder) from a service such as about.me.
- Beginners and the non-technical can build a more advanced multi-page professional looking website with no programming using a web builder such as Wix, Squarespace, pixelhub or WordPress.
- Those who are happy to install a couple of things on their computer and use a few commands can graduate to building a static website with a tool like Hugo or Jekyll. This is a bit more involved because you have to organise the hosting, but again, there are simple hosting platforms which can even be free (e.g. GitHub Pages or Google Firebase).
The first version of this site was built using Hugo, and hosted on a Vultr server that costed me the vast amount of $2.50/month. I find it extraordinary how I can hire a cloud host server for so little.
Remember... learning new things is good... it keeps your brain younger.
Get Your Own Domain Name
Some may ask whether it's worth buying your own domain name. There's no doubt in my mind: get one!
The whole point is that this is for the long term: you're going to build a single and central point of access to you and your work. So you need one address that is permanent where people can always find you, hopefully for the rest of your life. That one permanent address can then link to all the other things in your life that change, like social media accounts, addresses, company email addresses, phone numbers, etc.
For those new to this terminology, 'domain names' set your web and email addresses. If you own the domain name "yourname.com" then your website address will be "yourname.com" and you can have any email address that ends in "@yourname.com", for instance email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The only downside is that you need to pay a few dollars a year for the privilege of registering (and therefore owning) a domain name.
I pay $10.79 (£8) per year for nlong.org - the price of three coffees.
You might be put off having your own name because the observant amongst you will notice that most of the "free" web building services (Wix, WordPress, etc.) will charge you a monthly fee in addition to the domain name registration if you want to have your website at your personal "YourName.com" rather than a website address like "YourName.wordpress.com".
But don't be put off from registering your domain - you can sort the hosting out later: as I mentioned above, I only pay a few dollars for hosting, and services such as GitHub Pages and Google Firebase host websites for free.
How To Buy Your Domain Name
It's incredibly easy... just go to a domain registrar service. I normally use namecheap, namesilo or if you want a .uk domain, HeartInternet. Type the name you're looking for in the search box (without the ending .com or .org) and the domain registrar will suggest all the names available. You can then buy the domain like you would anything else online.
You will probably find that your perfect domain name (e.g. "YourName.com") is already taken, but the good news is that there are now a whole load of alternative endings available so you will find others such as YourName.me, YourName.life or YourName.blog to name but a few. If you're getting creative and want a name like "Telegr.am", you can see the full list of endings (otherwise known as 'top level domains') here.
Avoid Changing Email Addresses
Once you've got your domain, you can have the same email address for ever...
I have been through at least 10 email addresses in my life. They've changed when I've changed jobs, when I've changed provider (Hotmail, Gmail, now ProtonMail) and when I bought a domain for my family (longfamily.co.uk) which I thought I'd be on forever, but that changed again when I realised that I wanted to use a different email provider to the other people in my family.
It's frustrating for friends and contacts to receive repeated requests to change their address book. It gets even more annoying when Gmail "remembers" the old addresses and keeps auto-suggesting the old one even when friends have deleted it from their Google Contacts. Why do you do this, Google?
I would advise one domain name per person.
An annoying fact of life is that one domain name has to use the same email provider/server for all the people with email addresses under it. Children grow up quickly and want to do their own things with websites and emails, so domain names shared across families are less good (except perhaps for long term married couples).
Personal Email Address
Having your own personal address instead of "YourName@Gmail.com" (or whichever provider you use) gives you freedom in the future to change email providers, and makes you look more professional.
Now I have my one personal email address, and it's not going to change. If I want to change email providers I can change at any time, but the change is invisible to my contacts and they don't have to update their address books.
Another little tip:
I don't normally publish my email address on websites because this can attract spam. So that's another good reason to have my own website. If someone who I don't already know wants to contact me, they still can, via the Contact page on my website, but without me needing to give them my email address, which I reserve for my friends and people I know.
I recommend that parents encourage their children to have their own domain name before they become students and start job hunting. In the future I'm sure this will become an expectation, and the sooner they register a domain name, the more likely they will find a good one that matches their desired name.
And don't make it a silly one (think "Sexy.Me"). Remember this is for the long term, so what is funny to a student might not be so funny when they're job hunting at 50 years old.
OK, this was a long article, so let's wrap up.
- It's a really good idea to have your own website so you can be in control of your own personal brand, and you own all the creative work you do. The sooner you do it, the less difficult it will be to extract yourself from the social networks. People then have only one address they need to remember: your web address.
- It's not difficult to build a website that looks professional. There are many free services out there that don't require knowledge of computers.
- When you have your own site, you'll think before you post, which will be better for everyone, including you.
- Register your own domain name. That way you can control all your assets and up to date contact details in one place, and you can keep the same address for ever. It only costs a few dollars a year. Make it one that you're happy to keep for the long term.
- When you write or create good stuff, always post it on your own website first. Then use the social networks to post links to it. That way you keep the value, not them.
If you think I've missed anything, I'd love you to let me know in the comments below.