15 Proven Ways to Gain Exposure for Your Design Portfolio

With so many web and graphic designers out there, getting the attention of potential clients and landing work can be a major challenge. The portfolio site is one of the most important assets for a designer, and an effective portfolio site will be an invaluable resource for keeping the business moving forward.

For many designers creating an attractive portfolio site is not the problem, getting people to see it is often much more of an issue. In order for the portfolio site to truly do it’s job it must be well-designed and it must attract the right types of visitors. In this post we’ll look at 15 things that you can do to increase the effectiveness of your portfolio site by getting more exposure for it.

1. Have a High-Quality Design for Your Portfolio Site

Not only is the quality of design of the items in your portfolio important, but the design of your portfolio site itself will also have a big impact on potential clients. Clients will expect a designer to have an attractive and usable site, otherwise they will question the work that the designer will be able to do for them.

When designing and coding your portfolio site be sure that it is getting all of the attention that it deserves. After all, it will be one of the most important aspects of your business, so it should not be rushed.

Impressive portfolio sites are great for encouraging visitors to contact you about their project, and they are also more likely to attract links and attention from other designers and bloggers.

Digital Labs

2. Get Published in Web Design/CSS Galleries

There are hundreds, possibly even thousands, of gallery sites out there that exist for the purpose of showcasing beautiful websites. Having your site featured in a few of the more popular galleries will help it to attract attention from other galleries and design blogs, which can result in a flood of new visitors and a significant number of inbound links.


Getting your site featured in design galleries isn’t easy, but if you’ve done your best work with your portfolio site you’ll probably want to submit it to some galleries. Submitting to galleries can be rather time consuming, so you may want to consider a service like Gallery Rush that submits your site to a bunch of galleries for a relatively small fee of $17.

Gallery Rush

In addition to general design and CSS galleries, there are several that focus on showcasing the best portfolio sites, including:

3. Start a Blog

Possibly the best way to attract visitors to your portfolio site is to start a blog on the same domain. As you maintain the blog and publish new content your site will benefit from blog subscribers and repeat visitors, more content that can attract search engine traffic, increased ability to attract links, and a platform for showcasing your skills and expertise.

There are a number of different approaches that you can take with your blog. You may simply want to publish blog posts and content that will appeal to designers in attempt to increase your profile, build links, and establish the quality of your domain. You may want to publish case studies about your client work that will appeal to other designers who want to learn, as well as to potential clients who may be interested in knowing more about how you work. In this way you are able to use the blog to put a spotlight on your work, and hopefully the quality will lead to new clients. Or you could write posts that might answer questions that potential clients would have, or that would be optimized to be found in search results for queries of potential clients.

One of the most important benefits of blogging was mentioned briefly, and that is link building. If your portfolio site includes only a few pages of content (for example, a home page, portfolio page, about page, contact info page), it will be pretty difficult to attract any kind of significant search engine traffic. However, with a blog you will be drastically increasing the amount of content on the site, and that content will be much more likely to draw links from other blogs and from social media sites. Having a blog that attracts links will give your site/blog a chance to rank well for long tail search phrases, and in time your site should receive exponentially more search traffic than it would without the blog.

David Airey

4. Pursue Freelance Blogging

In addition to publishing posts on your own blog, writing for other blogs also presents some great opportunities. Whether you are writing free guest posts or freelancing with larger design blogs that pay for contributions, you’ll usually receive an author bio at the end of the post that can include a link to your own site, and you’ll also be building up your name recognition.

Major design blogs like Smashing Magazine, Webdesigner Depot, and Six Revisions accept articles from designers and developers, and they pay for published articles. Aside from the larger blogs that pay contributors, writing free guest posts for smaller blogs can also be an excellent way to build links and gain exposure.

5. Build it to Be Search Engine Friendly

If you’re just starting your portfolio site it is unlikely that you’ll get more than a handful of search engine visitors for a while. But if you build the site to be friendly to search engines and if you work on publishing quality content on your blog and attracting links from other sites, you will be in a good position to see that search engine traffic rise over a period of time.

Having a search engine friendly website simply means that it is built to make it easy for search engine spiders to crawl the site and to determine what it is about, and to have a chance to rank well. It involves proper coding, use of page titles and headers, proper site structure, etc. (For a more detailed look at the subject see How to Create Search Engine Friendly Websites.)

6. Participate in Social Networking

Social media and social networking sites present opportunities to attract visitors to your portfolio site or blog, as well as to connect with other designers and build your professional network.

