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How to Create an Online Portfolio

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.


November 3, 2022

7 min read

If you’re a student or professional in industries such as marketing, advertising or the arts, learning how to create an online portfolio to showcase your work to potential clients or employers can be a great way to demonstrate your skills and abilities.

What Is an Online Portfolio?

An online portfolio, also known as a digital portfolio, establishes your brand and has the potential of introducing you and your work to a vast audience. It allows people to access your site via Google or other search engines, or through links in your social media accounts. This makes an online portfolio an incredibly useful tool for marketers, web developers, graphic designers, writers and other professionals seeking to acquire new customers, show their best work, cultivate new employment opportunities or form partnerships with like-minded people. 

But creative professionals aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of this kind of tool. Researchers or consultants whose work is less visually oriented could also use a portfolio website.

Getting Started

The first step in understanding how to create an online portfolio is to look at the online portfolios of those who are well-established in your desired field for inspiration. How are their sites designed? What content have they included, and how do they show off their best work? Next, you’ll want to make an outline of what you’d like to include on your site. When doing this, remember that you’re introducing yourself as well as your work. A brief bio is essential, but let your work do most of the talking.

Choose a Portfolio Website

There are many free and paid website builder options to choose from with pre-built themes that provide a design template, enabling you to build an attractive site without coding skills or sweating details like which font to use. Individuals experienced in graphic design may, however, want to build their sites from scratch, making the website itself a portfolio piece. 

For individuals looking for an attractive portfolio website without investing a great deal of time or money, website builder tools like WordPress and Wix can be a good choice. WordPress is a frequently used platform because it’s free, flexible and easy to use with thousands of design themes to choose from. Wix is a subscription-based online site builder that’s even easier to get started with. PortfolioBox, Adobe Portfolio and Jimdo are also attractive options.

Create Your Bio

Potential clients or employers will be focused on your capabilities and accomplishments, so it’s best to keep this section brief. Match the tone and content of your bio with the tone and personality of your work. Generally, your bio should include where you’re from and where you currently live, where you received your education and any specialty training. Be sure to mention industry-specific certifications and highlight them in a way that a potential client or employer won’t miss. 

It’s also a good idea to include a high-quality headshot photo that captures your personality. In most cases, a professional photo shoot won’t be required. Professional results can be achieved with a cell phone camera and some indirect, natural daylight. Again, look to the sites of well-established professionals for guidance. 

Your bio section is also a good place to make your objectives clear. Individuals looking to stand out in the creative arts or marketing may be likely to overlook this when figuring out how to create an online portfolio. Looking for your next employer? New client relationships? Just say so. We’ll talk more about this when we discuss your calls-to-action.

Use High-Quality Images and Design

Using one of the pre-made design themes is a good start, but it won’t do all the work for you. The use of high-quality images – still photos, illustrations, infographics or other visuals that represent your work – can make or break your digital portfolio website. As the purpose of the site is to showcase your work, the use of stock images should be limited to backgrounds or headers. Instead, capture samples of your work in still photos, brief videos, screen captures or pdf files. If you do need to source high-quality stock photos, however, you can purchase and download inexpensive or no-cost royalty-free images from resources such as Shutterstock and 

Showcase Your Best Work

The work you select for your online portfolio and the way you present it on your site will help establish your personal brand. Keeping in mind the “quality, not quantity” principle, resist the temptation to include every project and choose only your best work. Like an overly complex restaurant menu, too many examples can confuse the visitor and dilute their overall experience. 

When describing your work, be sure to provide context to help the potential client or employer understand how the project added value, improved results or helped reach a specific goal. Finally, be sure your portfolio pieces are up to date, and showcase current or recently completed projects in the top spot.

Your bio section is also a good place to make your objectives clear. Individuals looking to stand out in the creative arts or marketing may be likely to overlook this when figuring out how to create an online portfolio. Looking for your next employer? New client relationships? Just say so. We’ll talk more about this when we discuss your calls-to-action.

Follow SEO Best Practices

To help your site rank higher in search results, optimize it using SEO best practices:

  • Create unique, fresh and relevant written content to get search engines to notice your site. 

  • Write blog posts and share them via social media to help gain site visits while showing Google that you’re actively working. 

  • Perform keyword research to find the right keywords and use them in your site content.

  • Write titles and descriptions, known as metadata, for each page.

  • For each image, write SEO-friendly alternative text, or “alt text.”

Make It Mobile Friendly

These days, more than half of all internet traffic comes from cell phones and mobile devices,  so make sure your portfolio site looks just as good on an iPhone or Android device as it does on a desktop computer. This is also good SEO practice because Google prioritizes pages that are mobile friendly. Many of the themes offered by WordPress and other website builders are already designed to be mobile “responsive,” making this step much easier than you might think. 

Keep Potential Clients in Mind

Content blocks with brief copy and succinct descriptions of your key achievements and skills will provide the at-a-glance information busy professionals need. 

Testimonials from previous clients, employers or mentors can also provide effective third-party endorsements of your capabilities, but keep these simple and brief. Don’t have testimonials? You may be surprised at people’s willingness to provide them, so go ahead and ask, and try to include a picture of the person singing your praises.

Create a Call to Action

Another element you may be likely to overlook when learning how to create an online portfolio is the call to action. You should never assume that site visitors will take specific actions without being prompted. A call to action provides an invitation for the visitor to take the next step in your shared journey and can be configured in many different ways. A contact page, contact form, email or social media links are all frequently used with calls to action, giving website visitors convenient ways to reach you. WordPress “plugins” like Ninja Forms or Contact Form 7 make this easy. Be sure to place your contact form at the very bottom of your site.

Promote Your Online Portfolio

Congratulations, your online portfolio is complete! Now it’s time to consider all the ways you can promote your digital portfolio to target communities – on social media, via email, in online communities or in other places. Use a simple social media strategy to share links to work examples via social media and consider including social media buttons on your site so visitors can easily access your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. This can help you reach more potential clients or employers, improve your SEO rankings and gather honest feedback. 

The Takeaway: How to Create an Online Portfolio

If you are a professional or student in the marketing, advertising or arts industries, web development or graphic design, an online portfolio is an essential tool to introduce yourself and your accomplishments to potential clients or employers and give them a direct means of contacting you.

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