10 Essentials For Your Online Portfolio & The 16 Best Website Builders To Help You Create One

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Creating an online portfolio that showcases your talents and your expertise helps to draw in customers and generate more leads for you. Here are the 10 essentials for your online portfolio, and the 16 website builders to build yours on.

If you’re an artist, a creative, an entrepreneur, or just about anybody who’s self-employed, having a website can make all the difference between being successful in your field or getting lost in the crowd. 

But, just having your portfolio online isn’t going send customers flocking to your site. It’s just as important that you know all the best ways to optimize your website to generate traffic and keep your potential clients intrigued. That’s just one of the topics we’re going to explore here.

It’s just as important that you find the right portfolio builder to create your site. As a freelance writer, it’s been incredibly useful for me to have a portfolio of my writing available online that I can send to editors when I’m pitching an article, or pass out to potential employers so they can get a solid survey of my work. Personally, I opted to use Squarespace to design my website because it’s easy to use — even for someone with minimal tech savvy like myself. It’s responsive, and their pricing scheme is simple. However, there are so many unique website builders out there for just about every need, and you can create a stunning portfolio on just about any of them. 

In this guide we’re going to cover some of the essentials that will show you how to create your best online portfolio, plus we’ll give you suggestions of affordable, accessible, and amazing website builders to get you started. Here’s what you’ll get in this article:

  • 10 necessary elements for a successful online portfolio
  • 10 of the best general website builders you can use to create your portfolio, plus bonus tips for saving on building your site
  • 3 great portfolio platforms for photographers and visual artists
  • 3 digital portfolio builders for writers

10 necessary elements for a successful online portfolio

1. Mobile responsiveness

Currently, 42 percent of traffic to my personal website comes from tablets and mobile devices. According to Statista, globally, the amount of website traffic that originates from mobile devices worldwide is actually around 52 percent

With as much as half or more of your website traffic being generated by mobile devices, it’s crucial that your portfolio is adapted to both online browsers and mobile devices. 

While adaptability is important for all types of portfolios, it’s especially important if your website features images. You’ll want your images to be responsive, meaning that they’ll scale up for browsers and scale down to look good on mobile devices. 

There are ways that you can achieve this using code, but thankfully for the layperson like myself, many website builders such as Squarespace and Weebly will make your site responsive automatically.

2. Blog functionality

Including a blog on your website is not only a great way to keep your customers up to date on your latest projects, but is also a great way to show off your expertise in your given field. If you update your blog regularly, customers will continue to come to you to learn useful information about your area of expertise, and more traffic will likely generate more business.

But, perhaps the most important reason to include a blog on your website is search engine optimization. Google is much more likely to list your site high up in its rankings if you create and post optimized content regularly. Essentially, this means that you’ll want to write blog posts that include unique references to topics that your potential clients are likely to search for. 

As an example, if you’re an interior designer who specializes in small spaces, you might create an article including a long keyword like “how to decorate a small living room on a budget.” Try to think of unique topics that can help you actually make your mark on search engines. It’s not likely that you’re going to climb the ranks of “interior designers” since it’s such a saturated field, but ranking high with keywords like the example above are much more feasible.

3. Social media

These days it seems like just about everyone is on social media, and many of those people are using social media to find products, services, and great businesses to support. It’s almost mandatory at this point that if you want to have a successful brand, you need to be somewhere in the social media universe. Once you’ve established your social media presence, you’ll want to include it on your website. 

Most people aren’t likely to revisit your website repeatedly, but if they visit your website and connect with your social media presence, they’ll be reminded of you frequently whenever they scroll the ‘gram or hit up Twitter.

And, fortunately, many website builders give you easy options for including links to your social media directly on your website. My portfolio has accessible buttons that connect with my Instagram and my Twitter so that folks who come across my website can easily follow my social media presence which, in turn, keeps them up to date with my latest articles and projects. Look for a website builder that has solid options for linking to your social media accounts.

4. Personal branding

One of the downsides of using an online portfolio builder as opposed to designing your own site is that you’re likely to find many other people using the same templates and design elements that you are. It can become difficult to stand out from the crowd when your portfolio shares these traits with so many other sites.

That’s where personal branding comes in. You want to make sure that your website really speaks to you — it should tell a story about you, your passions, and the products or services that you’re providing. And, it should set you apart from the competition. 

Designing a personal logo or having someone design one for you is a great place to start. But, you can also achieve a sense of your personal brand through your website’s content and the narrative you weave about yourself and what you’re offering.

5. The portfolio itself

Of course, the whole point of building your website is to showcase your work. And, it’s of utmost importance that your portfolio is a showcase of the best work that you have to offer. Your site is also meant to attract clients, so you’ll want to be sure to highlight your talents and your works that are most marketable as well. 

Personally, some of my favorite articles that I’ve written are not necessarily the ones that are going to attract the most attention, so I’ve been careful to select examples for my portfolio that are marketable and a great demonstration of what I’m capable of as a writer.

