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7 strategic ways to create a better web design portfolio than your competitors

Morgan Smith's Layout avatar

Having an impressive portfolio is one of the most important aspects for any web design business. You need a way to show off your work, and site visitors need a way to see what you’re capable of. And of course – it’s one of the easiest ways to demonstrate why you’re better than your competitors.

While it may seem easy to upload screenshots of past projects and call it a day, there’s more to portfolio design than meets the eye. If you want your web design business to stand out, you need to think strategically about how your portfolio looks, the projects you include in it, and how users interact with it.

It’s no easy feat to create a portfolio that not only embodies your brand, but also converts visitors into customers at an impressive rate. To set your web design business up for success with a portfolio that blows the competition away, you need to:

  1. Research the competition
  2. Focus on your target market
  3. Include strategic projects
  4. Tell the story behind your work
  5. Create a dynamic, responsive layout
  6. Include client testimonials
  7. Have a CTA on every page

Let’s start with step one: researching your competition.

1. Research the competition

Before you do anything to update your portfolio, it’s important to know what you’re up against. Take a moment to do a little research and compare and contrast your business with your competitors. Try to answer the following questions: 

  • Who are your biggest competitors?
  • What are the strengths of their portfolio?
  • What are the weaknesses?
  • Do you share the same target audience?
  • What services do you have in common?
  • What value do you provide that they don’t?

By positioning your current portfolio against the competition, you’ll be able to identify opportunities for improvement. For example, if you respect the detail they go into on each project, maybe you can try sharing more background on the work in your own portfolio. Or maybe your competition doesn’t have a single screenshot of work on a mobile-device – use that to your advantage and highlight your emphasis on responsive design!

Don’t just think about true competitors, either. Use this research time to think about elements you like in portfolios and find a little inspiration. You can stick to the design field, or branch outside of it to look for inspiring business websites.

Once you have a few ideas of what you want to focus on during your portfolio redesign, you can start thinking about the actionable steps to make it happen. Keep those in mind as we work through the next steps, as they can often build on each other!

2. Showcase work that speaks to your target market

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As you’re looking at your portfolio, you may be tempted to put any and every project in there to show the depth of your experience. Don’t.

You want to focus on the projects that are going to resonate the most with your target market so they can start to imagine the website you’ll create for them. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you specialize in creating websites for bloggers. Your homepage says it, your about page says it, but your portfolio shows examples of sites for banks and non-profits and blogs and other things. While it’s obvious you’ve got a lot of talent and experience, if you’re up against another designer who only shows examples of websites for bloggers, it’s going to be harder to convince that potential client to choose you.

By focusing on your niche and showing the most relevant examples, your portfolio will act as more than just examples of your work – it’ll become a critical sales tool.

“You may be tempted to put any and every project in your portfolio to show the depth of your experience. Don’t. You want to focus on the projects that are going to resonate the most with your target market so they can start to imagine the website you’ll create for them. ”

3. Include strategic projects for maximum impact

Including projects targeted for your audience is step one. Next, think about the type of projects you’re going to showcase in your portfolio. Again, don’t get stuck thinking you have to use every relevant example you’ve ever worked on. Choose the projects with the most impact.

When you think about your portfolio, try to include work that meets a few different objectives. For example, you could think about including: 

  • A project that you loved working on, with details about the process
  • A project that you’re outrageously proud of the final outcome, and why
  • A project that a client was really excited about, with a matching case study or testimonial
  • A project that you did for free, perhaps for a non-profit or passion project related to your target audience
  • A project that won an award, with information about why

By liting out a few different purposes for your portfolio, you’ll increase your chances that someone will find whatever they’re looking for as they scroll through your work. This will also help ensure a little balance, to keep things varied.

4. Don’t just show the work, tell the story behind it

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Anyone can upload images of projects and call it a day. To make your portfolio stand out, tell the story behind each piece.

By providing background information on everything in your portfolio, you’ll give your projects some depth. Instead of something that just looks nice, potential future clients will be able to start understanding your process.

You don’t need to share documentation on every single decision that was made; just pick out a few of the highlights. Did you use any new technology that you’re really excited about? Mention it! Did your early sketches exceed the client’s every expectation? Include a pic of your notebook!

It might feel a little odd to share “unfinished” work in a portfolio, but I guarantee the added context will help tell a greater story about each and every piece!

5. Create a dynamic portfolio design that looks good on every screen

While the pieces in your portfolio are the focal point, the overall layout also needs to act as a project that you’re proud of. If your portfolio design is messy and difficult to navigate, site visitors are more likely to bounce than taking a closer look at your work.  

You also need to think about visitors on mobile devices – does everything in your portfolio scale well? Especially if you’re active on Twitter or Instagram and have a link to your portfolio in your bio, that’s the first impression new followers will have of your site. You want to make sure it impresses instead of frustrating due to a poor mobile experience.

If your portfolio layout needs an update, there are lots of ways you could go about it. If responsive development is your thing, coding up a custom WordPress theme might be a fun challenge. If you don’t want to spend tons of time creating a custom layout, however, I highly recommend Semplice. It’s a WordPress portfolio system that’s not only super easy to use, but looks fantastic. (Seriously, just take a scroll through their showcase and I guarantee you’ll be inspired!)

Using a trusted tool like Semplice will ensure your portfolio not only looks great, but functions nicely. And don’t worry about it “looking the same” as others using it. With so many customizable options and your beautiful brand on top of it, you’ll be able to make something truly unique that blows the competition away.

Ready to get started with Semplice? Grab a 10% discount from Flywheel’s Creative Toolbox!

6. Include case studies, quotes, and testimonials

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Nothing convinces a potential client to book your services quite like a quote from a past client, so use that to your advantage in your portfolio!

Using testimonials helps add a sense of social proof to your work. The reality is that everything your website states about your work will be taken with a grain of salt, because of course you’re trying to talk yourself up. What business wouldn’t? When you share direct quotes from clients, however, it helps prove that you don’t just talk the talk, your work walks the walk.

Whether you have in-depth case studies for every portfolio piece or just a simple quote here and there, try not to let your own words be the only ones on the page. By sprinkling in content from past clients, you’ll create a strong portfolio that not showcases your work, but the full experience of working with you.

7. Have a CTA that promotes working with you

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a portfolio is forgetting to add a CTA on every project page. Whether you want potential clients to fill out a form, click to a contact page, or send you a direct email, every page in your portfolio should have one action for visitors to take. 

Think about it – if someone is browsing your portfolio, they’re probably actively considering your services. Help them make that decision as soon as possible by providing a clear CTA! If you’re not guiding their experience, they’ll be forced to find their way on their own, which could result in them getting lost on your site, missing an important form, or worse – leaving the page altogether.

At a minimum, you should make your portfolio easy to navigate with buttons such as “View next project” or “back to home.” You know the user journey of your website best, so just think about the natural next step for someone looking at your portfolio, and then make it easy for them to get there.

Key takeaways

  1. You need to know what you’re up against. Before you make any updates to your portfolio, start by looking at what your competitors are doing so you know how best to beat them.
  2. Be selective about your work, and showcase the pieces that your target market will care the most about.
  3. Don’t just show the final product, tell the story behind each piece to help explain the process.
  4. Use a flexible portfolio design that’ll look great on every device, showcase your work in a memorable way, and be easy to update.
  5. Include relevant content from clients, whether that’s a simple quote or a full-page testimonial.

By taking advantage of these seven simple strategies, you’ll create a strong web design portfolio that beats the competition every time. What else do you think about when adding new pieces to your portfolio? Share your best tips in the comments!

Looking for more great portfolio building tips? Check out these awesome reads:

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