Behance

For getting visitors to your blog there are a number of niche-specific sites that are excellent alternatives to major social news sites like Digg. If you’re looking to reach a targeted audience of designers and developers try sites like:

Aside from news/voting sites, there are excellent opportunities available to showcase work from your portfolio at networking sites like:

7. Be Active on Twitter

Twitter is extremely popular with designers, so if you are looking for a place to connect with others you really should be active on Twitter (find us at @VandelayDesign). In terms of getting visitors from Twitter, you can share tweets with links to your blog posts, or tweet links to recently completed projects, or even projects that are in process when you are looking for feedback. Like any other type of social networking, you must genuinely become a part of the community of users in order to have much impact for yourself. If it seems that you are only there for self promotion and not to interact, users will notice and the positive impacts will be minimal.

8. Distribute Freebies

Everyone love freebies. As a designer you can give away free templates, Photoshop brushes, PSD files, vectors, textures, icons, or just about any other type of resource that can be used for design. Giving items away can help to draw new visitors to your site, and maybe they’ll check out your portfolio while they are there. Freebies are also good for building links from other blogs and social media sites, and just as importantly, it gives you an opportunity to show your quality of work to the world. Just because you are giving it away for free doesn’t me that it can’t help to make you land clients or make money, so be sure that whatever you are giving away is up to your level of quality.

In addition to giving away freebies from your own site, you can also produce items to be given away at other sites and blogs, which may help to give some added exposure to your work. Many design blogs work with various designers to produce freebies to give to their readers. If you’re hoping to get your work noticed by a large audience, this may be a great opportunity.

Function

9. Do Interviews

Designers are frequently asked to do interviews for blogs or for students. Although it will take some of your time to do the interview, they are great for getting exposure to new people and for allowing others to get to know more about you. Most people like to work with others that they know and like, so it can even sometimes lead to new clients. Even if it doesn’t lead to a new client, the interview is likely to include a link to your portfolio site and it may even include some screenshots of your work.

10. Join Flickr Groups for Showcasing Your Work

Flickr groups present an opportunity to showcase your work to others, and to receive feedback on your design. There are plenty of Flickr groups that focus on web and/or graphic design (this post is old but much of it is still relevant – 99 Flickr Groups for Design Inspiration). While these groups are unlikely to send a rush of traffic to your site, it is a supplementary way to showcase your work and draw a smaller number of visitors.

Flickr

11. Design for a High-Profile Client

Some designers have been able to get valuable exposure by designing a site for a high-profile client. In situations where the designer is not yet established, the project will often need to be done for a discounted rate or even for free, but the resulting exposure may more than make up for it.

It’s not rare for clients to ask for a free website in exchange for the “exposure” that you’ll get from it, and in 99% of cases it’s not worth it. However, there may be situations, such as designing a custom theme for a very popular blog, where real exposure could justify a discounted or free service. If you agree to this be sure that you know specifically what type of exposure you will be getting. Are they simply giving you a link in the footer or are they publishing a review of your design services on the blog?

12. Run a Pay-Per-Click Ad Campaign

PPC ads are a great option because they can work with just about any budget, they can be highly targeted, and they can be turned on and off at will. When you’re looking for some new projects you can set up a PPC campaign, and you can even target only local clients if you’d like. You set the maximum amount that you are willing to spend on a daily or monthly basis, and you’ll start reaching some potential clients that are looking for what you have to offer. When things pick up and you are not looking for work you can easily pause the campaign and then restart it when you need more work.

13. Have a Memorable Business Card

Although most of the methods that we have covered in this post involve online marketing or promotional efforts, it is still possible to draw visitors to your site from offline methods. Most designers have business cards that they give out to people that they meet here and there, and hopefully they lead to some business. Having a memorable and attractive business card will help you to stand out and give you a better chance of being the designer that is contacted by the potential client.

If you’re looking for some inspiration or business card resources please see:

14. Sell Templates/Themes

More and more designers are generating income by selling premium WordPress themes or HTML/CSS templates. Selling themes or templates doesn’t have to be your only source of income, they are also great for picking up work from customers who want to get some customizations done to the theme or template. Adding some quality themes or templates for sale from your portfolio site can help to generate interest in your services, in addition to making some money from the sales.

15. Leave Comments on Other Blogs

Another way to attract visitors to your site is by leaving comments on other blogs. Instead of leaving links to your site in the body of your comment, which can lead to your comment being marked as spam or deleted, leave a thoughtful, intelligent comment and provide your URL in the proper field when entering the comment (almost all blogs allow you to leave a URL). No one comment is likely to generate a huge amount of traffic to your site, but if you are leaving a lot of comments that provide useful information and are relevant to the posts/blogs where you are commenting, it can result in a decent number of targeted prospects entering your site.

What’s Your Experience?

If you have a portfolio site, what have you found to be especially effective for gaining exposure, visitors, and new clients?

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads.

43 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Reed Botwright, July 21, 2010

    My only problem with this article is that other designers might see it! Too good! Great piece. We are doing most of these, but it is nice to see them all in one place. We have a kick-ass card that always leaves an impression. We are about to launch our redesigned blog. And as soon as I hit Submit, I will have completed number 15.