You also want your portfolio to be easy to digest for the viewer. In addition to having a CV which hosts a list of all of my published articles, my portfolio tab showcases nine of my best pieces of writing across three different categories. This highlight reel is much easier for my viewers to take in than a long list of everything I’ve ever written. 

Personally, I found it helpful to have other people weigh in on what articles they thought would be best to include in my portfolio, so if you’ve got a few extra sets of eyes you can get on your portfolio, do it!

6. Contact form

The whole point of building an online portfolio is so people can contact you! Setting up a simple contact form on your site means that people can send inquiries and requests for information directly to your inbox from your website. Plus, if you don’t want to share your email on your site, a contact form is a great way to be accessible to your potential clients without posting sensitive information about yourself.

Again, many websites will have templates for this, but some don’t. Make sure that whatever website builder you choose gives you the option to add a contact form!

7. A bio and picture

Many people want to be able to build a connection with the folks they’re doing business with. They want to put a face to the name and a story to the product or service — it’s just human nature. 

Having a website that shows a picture of you and offers a biography of yourself will not only showcase yourself and the experiences you’ve had that have made you the creator or entrepreneur you are today, but will also make you much more than just another business to scroll through. That human connection is really invaluable.

Make sure to include a high resolution photo of yourself, preferably taken by a photographer, to add some credibility and professionalism to your site. And, again, if you can have someone else offer advice and take a look at your bio, then go for it. Boasting about yourself and your accomplishments can be really hard, so having someone else sit down with you can make the biography writing process painless and productive.

8. Visual appeal and usability

Have you ever found a business with the right product at the right price, but it looks like their website hasn’t changed since the late ‘90s? Or, have you ever been on a website and you have to spend several infuriating minutes clicking around to find the thing that you’re looking for? 

Visual appeal, or lack thereof, can influence your clientele’s opinions on your credibility in a very short period of time. In fact, according to researchers at Google, users can form first impressions about your website in as few as 17 milliseconds

Having a website that’s visually appealing is not only great for ensuring credibility and keeping your clientele engaged in your work, but is also an important way to put yourself ahead of the competition. Creating a portfolio where people can navigate to the important stuff with ease while being engaged by the content is critical. HubSpot notes that 38 percent of web users will leave a website if it the content or design are visually unappealing, so make it fabulous!

9. A personal domain name

The importance of this really can’t be overstated. While some sites like Wix will allow you to create a website for free, the drawback is that your domain name will have to include wix.com. If you want users to be able to reach your site simply and directly, having a simple domain name is really crucial. 

In fact, according to Daily Blog Tips, of the 250 most popular websites online, over 70% contained fewer than eight characters, only three contained a dash, and only 11 had a number involved. Because my domain name is just myname.com, people who are searching for my work can get to my site with ease. 

Plus, putting in a little extra money to get your own domain name demonstrates a level of professionalism and a willingness to invest in yourself and your business.

10. The perfect website builder

As with most things, finding the right content management system (CMS), blog platform, or portfolio builder for your website is all about balancing your budget with your desired final product. You can build a website for free in some instances, but it may not be optimal for your needs. 

In other cases, you may find that a portfolio builder in a middle price range can create a website for you that’s just as beautiful and functional as one with a significantly higher price tag. It’s all about figuring out what you want from your digital portfolio and how much you’re willing to spend to get there.

Today, there are plenty of website builders that cater to your specific needs, and many of them are relatively budget-friendly as well. For instance, if you’re a photographer, you might want to consider using a site like ZenFolio which offers visually appealing photo galleries. Or, if you’re a writer, something like WordPress might just be more your speed. It’s crucial to take some time to compare your options to figure out best site builder for your particular desires and needs.

And, thankfully, we’ve done a bit of the legwork for you here. Let’s take a look at some of the best digital portfolio builders the web has to offer and how you can save on each:

Best general website builders for your online portfolio

These platforms are great portfolio building standards that will work for a number of different applications from artist to entrepreneur:

Squarespace

A pioneer in the website building space, Squarespace offers templates for writers, photographers, businesses, and just about anything else you can imagine. Its visually stunning graphics and ease of use really set it apart.

  • How to save: Get a free 14-day trial when you sign up with no credit card required. Check out their coupons page for deals like 10% off when you use the code: GIMME10. 

Wix

Wix is well known as one of the top free website builders out there. Users can select from over 500 templates or build their own Wix-hosted site with simple coding.

  • How to save: The most basic plan is free, however you can get your own domain name and other features for as little as $11/month plus a 14-day money back guarantee. You can check here for Wix promo codes as well.

Weebly

Another free site builder, Weebly allows you to create a personal website or online store. Their sites are responsive and they have a host of third-party apps to make your portfolio pop.

  • How to save: Again, Weebly is free, but you can get your own domain for as little as $8/month. 

WordPress.org

This popular blog platform also has open source software featuring over 45,000 plug-ins to take your website to the next level. Although you’ll need to purchase web hosting and your domain on WordPress, you can create your highly secure site for free with one of their many custom themes, mobile responsiveness, and on-the-go editing.

