Introduction

Almost daily I get hammered with questions like:

  • “Is it worth having a personal portfolio website?”
  • “Does it actually help?”
  • “How will people actually find my website?”
  • “How do I even make a portfolio website?”

I hope to answer all of these questions in this post.

Portfolio websites are sites on the web that focus around highlighting your skills and past work. They are essentially beefed-up résumés. They have the freedom to include creative elements such as images and diagrams that organize the content in a more aesthetically-pleasing manner. If you are serious about your work and want to get more jobs, a portfolio website is essential.




How my portfolio website changed my life

In order to convince you that having a personal portfolio website is critical, I will describe some of the opportunities that it has brought me.

1. I get at least one job offer per week — sometimes more. This is quite a departure from the days I struggled to get any sort of coding job. Now, I have complete control over the work I want; this makes my work a lot more enjoyable. I owe most of these job offers to this portfolio website.

2. My website hasn’t just landed me small-scale gigs; in fact, my current long-term job at Octane Web Design stemmed from a contact message sent from my website. That short message landed me a job that has paid off tremendously.

3. Although my website highlights my web development accolades, I have received numerous tutoring job offers because of my “Academics” section.

4. I have received, and accepted, paid content writing positions on various other blogs because of the academic accomplishments I have highlighted on my site.

5. Designing a portfolio website helps you organize your accomplishments and skills. This helps tremendously in applications and interviews. Furthermore, having a personal website displayed on a résumé makes you look very professional and serves as an extension to the résumé.

My portfolio website has changed my life. Now let’s look at what a portfolio website specifically has to offer.

I got my long-term, lead web developer job at Octane Web Design because of my portfolio website.

The header of the first website I ever built. I have come a long way since then.

Highlight your skills

A portfolio website is by far the best medium to illustrate your skills. You are not confined to the layout and length of a résumé or the short profile descriptions and rigid structure of a LinkedIn account. If you have the skills (or can hire someone with the skills) to build beautiful websites, then you can highlight your skills exactly how you want, down to the very font and image layout.

Images and graphics are the greatest way to present information in a pleasing manner. A massive wall of text is undesireable – except for some informative blogposts – and may turn off many visitors. Adding supplementary text to an applicable image is a great way to present important skills.

Imagine yourself in the seat of an employer or recruiter and think of what you would want to see in a candidate. If your website doesn’t even pass your own inspection then it will not likely pass the meticulous eyes of potential employers.

A screenshot from my “Programming Work” page. My skills are displayed through actual work I have finished. Concrete examples of past work is the best way to advertise skills.




Get your name on the web

The more your name is on the web, the more chances you have at getting noticed. Why not increase these chances? With proper marketing, you can get your name on the top of target Google searches.

The difficulty of getting your name on the top of Google results varies among people. If you have a very common name or the name of a famous individual, then it may be very difficult to get to the top of Google search rankings. In this case, it will behoove you to rank for certain keywords related to your skillset such as “Dallas Texas Web Developer.” Getting higher search engine rankings is done through SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This field is outside of the scope of this post, but many professionals are around to help you learn or work for you.

Despite the importance of search rankings,  if you have many blog posts throughout the web and on other sites, you are developing a vast web of links to your site, and this will drive loads of organic traffic to your site!

As you can see, my website is the first result when my name is searched. Online presence is important.

Exhibit technical skill

If you built the site yourself, then it shows coding and design skills that are helpful for many gigs. For example, because I wanted to highlight my web development skills on my site, it was very helpful that I built the site myself. The site itself acts as a representation of your skills.

Developing and maintaining a website takes design and creativity skills, technical coding knowledge, and dedication to constantly keep it up-to-date. This skills are virtually necessary in every career path.

Some HTML code from a website I developed. Developing and maintaining a website takes dedication and technical knowledge. This is a direct way to show potential employers that you care about your work.




Constantly updatable

Unlike a static résumé PDF, a portfolio website can be constantly updated without the need to send out a new document. Every time someone opens the website, the updates are visible and ready to garner attention.

Most modern portfolio sites are created on a CMS (content management system) of some sort. The most popular CMS framework is WordPress. WordPress makes building a site and managing the content very easy. I will talk more about this later.

To easily update my website content, I use the WordPress framework as a content management system (CMS). With a bit of custom coding and premium themes, it has the flexibility of custom development and the usability of a blogging platform.

What to include on the portfolio?

What you should include on your portfolio really depends on what skills you want to highlight. The design and feel of your site will also be dictated by the way you want to appear to a visitor. Take a second to think from the point of view of a potential client or employer. What would they want to see in a candidate? Now attempt to illustrate this as well as possible.

