Whether you are a freelancer or looking to get hired by a company, an online portfolio is an effective way to showcase your best work and highlight your personality.
There are dozens of online portfolio builders to choose from. Where to start? In this guide, we’ve narrowed down the options to three of the most popular builders.
We’ll tell you what you need to know about building your site. And we’ll outline best practices to help your portfolio stand out, including promoting your work through social media and SEO so you can grow your traffic and get found in Google searches.
Find What You’re Looking For
Choose the Right Website Platform
How do you create an impressive online portfolio? If you’re not a programmer, you’ll want to start with a site builder.
Site builders come with professionally designed layouts and functionality built in. They make it easy to set up and launch a website and you have a large number of designs to choose from.
Which site builder? There are dozens to choose from. To make your life easier, we’ve narrowed it down to three of the most popular portfolio builders.
WordPress.com: A Familiar Platform
More than 75 million sites use WordPress, so it’s a great place to start.
Note: WordPress.com is not the same as WordPress.org. WordPress.org is the organization that develops WordPress software. WordPress.com is their commercial service that provides hosting, website assistance, and everything you need to launch a website.
With WordPress.com, you can choose from dozens of themes, edit just about anything you want (or not), upload or embed media files, and so much more.
JetPack, a powerful plugin, gives you access to many security features. You can add on other plugins for features like SEO, stats, contact forms, advanced galleries, email subscriptions, and more.
With WordPress.com, you can make a professional-looking site in just a few minutes. Pricing starts at only $5 a month, which includes a free domain name (for one year) and email.
WordPress.com includes thorough customer support with its plans. That includes assistance with your website if you get stuck on an issue.
Be aware that you’ll need to upgrade to the Business Plan (currently $25/month) if you want to access all available WordPress plugins.
Squarespace: Sophisticated Design
Squarespace is similar to WordPress, in that it is a template-based site builder.
You start with your choice of template and then use the intuitive editor to customize it.
They even have multiple templates for portfolios, but since Squarespace is so oriented to sophisticated design and visual display, many of their other templates can easily be re-purposed to serve as a portfolio.
Beginners might find it slightly easier to use than WordPress. Unlike WordPress, there are no plugin updates to stay on top of or plugin conflicts to be concerned about.
Note: if you want access to the code to customize it you’ll need to bump up from the Personal Plan ($16/month) to the Business Plan at $26/month.
Squarespace offers all the features you’ll need, such as a form builder, blog, built-in SEO, and e-commerce tools. They’re also known for their excellent customer support and tutorials.
What’s a Squarespace Cover Page?
Cover pages are splashy landing pages that evoke a glossy magazine spread. Squarespace has a number to choose from. They can be added to your site with a click of a button.
Cover pages have minimal or no navigation and include a call-to-action, like signing up for a podcast, calling a phone number, or filling out a form. They’re easy to customize and use.
You can also integrate most major tools, like MailChimp for email marketing or Xero for invoicing and financial reports. The Personal Plan ($16/month) includes a domain name, SEO tools, a mobile-optimized site, and basic site metrics.
Save By Paying Annually
The main drawback to Squarespace is the pricing. It is the more expensive option, especially if you want to spring for more advanced features.
If you pay annually though, the Personal Plan works out to $12/month and the Business plan comes in at $18/month.
Wix: Fast and Easy
Wix is the most straightforward tool on this list. If you are overwhelmed by the tech side of things, Wix is likely your best shot.
They offer a wide range of professionally designed templates, including more than 20 specifically built for portfolios.
You can choose to use their drag-and-drop editor, or let their ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) tool build your site for you.
Features include SEO tools, media galleries, and e-commerce stores.
Through their app store, you can add on social media tools, a blog, reviews, forms, and more. Pricing starts at $13 a month, which includes a domain name.
If your goal is to get a site up fast, Wix is a solid option.
Showcase Your Best Work
Once you’ve chosen your platform, now it is time to build your site and show off your best work.
