Creating an online portfolio: How to get started

Creating an online portfolio: How to get started header image

Remember the days of printed portfolios? They’ve gone virtual. Online portfolios have become increasingly necessary among artists, photographers, filmmakers, and other creative professionals as a simple and easy way to showcase and promote their work. Imagine being able to link your online portfolio in an email to a potential employer or customer, instead of simply attaching a PDF?

Online portfolios can include examples of your work, a resume, a summary of your qualifications and skills, audio and video, and much more, depending on your field. Regardless of the mediums you work with, your online portfolio will give more people access to your creative work and a stronger sense of who you are. 

Here, we’ll discuss how to create a portfolio website, from selecting a domain name to the best extensions for you — and how to make your portfolio stand out.

Why you need an online portfolio

The primary purpose of an online portfolio is to showcase your work. They’re useful for individuals, teams, or small businesses to enhance their online presence and present their work or services to a broader audience. In the world of remote work, online portfolios give you and your business an advantage to attract potential clients from all over the world. If your business sticks to strictly in-person consultations for your services, you’re missing out on the benefits of having a portfolio online, such as attracting potential clients and networking benefits that an online portfolio can provide. Online portfolios can help interior and graphic designers, artists, writers, and more showcase their work. 

Online portfolios also benefit working professionals on the job hunt. Most creative jobs require written examples, and one of the best ways to stand out during an interview is by showing off your experience and previous work with an online portfolio. They help you create a positive first impression with prospective employers and can help bring your career history to life, while also having visual representation of your qualifications. Linking your online portfolio to job networking sites like LinkedIn increases the chances of your portfolio being seen by companies looking to hire. 

What to include in an online portfolio

While 56% of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool, only 7% of job seekers actually have one. Online portfolios give hiring managers a glimpse into your personality, with creative freedom to express it in ways that aren’t possible with a traditional resume. An informative, well-designed portfolio also sends a message that you take your career seriously.

Before creating an online portfolio, you need to ask yourself what the purpose of it is. Are you looking for a new job? Are you looking to expand your reach to meet new clients? Will it be about you, or about selling your services? While portfolios vary greatly by field and creator, the main goal for all portfolios is to make it visually appealing and eye-catching so the visitor doesn’t lose interest. 

You also want to make sure your portfolio is cohesive and easy to navigate. No potential employer or client will spend much time browsing your portfolio if they cannot understand it, or if there are spelling or grammatical errors. Ensure that visitors can find what they need quickly, and list any relevant social media channels if more of your work is featured there. 

Some elements to add to your portfolio to accomplish this include:

  1. A showcase of your best work. Potential employers/clients will see visuals first, and want to get an understanding of your capabilities. Be sure to choose the best samples of your work — not all of them. You should include between 4-6 projects that clearly communicate the type of work you enjoy doing and want to continue creating. Whether you choose video presentations, thumbnail galleries, photo slideshows, or links to blogs/articles, if they like what they see, they’ll continue searching your portfolio. 
  2. An about page. Your about page shows potential employers/clients the face behind the work. You want to include your name, a recent, professional photo of you, and information about yourself. Use this page to showcase your skills, any awards and recognition you’ve received, your passions, and why you work in your chosen field. Keep it brief and memorable. 
  1. Testimonials. Having words from past clients and employers can be meaningful for those looking to hire you for your services. Reach out to your previous clients or employers to ask for quotes that can be published on your portfolio. 
  2. A contact form. Including your email address and phone number gives potential employers a way to reach you, but including a contact form means they can get in touch with you immediately upon seeing your work. This means they won’t hesitate to communicate and you’ll convert more opportunities. 
  3. Professional headshots and images of yourself. Having your image connected to your portfolio means hiring managers will be able to put a face with your work. This means they will be more likely to reach out and give you a shot.
  4. A compelling call to action (CTA). Your portfolio should clearly state how visitors can contact you, whether that be through phone/email or a contact form. CTAs compliment portfolios, so make sure to have one that aligns with the purpose of your portfolio. 

Resume in your online portfolio? Absolutely.

