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The Complete Guide to Creating an Online Portfolio That Sells In 2023

Having an online portfolio is an absolute necessity for web designers or creative professionals. It instills confidence in potential clients and makes it easy for them to sign you on to a new project. 

Having an online portfolio greatly helped when we were running an online agency. It’s like putting your best work on display. Sure, it’s a challenge, but if you do it right, you could easily maximize your sales. 

Presenting your best design work to a client without them having to ask for it reduces sales friction, and sends a message to a potential client that you’re confident about your work. 

In this article, we’re going to discuss how you can create an online portfolio that will help you improve your sales in 2022. 

Decide on a Structure for Your Online Portfolio

There are several different ways to showcase your authority in a particular field. You could either use case studies to indicate the value you generated for a client, or you could present a series of images to potential clients to showcase your designs. 

It’s important to decide on a structure for how you want to present the portfolio. Do you want to add accompanying descriptions with each image, or do you want to use a single-page layout with images? 

You can choose to start with a blank canvas and build your portfolio from scratch, or you can use a predesigned template and populate it with different projects. Ideally, you want the portfolio to highlight some important things:

  • The nature and scope of the projects you worked on
  • The services you rendered 
  • The value it generated for the client (if it’s possible to track it)
WordPress Portfolio Themes
Pile is one of 27 different WordPress themes explored in a post from WP Beginner that showcases some of the best WordPress portfolio themes.

Create a Dedicated Page for Showcasing Your Portfolio

Ideally, you will want to make your portfolio stand out. To do this, you need to present it in the best possible manner. The best thing to do is to make it accessible directly from the website’s main menu. Creating a dedicated page for it is the best way to go about it. 

Instead of sprinkling examples throughout your home page or the Services page, it’s always better to present your best work on a separate page. This also makes it easier for you to update your portfolio and add new projects without having to disrupt the entire layout.

Develop a Narrative for Each Project

One of the best ways to make your online portfolio stand out is to create a narrative for each project. It helps interested parties get a better understanding of what you did for the client and how you tackled their problems. 

Avoid turning it into a lengthy story, however. Always add brief descriptions of the initial requirements and the final result, and if you worked with someone else, do make sure to credit them. 

This helps viewers gain a better understanding of your creative process and how you tackled different problems for clients. It also looks better than just posting images showing your design work without any context whatsoever. 

example for creating a perfect online portfolio narrative
This example of a -shaped portfolio presentation is part of a detailed guide published by UX Matters on creating the perfect portfolio narrative.

Feature Examples Relevant to Your Target Niche

If you primarily work in a specific niche, it’s important that you feature examples in your portfolio that are relevant. For instance, if you primarily develop websites for non-government organizations (NGOs), the major portion of your portfolio should focus on those. 

This is a common mistake that many web developers make. You need to carefully curate your web design portfolio instead of just presenting recent projects. If you have any post-launch stats that you can throw in, that’s always good. 

This is obviously a bit difficult when you are just starting off. But as your portfolio grows and you start focusing more and more on a specific niche, you’ll have to be more careful and selective about which projects to add to your portfolio. 

Remember, this will be publicly available and will serve as a testament to your design capabilities. You want to make sure that you add your best work to your portfolio. The bottom line is that it’s never about quantity. 

Even a couple of projects that you feel are relevant might do the trick. Focus on presenting your best work only, not all of it. This is often tough for developers because there’s always an inherent bias. You need to be your harshest critic and decide which projects make the cut.

example of successful niche online portfolio
 This niche portfolio is one of the 9 examples of online portfolios that target niches very successfully, as curated by Career Foundry.

Regularly Update Your Portfolio

Web design trends continue to evolve rapidly over time. You need to make sure that you regularly update your portfolio and add your recent work. It shows that you’re committed, still active, and proud of your work.

Many designers become complacent and stop updating their portfolios, especially if they have a steady stream of work. That’s a bad idea, as it may cause you to lose potential clients. It’s obviously off-putting when a person lands on your portfolio and sees projects that were updated a year or so ago. 

It may cause hesitation and prevent prospects from approaching you. This is not a one-time thing; it’s an iterative process, so you’ll probably find yourself removing older projects from your portfolio and adding new ones, depending on your work. 

simple theme for online portfolio by AThemes
Having a simple WordPress portfolio theme makes it easy to update regularly, and doesn’t risk overly-fancy effects breaking a few years down the line. This is one of 10 simple WordPress themes suitable for portfolios curated by AThemes.

Include Testimonials If You Can

Social proof can go a long way in improving sales. If you have testimonials from clients, feature those prominently on your portfolio page. They add exceptional value to your portfolio and provide assurance to prospective clients. 

Testimonials don’t need to be elaborate or overly long. All you need is to add a client’s name (or company), the testimonial itself, and a photo. If you don’t have any, you can always reach out to your past clients and ask them to write one for you. 

