website portfolioYou work hard for your clients, right? You’ve done great things for them, and you want to show that to prospective clients. Most importantly, you want to do that in a way that generates the most interest (read: leads) from these prospects. It can be a pretty daunting task starting from a blank slate. Fortunately for us and our clients, over the years we’ve developed some guiding principles that help us create website portfolios that look great and help close deals. Whether you’re just getting started or want to spruce up your existing site, the process below will help you improve upon what you have.

Step 1: Choose the Right Type of Projects

Show the type of work that you want more of. It seems so simple! So why is it forgotten so often? There are a few reasons, the first being that people are distracted by flashy things. Maybe flashy things are good for your portfolio - but maybe they aren’t. If you did one flashy project but aren’t looking for more of that type, don’t include it. The next reason this step is skipped is that the business doesn’t really have a clear picture of the type of work it does, and so the tendency is just to include everything. If this is you, you need to stop reading this post and do some serious thinking about what you offer (but make sure to bookmark it for later of course).

Step 2: Structure Your Portfolio to Look “Full”

The whole point of a portfolio is basically to say “We know what we’re doing, we’ve done it before, and here’s proof.” So it has to look like you actually have significant experience - it has to look full. There are ways to do this regardless of how many projects you have starting out.

If you have a smaller number of projects, consider a “case study” approach. In this type of portfolio, you can have just 3 or 4 past work examples that you have fleshed out so that there is actually quite a bit of content. You can use imagery, introduce the project goals, describe your solution and the results, and even include some comments from team members that worked on the project. This isn’t just fluff, it gives visitors a chance to see how you approach projects and work with clients.

With a large number of projects you have the opposite problem: How do I fit them all? Usually, our answer is: don’t. Select your top 10 pieces, or if you offer different services or products, pick at most 10 per service and include category filters for the user. However, no subcategories! Keep it as flat as possible. Showing less allows you to cherry pick the very best examples. If you want to impress visitors with the sheer number of projects completed, simply show that number (e.g. 250,000,000 burgers sold).

Step 3: Include Social Proof

In a study by published in the Washington post ( http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704575304575296243891721972?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052748704575304575296243891721972.html ) social proof was shown to be a more effective method of persuasion than saving money. I don’t know if you noticed, but people love money, so that’s huge. Social proof basically means showing that others value your work. Client testimonials are a common way of showing this, but if you have awards, star ratings from industry sites, associations with other known organizations, etc. they would all likely have a positive impact on conversion.

Step 4: Include a call-to-action

There are a surprising number of sites out there that do not include a next step for their visitors. Presumably if a visitor is browsing your portfolio (and you’ve followed all these steps) they are going to be enormously impressed - but people on the web are also fantastically lazy. Data has shown that clicking over to a contact page can be too much effort - having a contact form right there at the bottom of the portfolio piece can mean the difference between a lead or no lead.

Step 5: Design for Usability, not Flashiness

The temptation is to make the portfolio fancy because, hey, aren’t we supposed to be showing off here? Well, yes, and the best way to do that is a painless browsing experience, which many times is at odds with fancy navigation or animation that the visitor will be unfamiliar with. We’re all for creativity, but keep it straightforward here: this goes back to limiting to one level of categorization. More clicks, flashy animations, or confusing menus between your visitors and your work are just barriers to sales.

Step 6: Place your portfolio everywhere across the web

You’ve got your content on your site, but don’t stop there. Look for directory or social sites that cater to your industry. For example, houzz.com caters to the construction industry and we have several clients that have a great portfolios there. These are typically free or close to it and require minimal set up. Since you’ve done the work to put everything together, it should be easy enough to create these additional portfolios. Many of these types of sites also have rating systems, so if you do well you could earn some social proof for step 4, too.

Step 7, 8, 9, 10, etc.: Promote!

Now it’s time to promote the dickens out of your portfolio. That’s right, sharing isn’t just for articles, link to your portfolio or a particular entry when:

  • You launch your updated portfolio

  • You’ve just added a piece

  • A project you’ve done is relevant to a discussion

That’s good marketing: get the word out consistently and wherever relevant.

Remember that a portfolio that looks awesome might not be the most effective. The great thing about every one of the bits above is that they don’t require any more design or development resources - actually they often take. An effective portfolio simply requires more planning and thinking ahead. Imagine that.