Why should you have a website?

The number of people who get their information from the internet increases every day. Also, the frequency of their online visits is increasing as well. This explosion of online accesses has changed the way that businesses and individuals present themselves to the public. Professionals in all careers are now commonly expected to have a presence on the web, but the benefits of a high-quality website aren't always obvious or measurable. Like any sound investment, a premier website has many benefits that more than make up for the cost:

1) A web presence is expected of modern professional scientists Details]

Every modern company, organization, or professional individual is generally expected to have a web presence. Think about any place or any professional at all - most people expect them to have a website where they can go for more information, and if one can't be found at all, a person seeking information gets annoyed and may question the legitimacy of the business, group, or professional. Moreover, if a site is found but it looks outdated or amateurish, and/or just doesn't work, then that raises some uncertainty about the overall quality of the work the person or group does. Specifically, ~90% of scientists turn to the internet when they want to find information on other PI's and/or their departments and programs, and ~90% of those scientists agreed that a high-quality website reflected positively on a PI. A website is an expected reflection of your professional life, so having a good website is essential to presenting yourself in the best possible light.

2) Dynamic websites provide information about you and your work Details]

People who hear about your work may want to know more about you and your lab. These may include members of the general public, journalists, headhunters, businesses, and potential collaborators. Presenting information that is clear and easy to access answers general questions which weeds out annoying interruptions and may encourage new high-value contacts. Moreover, it provides a place for you to present your work outside the topical, time, and media constraints of a traditional print journal.

3) High-quality websites are also desired by your students and postdocs Details]

You're not the only one in your lab, and the presence of a quality website looks good for your students and postdocs as well as you. A lousy website may have a negative impact on their grants and opportunities, present and future. As an extra bonus, students and postdocs may have their own pages under your site, allowing them to present and market themselves and their ideas effectively. In a recent survey, more than 75% of students and postdocs agreed that it was important to them that their PI present them and their work in a positive light on the PI's website.

4) Functional websites meet requirements for granting agencies Details]

The NIH requires a data-sharing plan for many of their grants (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/data_sharing/data_sharing_faqs.htm , point #23). One recommended plan for data-sharing is a website (point #17); the website is an allowable expense under the grant (point #22). The NSF has similar data-sharing requirements (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2001/gc101/gc101rev1.pdf), although the specifics are detailed in each sub-agency's grant requirements. Many other granting agencies also have requirements for data-sharing plans which can be easily met with a website. Notably, a high-quality website costs just a fraction of a percent of a major grant award.

5) Engaging websites aid student instruction Details]

If you as a teaching professor in an academic setting want to present outside resources (especially online resources) for required and/or background material, a website is a great place to do this. You may be able to save money for the students if you can link to textbooks online, and save prep, copy, and distribution time for yourself by posting materials in one place from your own home or office. You can also post other daily class materials and notes as appropriate, before and/or after the class meets. More advanced websites can be used for online submission of student papers, reports, quizzes, etc.

6) Informative websites can help with your publications Details]

Citations like "personal communication" or "unpublished observations" have always been questioned by reviewers and readers alike; with a website, you can cite your website where you've posted the material. It also provides a place to share data that isn't relevant to the printed page, and can serve as a single source for the dissemination of all of your published works.

7) Premier websites may provide an edge in getting grants Details]

Large granting agencies have been dropping the page limits on grants, which makes space in the grant more valuable. With a good website, you're not afraid to summarize personal information and background material in the application itself, with citations to your website for further information. Also, smaller labs who don't compete for large federal grants may still compete for grants at a state, local, non-profit, or institutional level; the website can be a good tool in presenting background information and/or data that doesn't lend itself well to a printed page (movies, models, animations, etc.). And in general, grants are getting more and more competitive - if a program officer has two grants in front of him and can only fund one, why limit your chances by failing to present yourself in the best possible light? In a recent survey, only 35% of respondents said that they did not try to consult a PI's website when making a grant recommendation; of those that may consult the website, almost 80% said that a good website presents a PI in a positive light (and ~45% felt that a poor website, or no site at all, reflected poorly on the PI). The decision may not be based just on the website, but a good website can't hurt, and a bad website (or no site at all) certainly won't help. In today's hyper-competitive grant environment, isn't it foolish to not spend a few thousand dollars to give you any edge you can get?

8) Vibrant websites may give you an advantage in getting tenure or merit pay Details]

Anything you can do to present yourself well will benefit you and your team. A good website allows you to show off yourself, your lab, and your accomplishments; shows that you're proud of your work and your institution; and demonstrates that you take your work seriously. In the case of merit pay, where there's a limited pool of funds, a good website can only help you in the eyes of the decision committee. Only ~25% of faculty involved in tenure or other career-advancement decisions do not use a PI's website to help them make their decision; of those that may, nearly 80% agree that a high-quality website reflects well on the candidate (and almost 40% agree that a poor website, or no site at all, reflects poorly on the candidate).

9) Exciting website may help to attract top students Details]

Young scientists are more comfortable than ever using the internet, and assume that everyone is online. A lousy website reflects poorly on your lab, your work, and your department. Competition for top students has many parallels to the competition for grants - again, why would you want to go into the competition being less than fully prepared? More than 90% of students turn to the internet for information on a PI, department, or program; of those, nearly 90% agree that a good website makes the PI look good (while ~50% believe that a poor website actually looks bad), and about half of the students are actually more inclined to work with a PI, or in a department, that is represented by a high-quality website - reasons cited include the perception that a lab that has a professionally-developed website is well-funded, and a PI that cares enough to present himself and his/her lab in a positive light will also work to present the work of the students, which will only benefit the students in their next career step.

10) A professionally-designed website saves time Details]

You hire students and postdocs to do research. Presumably you hired them because they're good at research, and you expect them to get results. You didn't hire them because they could set up and maintain a web site for you, and time spent on building and maintaining a website is time that they're not spending doing research. In addition, the site they come up with probably won't be as good as a professional site, and the knowledge of how to maintain the site leaves when the student leaves. If you've got a problem with a piece of equipment in the lab you call the service department for the equipment, you don't expect a student to take time out of his day to learn how to fix the equipment. Same thing for a quality website - leave that to a professional developer so you and your lab can focus on what you do best.

*Survey carried out on over 100 scientists and science students between 12 April and 19 April 2010