Again, it’s important to be careful when selecting which testimonials to feature. If you can find testimonials that are relevant to your target niche, feature those prominently in your portfolio. 

And, if any of your projects were featured in the press or on other publication platforms, you may want to mention that too. This can go a long way in adding credibility and in improving your professional image. 

testimonial example on online portfolio
This is one of several examples of how people use testimonials successfully in their online portfolios, as created by Vandelay Design.

Make Your Portfolio Page Responsive

More people access websites using their phones as compared to their desktops, so it’s important that your portfolio is readily accessible on different devices. 

Make sure you carefully test the portfolio page on all devices to ensure images don’t look distorted, especially on smaller screens. If you’re using a responsive, mobile-ready theme, this shouldn’t really pose much of a problem.

one of 35 examples of responsive online portfolios by ibrandstudios
 iBrandStudio have put together a great collection of 35 of the best responsive portfolio websites, including this example, the Revoke WordPress theme.

Add a Contact Form on the Portfolio Page

Ideally, you want people to be able to contact you in as few steps as possible after they review your portfolio. If they have to visit another page or look for your contact details, you can expect some interested parties to drop off. 

To boost interest, one of the best things that you can do is to add a contact form on your portfolio page. If you want, you can also include your contact information, such as an email, so an interested party can send a message right away. 

If you’ve built your portfolio page on WordPress, you can use any of the following plugins to create a contact form:

  • Contact Form 7
  • Formidable Forms
  • Ninja Forms

The positioning of your contact form is also very important. You don’t want to place the form at the top of the portfolio page, lest it distracts users from the actual content itself. 

Instead, the best thing to do is to place the contact form at the bottom of the portfolio page or use a floating contact form button on the side of the page that doesn’t obstruct the view. A popular example of a WordPress plugin that you can use to achieve this very easily is ‘Ultimate Floating Widgets’.

contant page example for online portfolio
HubSpot have put together 40 of the best contact pages for online portfolios, that we’re sure will help inspire you to encourage your visitors to make that connection!

Use Only High-Res Images

Remember, a portfolio is designed to highlight your best work, so if you’re using low-res images, it’s just not going to give a good impression. To really deliver the right impact, you need to use only high-res images. 

You can compress the images, but make sure it doesn’t affect the quality. To optimize the page, you can consider turning on lazy loading too. However, make sure that you use a compression plugin that doesn’t affect image quality. 

A good choice is Smush, which allows you to easily compress images on your site. If you’re adding screenshots of multiple pages, you may want to use a gallery widget to improve the presentation. 

You can use a plugin such as Envira Gallery to curate images on your portfolio page. When a visitor clicks on a thumbnail, it zooms in, letting them view full-sized images. 

Using an image CDN can help reduce loading times and optimize the delivery of images for your site too. Thumbor is a popular self-managed image CDN that’s open-source and entirely free to use. 

Or, another option is to go with Cloudflare CDN, which promises dynamic content delivery and is used by millions of sites. 

Work on The Portfolio Page Design 

There are a whole bunch of different things that you can do to make your portfolio page more engaging and aesthetically appealing. The aim is to attract attention, not just by the examples on your page, but also through the design itself. 

You could use a variety of techniques to make your portfolio page stand out, including hover effects, lightboxes, or even parallax scrolling. Not only do they aid engagement, but they can also be used to draw attention to specific points. 

And, using these effects is a great way to showcase your design talents to potential clients. Most designers don’t pay as much attention to the user experience and interface of their portfolio page. In essence, a well-designed portfolio page could also showcase your talents. 

From working on the navigation (do you want to use a list or a conventional hamburger menu?) to the overall UX design, there’s a lot you can do to make your portfolio page stand out. 

Get Feedback

Getting a second opinion from a web designer or developer is always a good idea. The second pair of eyes never hurt and they might be able to give you some new ideas about how to improve the aesthetics of your page. 

Ask a colleague for their opinion or a friend for advice. They might be able to give you a few suggestions about how to improve the interface or the navigation elements. Constructive feedback can go a long way in helping you improve your website’s functionality. 

Promote Your Portfolio Page

Once your portfolio page goes live, you need to promote it aggressively. By posting on social media channels or on design platforms like Dribbble, you could drive engagement and reach out to more prospective customers. 

Promoting your portfolio page is critically important. Every time you update the page, let your audience know about the recent addition. Regularly update your site and the page to improve its visibility.

After Action Report – Design A Portfolio That Sets You Apart

It doesn’t matter how big your agency is, or how many projects you have completed, you should create a portfolio page after you launch your agency site. Continue to add new sites and content to your portfolio to show your clients how you eventually reached a design solution. This timeless portfolio design study might also prove to be useful as you start designing your portfolio page.

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