5 reasons why your portfolio website isn't more successful

If you’re looking for work as a designer, whether a full-time job or a freelance gig, you need a portfolio. It doesn’t matter how many glowing references you have or how impressive your work history, no one’s going to be interested unless they can see what you can do. And a portfolio website is the easiest and quickest way to showcase your work; these days, in fact, it’s expected.

But while many designers have their own portfolio website, not all of them are fit for purpose. Even where the work featured is superlative, the site itself is attracting a mere trickle of traffic and generating few, if any, enquiries. Here's why (and what you can do about it)...

For more expert advice read our 10 tips for building a killer portfolio website, and or a quick burst of inspiration check out these great examples of design portfolios.

01. You've got too much content

Really? Too much content? The thing about a portfolio website is that it's supposed to showcase your 'best stuff'. Not everything!

The more examples you have, the harder your portfolio is to browse. It means that visitors to your site are still left with the question: "So what is your best work?" By showing everything, you don't answer it.

How to fix it

Don't show 100 examples, show 10. Concentrate on a few good examples (your best work) rather than a scattershot approach. Show the work you want to do more of. Picture your ideal client and construct a portfolio that will knock their proverbial socks off.

It's also okay to have more than one portfolio rather than cramming everything into a single portfolio website. Take advantage of Flickr and Behance. Show people what you're working on in Dribbble.

02. Your portfolio is badly SEO'd

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a necessary part of modern website design. But it's not rocket science. So if you haven't SEO'd your portfolio website, or suspect you aren't doing it correctly, it's never too late to start.

How to fix it

The SEO basics are easy to get to grips with. They involve matching keywords deployed in your content to the keywords that people are typing into search engines.

You can test out search terms by using tools such as Wordtracker and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool.

For example, type 'illustrator' into the Google tool and you'll be able to see an estimate of how many searches the term gets, along with related searches such as 'illustration', 'illustrators', 'book illustration' and 'fashion illustration'.

We won't go into the nuts and bolts of search engine optimisation here. For a crash course in SEO that won't overwhelm you with brain-aching jargon, check out the awesome beginner's guide to SEO on SEOmoz.

03. You're using images as headings

Tut-tut. Naughty. When the search engines come to your portfolio website, they're seeing the image filename not the words of your heading prettily displayed within it.

How to fix it

Keep things simple. Use text for text - see the 37signals homepage below. It won't break your design and ultimately it's much better for SEO.

04. You're still in love with Flash

Yes, so that whizzy intro page on your portfolio website looks fun. But web readers have notoriously short attention spans. If a site doesn't load quickly, they'll leave. If they don't see what they're looking for, they'll leave. You've got about seven seconds to capture the attention of a web visitor and tease them to explore your site further.

How to fix it

Ditch the Flash intro. If you work in Flash or animation, create something that showcases what you can do and make it part of your portfolio.

05. You're not promoting yourself

Imagine that you're standing in a big crowd of designers/illustrator/digital artists facing a small stage. You're all holding a sign advertising your services.

A prospective client walks onto the stage. He looks out across the mass of faces. He can see the ones at the front more clearly and can make out the signs that they're holding. Beyond that it's hard to see, nothing stands out.

How would you attract this client's attention? Yes, you've got to make some noise.

How to fix it

Get noticed. Get yourself 'out there' on the web. Be active on Facebook, Twitter and Google+; deploy portfolio pieces to Behance, Flickr, Dribbble (see below) and deviantART.

Be creative. Film yourself working and put the video on YouTube. Aggregate artwork into a slideshow and share it on Slideshare. Put together a PDF brochure and upload it to Scribd.

The more 'outposts' that you have for your content, the more 'signposts' you'll have pointing back towards you and your portfolio website.

Got a great portfolio website? Had some success shouting about your services? Let us know in the comments below...

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.