The first step is to objectively evaluate your work and choose the pieces you want to include. Aim to highlight the range of your skills, don’t only include one specific method or style of work. If necessary, create categories or pages for different types of work.
Include Crisp Descriptions
Once you have decided which pieces to include, it is time to write a description of each piece. Take the time to think about what you want a client or prospective employer to know about each item.
Did you try a new method that worked out really well? Was this a new style? What was your biggest struggle with this piece? How did you overcome it?
The length of your description is going to vary based on the template you use in your industry, but aim to keep it under 50 words. Use an app like Hemingway (shown below) to make sure you aren’t overly-wordy.
If you really feel like you need more space, consider writing a blog post or case study about the piece so you can dive deeper.
Show Yourself in Your Environment
Showcase your personality. Remember, they aren’t just hiring a robot to complete a task, they are hiring a real person; so let them get to know you.
One way to do that is by adding some images of you at work in your environment.
Slideshows and Other Formats
Consider using a variety of visual formats such as:
- Stop animation
Turning your images into collages is easy with PicMonkey.
Provide Testimonials and Reviews
Social proof is the idea that people are more likely to buy or do something if others have expressed satisfaction in the past.
For example, when you shop on Amazon, you likely look to the reviews before making a purchase, right? The same strategy can work on your portfolio site.
Testimonials and reviews provide social proof. They show potential clients that other people trust and love your work. Leverage the power of these reviews by adding them to your portfolio site.
Link or embed reviews from Google, Yelp, Facebook, or other sites if available. You can also simply recreate these reviews on your site by creating a page or blog post that lists them all.
Don’t have any reviews? Email past clients and ask for a few words about what they liked about your work. (And, implement a process to ask every client after you finish a project for a review!)
You’ve built your site, you’ve uploaded examples of your fantastic work, now what? Well, now you need to make sure people actually find your new portfolio site. It might be easier than you think. Here are three ways to help your portfolio site get found online.
Use Good SEO
SEO (search engine optimization) is, as you may know, a strategy designed to help sites perform well in search engines and show up when users search for related key terms.
Google uses more than 200 factors to determine which sites make it to the top, but the top three are content, metadata, and site performance (how fast your site loads, among other things.)
No matter what platform you use, make sure to make the most out of their SEO features. For example, be sure to fill out your title tag and meta description. These are the headline and description that show up in search results, so use that space to draw people in.
Here are the SEO guides for all three platforms we covered above:
A blog is another way to improve your SEO. Write about topics related to your industry, share how you completed a specific task, or just write about a recent project you completed.
This newbie-friendly SEO guide will give you a quick rundown if you aren’t familiar with SEO best practices.
The Role of Marketplaces
For many creative and freelancers, marketplaces like Fiverr seem overly competitive. It is hard to stand out when there are thousands of other people doing just what you do. But, they do serve a purpose.
Most of these sites will let you link back to your portfolio site though. These “in-bound” links are very important for SEO.
Create a profile, add a short description of what you do, and include a link to your site. It only takes a few minutes, but it can help your portfolio site get found by prospective clients or employers.
Use Social Media
Make sure to claim profiles on all the main social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Fill out the description and makes sure to include key terms that describe what you do, such as a graphic designer or freelance writer.
Then, make sure you add your new website to each profile. These sites rank high in Google, so you may find your Facebook page ranks better than your actual site, at least in the beginning.
Aim to update your social media accounts a few times a month, at least. Post your latest work, share exciting industry news, or share your favorite inspirations.
Social media can be an incredibly useful tool for building relationships and establishing your brand.
Final Thoughts on Creating an Impressive Online Portfolio
As a creative, the best way to stand out is through high-quality work and an attention-grabbing portfolio.
However, for many people, building a site feels overwhelming and impossible. It doesn’t have to be! Using the tools listed above, you can have your portfolio site online in an hour or two.
Just be sure to take the time to make use of the SEO tools and follow the tips above to ensure your site gets found.