Several years ago, my husband and I started a digital marketing business. It didn’t work out for various reasons, but that’s not why I’m talking about it today. After we started the business, we needed a website. I used WordPress to build the website. Was it perfect? No, not initially. But as I tinkered with it, I fell in love with the entire process of building my website. While it isn’t too difficult, it does deal with multiple steps and attention to minute details. What helps in such a detail-oriented process is breaking it down into simple steps that we can check off as we go.
I made a list of these actionable steps the first time around and used them last year to build my portfolio website. I added a few more steps based on the elements essential to a portfolio website. Now I can fall back on this list every time I tweak and modify my portfolio (just to ensure I’m not missing anything).
Whether or not you need a website to showcase your portfolio is debatable. If you’re comfortable housing all your art on Instagram, that’s wonderful. I, for one, am still acquainting myself with social media. I also break up with Instagram now and then. What happens in such a case is a lot of my artwork does not get posted on the Gram. Plus, I prefer my art being in my own house (I mean my website, of course). So if you’re anything like me, this post is for you.
There are also platforms such as Behance and the newer Artonomo that you can use to showcase your designs. They work very much like a portfolio website, just that it’s not on your domain. But if you’re just starting to build a website from scratch, and it seems too overwhelming, you could try out the platforms I just mentioned. However, if you’re okay putting in a bit more effort (I’ll help you along the way) then read on.
The Essential Steps to Building Your Portfolio Website
Before you build your website, there are a few things that you need to take care of.
1. Choose a domain name
This could be your business name (like mine is) or your name, which is a popular choice among most designers.
2. Pick your platform.
This could be something like WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or Weebly. WordPress and Squarespace are the most popular choices. WordPress does require a little more technical knowledge but Squarespace and Wix are drag and drop website builders that are extremely easy to use.
3. Choose your hosting provider.
Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress.com provide hosting along with their plans. WordPress.org, however, requires you to choose a hosting provider.
4. Hire a web developer/designer.
If you are confident about your web designing skills, you can skip this step.
5. Set up your professional email address.
Again, you could skip this step and use your Gmail address. But your business would look more legit and professional if it were to use your domain address. I use GSuite for businesses. Squarespace and Wix both offer professional Gmail addresses.
Once you’ve taken care of all the above, it’s time to get building your website.
6. Choose your template.
This determines the overall structure of your website. However, don’t get too hung up on this step because you can customize most templates however you want to.
7. Determine how you’re going to create a cohesive feel for your website.
Add your brand logo, choose your brand colours, and not more than 2-3 fonts. Are you all about bold colours? Handwritten fonts? Elegance? Plan the look and feel of your website around your personality and preferences.
8. Plan your website menu.
How many pages would you like to have on your website? In most cases, a home page, a portfolio page, a blog page, an about page, and a contact page are the norm. You also need to consider any sub-pages that you might need. For instance, if your portfolio has two categories: patterns and illustrations, or you plan to include a password-protected page, you need to add them as well.
9. Plan the layout for each page.
I use pen and paper to plan how exactly I want each page to be structured. You could sketch this out digitally if you like.
10. Add your web pages.
Think, home page (this could also be where you showcase your designs), portfolio page, about page, contact page, and the optional password-protected or hidden portfolio page. The password-protected page is where you include every single artwork you want to license. The password-protected page is not for the general public but for potential clients you want to work with.
11. Choose 9-15 images reflecting your best work (low resolution, small file size) for your portfolio page.
Don’t add too many images here. You don’t want to give away all your secrets. However, you do want to ensure that the first impression leaves a lasting impression on your website visitors. Include high-quality, screen-resolution images. This will ensure that your images are not blurred, and yet are difficult to steal.
12. Write content for all your web pages.
This is the most crucial aspect of this entire process (other than adding your portfolio images). Pay special attention to writing a brilliant bio, adding all necessary contact information, and including specific CTAs.
13. Add links to social media and email address on every page.
You want people to contact you, be it via email or social media. You don’t need to be on all social media platforms. Just do what you’re comfortable with.
14. Add an online store if you sell your product.
This is again optional and depends on whether you sell products on your website. Please make sure you have proper payment gateways and legal disclaimers set up for your store.
15. Enter SEO. Think slug, meta descriptions, and alt descriptions for images
When you add a new page to your site, a name for the page is automatically generated. That is called a slug. While the slug works in most cases, sometimes it is a good idea to cross-check to see if it’s brief enough and relevant to the content of your page.
The meta description is a brief description of your webpage that appears in a search engine.
The alt description is a written description of an image. This comes in handy when a web browser is unable to load an image.
16. Check for broken links and unclear CTAs.
Ensure all your contact links are working. Your calls-to-action should be specific and clear.
17. Preview website.
This is the fun part. Once you’ve done all the above, you can preview how your website would look once you publish it. Make a note of whatever works and whatever doesn’t.
18. Make tweaks where needed.
Now fall back on that list of what doesn’t work and make necessary tweaks. Preview your website once again and continue the process till you’re happy.
19. Publish website.
Follow all the above steps, and your website is ready to publish.
Congratulations! You’ve finally built your website. Now, just a few more laps to go before you win this race.
20. Set up Google Analytics.
Your intention behind setting up a website is to gain visibility. Google Analytics helps you track how many visitors you have on your website, how much time they’re spending on which page, and the likes.
21. Run a site speed check.
Since we deal with a lot of pictures, our website might often take time to load. This can put off visitors at times. So it’s good to run a site speed check. It can help you identify whether your images need to be optimized to help your website run faster.
22. Analyze Google Analytics results now and then.
You’ve set up Google Analytics for a reason, am I right? It’s a good idea to analyze those results from time to time. I treat it kind of like a validation of what works on my website.
23. Update your portfolio images every 3-6 months to show off new work.
It’s a good thing to keep updating your portfolio with fresh work. It need not be too frequent, but it keeps things interesting even if you do it every six months.
To make it easy for you to remember all of these steps, I have a handy checklist that you can download right here.