Ten proven strategies for building a successful online portfolio

Hamid Abouei, Co-Founder of Portfoliobox.

As Co-Founder of Portfoliobox, Hamid Abouei leads business development for a CMS and website development platform that helps photographers, illustrators, designers and other creative professionals make unique and engaging portfolios. He’s passionate about all things technology and spends the bulk of his spare time programming – which he started learning at just 10 years old. Abouei currently specializes in website design, and has more than a decade of IT industry experience. Here, he reveals some key strategies in online portfolio building – which have become even more important now, with so many observing the worldwide, at-home quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even if you actively promote projects on social media, your online portfolio is still the ‘mothership’ – the primary showcase of your talents into which all other promotional streams will flow. But putting together a successful portfolio website can often seem like a daunting task. Where do you begin? Actually it’s pretty simple, and the best portfolio sites all tend to share the same qualities. We’ve put together this ten-point guide by looking at users of Portfoliobox – an online service that helps creatives build their own website. Follow these tips and you’ll be all set up in no time.

  1. Simplicity over bling. A portfolio has one primary purpose: to show off your work in the best possible light. Therefore a good online portfolio is invariably also a simple portfolio. If all your portfolio demonstrates is that you spent a lot of money on a flashy design, then it’s not doing its job. Never lose sight of the fact that a portfolio is there to present your work in a flattering manner, not to “steal the show” (unless you also do web design). Then, by all means, show off to the best of your ability.
  2. Content dictates form. Choose a gallery template that’s appropriate to the kind of work you want to show. This may seem obvious, but it’s surprising the number of people who decide upon a gallery style without giving much thought to the most appropriate way to showcase their work. For example, there’s little point using a slideshow template that shows only one image at a time, if your work makes most sense when viewed as a series. At the very least, you should opt for a thumbnail gallery template. Or perhaps your work needs extensive explanatory text or captions? If this is the case, make sure to use the gallery and image description fields.
  3. Spell it out. It makes no sense to show off your talents to the world if visitors can’t easily work out who was responsible for these masterpieces, or how to contact you. This means making all important information such as biographical info or geographical location quickly and easily accessible. For example, consider adding a ‘footer’ to your website that prominently displays your contact information at the bottom of every page.
  4. Keep it simple. Similarly, people don’t have time to waste trying to figure out where the back button is or how to view your work. Make your portfolio simple to use and logically structured. Endless menu subheadings or complex and frustrating navigation will quickly deter even the most patient of visitors. Don’t give people an excuse to navigate away from your site.
  5. Make sure it’s fast. Waiting for pixels to load row-by-row is the digital equivalent of watching paint dry. Sure, you’ll want to upload images of a sufficiently high resolution for viewers to really appreciate the quality of your work, but there comes a point when any further increase in file-size will just translate into a decrease in the number of views, as impatient visitors click off elsewhere in frustration at your slow-loading pages. So, it’s best to upload photos no larger than 1,920 pixels on your site.
  6. First impressions count when visitors enter your website.

    First impressions count. Although it’s tempting to believe that every visitor to your portfolio page already knows exactly who you are and what you do, the cruel reality is that this is probably the first they’ve ever heard of you – and they could, in fact, care less! You have literally a couple of seconds to engage new visitors before they go sauntering back to where they came from. Keep your bounce-rate low and increase converts by making sure that the first thing anyone sees on your site is your absolute best and most representative work. Or, perhaps if it’s not your best work, at the very least make sure it’s the most attention grabbing and most easily appreciated. You may have recently completed some exceptionally deep and complex work that you’re just dying to share with the world. But if its subtle nuances can only be fully understood after reading a 3,000-word jargon-filled essay, it doesn’t have any business being on your landing page.

  7. Tell your full story. So you’ve grabbed the visitor’s attention and kept them hanging around. But are they getting the full picture? Does your online portfolio create an accurate image of who you are and what you do? Are some important elements still missing? Ask trusted friends and colleagues who know your work well if they think your portfolio offers a comprehensive overview of your talents and skills. If not, change it immediately.
  8. Judicious editing. Everyone produces the occasional dud from time to time, even the acknowledged masters. The difference between pros and wannabes is knowing what NOT to show! Whether your output is photography, architecture, graphic design, or any other creative endeavour, editing is an important part of your job description. Nowhere is this more essential than with your online portfolio: it’s always better to show just a few absolutely killer pieces that leave people wanting more, than to make up the numbers with mediocre filler that drags the rest down.
  9. Show where you’re going, not just where you’ve been. Our creative interests and style of working usually develop over time. Perhaps you’ve made your name doing a certain kind of work, but want to move away from that now. However, your clients keep coming back for more of the same, and it’s hard to say no. Please consider removing some older items and showing the kind of projects you’d like to be commissioned to do. Don’t have any projects like this yet? Time to make some and include them in your online portfolio.
  10. The only constant is change. Your online portfolio is your ‘storefront’ window display that instantly convinces potential clients of your skills and professionalism. It needs to be maintained: sun-faded posters and dead flies will not make a good impression on window shoppers. Sustain interest by regularly updating your site with new work. If viewers repeatedly return to your portfolio only to find tumbleweed blowing through it, they’ll soon forget you in favour of more obviously active creative professionals.

Conclusion. Putting together a stylish and persuasive online portfolio needn’t be a struggle. Consider these ten key points and you’ll soon have a great-looking portfolio ready to showcase your work to new audiences. And it makes no sense to put off the task, thinking it needs to be perfect right from the start. By its very nature, an up-to-date portfolio is always a work in progress. Get it online and you can tweak it as you go. For more information please visit www.portfoliobox.net.