While traditional resumes aren’t able to showcase who you are in the same way an online portfolio does, it’s still important to link to your resume somewhere in your online portfolio. If a potential employer, recruiter, or client comes across your portfolio online, this allows them access to your resume, educational background, and qualifications. Some may only have access to your portfolio’s URL, so having your resume linked can only benefit you in the long run. 

Best domain extensions for your portfolio

When building your online portfolio, you’ll need to choose a domain name and extension that points visitors in the right direction. Your domain is the first impression visitors will get of your website, so you should choose a professional one that will stand out. 

The extension .com was originally intended for commercial use and is available to the public, and remains the most commonly used extension. It brings trust and a slight authority boost over lesser used and uncommon extensions. With the popularity and authority that comes with .com, it will be difficult to choose another extension for your portfolio. 

The extension .net was originally intended for internet service providers and networks but is a strong alternative to .com and available for public use. There’s a high association to technology and web-based services with .net, so it may be best suited for websites within the technology sector. 

The extension .org was originally intended for nonprofit organizations but is available for public use. It’s often popular among non-governmental organizations and political parties or online community organizations. It’s less popular than .com but doesn’t work well with all business types. It’s heavily associated with community websites that using it with a tech company would leave visitors confused. 

Other unique domain extensions include descriptive Identity Digital domains like .marketing, .live, and .family. These domains allow the opportunity for more memorable, keyword-rich domain names, and have additional built-in security measures to protect against phishing attacks and other malicious activity. Using the extensions .PRO and .BIO are great ways to use your portfolio’s URL to make its purpose immediately clear to anyone who may visit it.

Website builder or code from scratch?

When building your online portfolio, you’re going to have options to choose from, like whether to use a website builder or to code it yourself.

Using a website builder such as Wix is a great way to build your first website, especially if you don’t have any background knowledge in coding. They’re mainly used to build out smaller websites and let the user choose from templates and design themes. Some come with built-in hosting, while others you have to pay for hosting separately. They’re also useful for those who want to build their site quickly. 

Coding your website from scratch gives you complete control over your site and where it’s hosted. Writing code allows you to create your own digital portfolio with a completely new and different design as opposed to a website builder’s templates. Creating your own code also helps you grow your skillset as a developer, and can make your code less prone to attack by hackers.  

Whether you choose to use a website builder or code your site from scratch, make sure to choose the option that is best for your portfolio and your career growth. 

How to make your portfolio stand out

After you’ve designed your online portfolio and chosen your best work to feature, you want to make sure your portfolio does the work you need it to do. 

Consider the following to make your portfolio stand out:

  1. Optimize your portfolio website for SEO. You’ve done all the work, so it’s important to get noticed. You want to make sure your portfolio ranks high in Google search results so your site gets the attention and business it deserves. 
  2. Make sure it’s mobile optimized. With the popularity of mobile browsing, making sure your portfolio is mobile-friendly is necessary if you want your site to succeed. The layout needs to be touch friendly, with tappable links, no plugins, and click-to-contact options instead of contact forms. 
  3. Include a custom email address. A custom email address makes you look more professional, is easier to remember, can promote your brand or service, and adds credibility. 
  1. Link to other social media. Including social media buttons at prominent locations on your portfolio facilitates easy sharing of your work and allows you to newtork on other channels. This can help grow your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn audiences.
  2. Use high-resolution imagery for highlighted projects and include detailed descriptions. You’re supposed to be showcasing what you’re capable of doing, so don’t let fuzzy images or vague text get in the way of it. 
  3. Provide easy navigation. If your site is a mess of nesting menus and redundant links, employers may be too confused or frustrated to see what you have to offer them. Worse, it can reflect poorly on you as a professional. Offering a clean, user-friendly UX means visitors will have no trouble getting to the good stuff. 
  4. Promote your website. Connecting your portfolio to your online presence gives employers another opportunity to see what you’re capable of doing.   
  5. Keep it simple. The use of too much animated content or crazy color schemes can make your portfolio immature and deter employers and clients from exploring it further. Use light-colored schemes and fonts to keep your site simple and easy on the eyes.