  • How to save: Using WordPress to build your site is free, so you’ll want to look for compatible and affordable hosting, plus a unique domain name.

SITE 123

This website builder is also free and includes tons of great features like mobile responsiveness, SEO tools to drive traffic, and a library of free images for your site. SITE 123 offer templates for everything from restaurants to e-commerce stores to portfolios for creatives.

  • How to save: Their basic plan is free and you can start building your site at no cost, however premium membership gets you a free domain name for just $10.80/month.

Site Builder

Get your site up and running through Site Builder with features like customizable templates, a blog platform, and an option to purchase your own email address with your domain name.

  • How to save: They’re currently offering 50% off memberships for your first term. Right now Pro membership is just $3.84/month and comes with a free domain name.

Webs

You can start building a personal website or online store for free on Webs and get great features including SEO Booster tools, social media integration, and advanced web analytics. 

  • How to save: Getting started is free and their most basic plan, which includes a free domain name, is $5.99/month.

Jimdo

Jimdo. Not only does Jimdo allow you to create and build your own site, but they also have an advanced AI option called Jimdo Dolphin that will create a business site for you in less than three minutes when you answer a few simple questions. They also have an app you can use to update your site on the go.

  • How to save: You can build a basic site for free, and for just $7.50/month you get your own domain name. Check out their coupon page for deals like their current 5% discount when you use the code: JIMDO-5 at checkout.

GoDaddy

Although GoDaddy is best known for offering domain names and site hosting, they have a tool called GoCentral for building your own custom site. Their modular builder is simple to use and includes social media integration, SEO tools, and a blogging platform.

  • How to save: You can start building a site for free. Their basic plan includes web hosting for $5.99/month and you get a free one-month trial with any premium plan purchase. Check out GoDaddy’s discounts page for more savings like their current $1/month deal with a free domain.

iPage

iPage includes an easy drag-and-drop builder, free marketing tools, a free email under your domain name, and many other great features.

  • How to save: Right now, they’re offering 75% off their basic plan for your first term, meaning you’ll pay just $1.99/month. Each plan includes a free domain name, free email address, $200 of Google and/or Bing ad credits, free domain transfer, and a 30-day money back guarantee.

Best website builders for photo portfolios

These sites are great for photographers and visual artists whose work can be reflected in images:

FolioHD

FolioHD specializes in photography portfolios and offers mobile optimization, smart themes that work with your content, email forwarding from your domain name, and many other features.

  • How to save: Right now you can get 20% off their premium plan when you purchase an annual subscription as opposed to making monthly payments.

ZenFolio

ZenFolio allows you to quickly build a personal photography website including sleek galleries, options for selling photos, and even marketing assistance. Their plans also include 24/7 email support in four different languages and weekly YouTube Q&A sessions.

  • How to save: Their starter plan includes a domain name and costs $5 per month. You can save as much as 28% when you choose an annual membership over pay-by-month plan. Check out more discount codes on Knoji as well.

Adobe Portfolio

Adobe Portfolio is a trusted software company that offers free portfolio sites including hosting and unlimited pages for folks who are signed up for their Creative Cloud program. The major benefit of this platform is that it integrates easily with the Adobe software many photographers use already, particularly Lightroom and Photoshop.

  • How to save: Get this service free with a Creative Cloud subscription which costs as little as $9.99/month. Students and teachers can save over 60% on Creative Cloud with their education discount.

Best website builders for writer portfolios

These portfolio builders are great for writers and folks who want to showcase their expertise through the written word:

Journo Portfolio

Journo Portfolio allows you to easily grab published articles to post to your site when you provide a URL, plus you can self-publish work directly on your portfolio. It integrates simply with Google Analytics and social media platforms, and one of the best features is that you can backup articles to keep on file in case a website you were published on shuts down.

  • How to save: Their basic portfolio is free. Students get their mid-range program for free as well with their Academic Subscription. If you want a custom domain, you’ll need to opt for their Pro membership at $10/month. They do offer three months free if you pay for your subscription annually. 

Clippings.me

Another free portfolio builder, Clippings.me helps you create a custom portfolio that’s adaptable to mobile devices and capable of integrating multimedia files from popular sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SoundCloud.

  • How to save: The basic program is free. You can get extra space for you, and your friends when you refer them to Clippings. Their premium program includes a custom domain, and you can save $20 when you pay annually as opposed to monthly.

Pressfolios

Pressfolios is great for journalists and bloggers alike. Create a custom profile and backup all of your work online and with offline PDFs. 

  • How to save: Their basic plan is $9.99/month, but you’ll need to upgrade to Pro to get a custom domain and access to analytics. All plan members get a free 14-day trial.

Regardless of your field, having an online portfolio is key to your success. Use these tips to optimize your digital presence and generate the business you need to not only sustain yourself, but also truly thrive in your career.

If you’d like to learn more useful tips like these, be sure to keep up with the Knoji blog. You can also check out the Knoji homepage for more discounts and savings — we’ve got four times as many discounts codes as our top competitors, and we’ve answered thousands of questions about how to save at your favorite retailers!

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KC Clements