For example, let’s say you are an athlete trying to get recruited. Your website should open up with a short list of your accomplishments and some type of video that highlights your best plays. This will be the first thing a recruiter will see; make it your absolute best. Under the succinct list of accomplishments, link to a full page of accomplishments. Then in another tab or a bit lower on the page, include some additional videos and/or stats to allow the recruiter to easily evaluate you.

Think from the mind of a coach — they don’t have time to spend hours on a page dissecting statistics. Make it easy for them; from that short video clip on the front page, they should already have a good idea of your skill level and if they should research into you further.

Here is a great example of a photographer’s portfolio website. The page is absent of distracting elements to fully highlight the featured photographs.

Image courtesy of Lelina Price




Build myself or hire someone?

If you have the skills and knowledge to design and develop a professional website, then you should certainly do it yourself. Hiring a professional to build a website can be fairly expensive. You can hire a local developer or outsource the work to a remote freelancer on websites such as Upwork or Freelancer. If you have further questions about the hiring process, or would like to hire me to build your website, contact me!

However, if you are tech-savvy, creative, and willing to learn, developing a simple WordPress website is fairly straightforward. Just to clarify, by “WordPress” site, I do not mean a blogging site run on WordPress.com such as ‘yourname.wordpress.com.’ I am referring to a website built on the WordPress framework, a content management system that makes it easy to build a site and add new content.

Below I will list some great resources for getting started with WordPress and building your first site.
https://wordpress.org
https://www.siteground.com/tutorials/wordpress/

I am in the process of creating a comprehensive guide to WordPress and how to build a website for the first time. Until then, you will have to use the above resources.

Now, if all of this custom website building seems a bit too much to handle, then consider hiring a professional developer. There are developers of all skill levels with different price ranges. Generally, the more experienced developers will have higher prices. Find what is best for you and your wallet, and go from there.

WordPress is a great CMS platform for building websites. It is the most popular CMS ahead of both Joomla and Drupal – other popular CMS platforms. I use WordPress for this site and a lot of other client websites.

Upwork is a good place to find freelance developers and designers to build out your site. I used to work on Upwork a lot as a freelancer, and still hold several jobs on this platform.

Getting your website visibility – a short marketing intro

What’s the point of having a website if it has poor visibility? That is where marketing comes in. A good internet marketing strategy will drive increased traffic to your site — exactly what we want.

I will only briefly dive into the basics of online marketing. For a more complete introduction, refer to my blog post on digital marketing.

A good digital marketing campaign for a personal portfolio focuses on these things (there are other strategies to digital marketing that aren’t essential for portfolio websites):

Content marketing – The first step to driving traffic to your site and gaining credibility is to release quality content. This includes blog posts, infographics, e-books, videos, etc. Make sure to distribute this content through social media, forums, and other websites to drive new traffic to your site. Within the content, add links to your portfolio website, and new visitors will naturally start visiting your site. The more quality content you push through the web, the more traffic you will get. Build a good reputation with solid, informative freebies to develop a following.

Email marketing – If you have a blog on your portfolio site, then you would likely benefit from a newsletter. The idea of a newsletter is simple — users sign up to get email updates of your latest blog posts. This is a great way to build a following and drive users back to your site. However, avoid being spammy and sending out email newsletters too often. A weekly or bi-weekly newsletter is about the right balance.

SEO – SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The goal of SEO is to increase your rank on search engines such as Google. SEO is a very broad field that incorporates many techniques. The particular techniques are beyond the scope of this article, but you can read more about it on many internet resources. Many website owners elect to hire SEO specialists because of the complexity and evolving nature of the techniques.

Social media – Social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, are great ways to develop followers and build links that drive traffic to your portfolio site. Always provide links to your portfolio website. You can also advertise blog posts and other content through social media. Social media sharing on your blog posts is a great way to distribute your content.

Mobile optimization – A high percentage of visitors to your website will be from mobile devices. If your website is not optimized for mobile devices, you are missing out on a large user base and lots of traffic. Responsive web design focuses around making a website beautiful on all screen sizes. Most WordPress themes are responsive, and any experienced web developer knows how to develop a responsive site.




Final conclusions

Hopefully you now understand the importance and benefits of a portfolio site. So, what are you waiting for? Start building your WordPress site or search for a freelancer to build it for you. If you need help building a website, or have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Tom Overman

Tom Overman

Tom is a web designer and developer at Octane Web Design. He also works with the SEO team very frequently. In addition to his work at Octane, Tom works on a variety of technical projects as a freelancer.

Years of work in the web industry have shown him how important a portfolio website truly is. He constantly works to improve his web design and online marketing skills. Tom currently attends the University of Texas at Arlington and majors in Biomedical engineering.