  • sbuster, July 21, 2010

    good to hear that you followed to the letter asks the fundamental steps of this post very good projection.

  • Scott, July 21, 2010

    Cheers, some great tips as usual. I really need to get my act together and get those buisness cards printed.

  • modernclassicfurniture, July 22, 2010

    it’s good article, thanks for your sharing.

  • James Holden, July 22, 2010

    Great article and an excellent collection of resources. My only question is wher do you find the time?

  • carlos, July 23, 2010

    I enjoyed this article a lot. I have actually started doing some of these things in the past few months.

  • Vlad Carp, July 23, 2010

    nice things to keep in mine :)…my case :)

  • joan ringo, July 23, 2010

    Those are some excellent tips and it really goes to show the quality of your posts on design.

  • John Hyde, July 23, 2010

    Some great tips.

    Another plus point for having a blog: it gives people a reason to come back to the site again and again. That’s why I’m here – to check what’s going on in Vandelay-land :)

  • Baloons, July 23, 2010

    very informative!
    thanks a lot for sharing those valuable tips.

    keep up the good work!

  • These are good tips, but if you want to be successful fast enough, you would consider hiring someone to do some of the other stuff, right?

  • Peter29, July 24, 2010

    Very useful tips.Thank you.

  • Adam Cooper, July 25, 2010

    Great read. I have actually been trying to find that same jQuary effect for my website. I lost the link a few weeks ago.

  • Katja Nina, July 25, 2010

    Great article, will be implementing suggestions to my marketing. Thanks!

  • Mag, July 25, 2010

    This is a bunch of good information. I love to read and learn. There is so much that I do not know. Thanks.

  • Dallas SEO Web Design, July 26, 2010

    These are some great tips. You would think this would be normal code of contact if you want to get seen, especially being active on twitter. I have friends who are brilliant designers but still don’t even have a facebook page and they wonder why they can’t find work! You have to use the channels available to you. Thanks again for the heads up!

  • Ben Daly Mohamed, July 26, 2010

    Good article and useful tips. Many thanks

  • Vandelay Website Design, July 26, 2010

    Thanks everyone for your feedback. I’m glad this information can be put to use by a lot of designers out there.

    James,
    Most designers don’t spend all of their time doing client work, most spend a decent amount of time trying to find work with any number of different methods. I don’t personally use all of these methods at the same time, but I do set aside time each week to work on some of them.

  • plasterer coventry, July 26, 2010

    Some great info their, I find word of mouth is the best form of advertising but you can’t rely on that 100% so its good to know other ideas and methods. thanks!

  • Jeremy Carlson, July 26, 2010

    Good article, but almost makes it sound too easy. Start blogging! While a good idea, I write almost every day, using designfloat, designbump, thewebblend and a couple others to post the articles…blogging is NOT easy, and you have to be very dedicated to what you are writing about. Its not just, “Oh, I think I’ll start a blog today!”

    It takes a lot of time to write articles, post links to sites like I mentioned above, upkeep, graphics…it is not a simple process.

    While I agree this is a great source of info to get it noticed, I question who will be noticing it. It would seem that this is geared towards other designers seeing your work. Is the average client, with average amount of internet knowledge going to see these types of things like CSS galleries? Or are they going to go to google and type: web design in Anywhere Town. In which case I doubt 3,4, 6, 8 and 15 will actually do any good for getting your average client.

    Maybe I’m wrong?

    • Vandelay Website Design, July 26, 2010

      Jeremy,
      I definitely agree with you that blogging is a lot of work, but it’s also a free form of self promotion (that’s not to say that self promotion is the only purpose for blogging), so of course it’s not going to be easy. I also agree with you that many of the people who will see your work are other designers, but that doesn’t mean it won’t lead to clients. I refer people to other designers at least several times per week, and I have never met any of those designers in person. I get to know someone through blogging, social media, Twitter, etc. and after I get to know them they will be on my mind when the chance for a referral arises. It’s not all about finding clients directly, but more about building a network.

      I can say for a fact that blogging, even when intended for other designers, can and does lead to inquiries from potential clients. I’ve experienced it many times. The same goes for freebies, freelance blogging, and social networking. If you’re looking for immediate results you may be better off working Elance and other sites like that, but if it’s long-term impact you’re after I think you’ll be much better off doing these other things to build your network and name recognition.

  • WillWebDesigner, July 26, 2010

    Good post, as I have just started a new domain I am currently in the process of marketing my site. A major traffic boom in my past experience is the web galleries.

    Although I have a twitter account, I have to admit I don’t engage myself in it as much as I should

  • Chris Dizon, July 26, 2010

    Good stuff. Thanks!

  • I’m liking these web designs! :D

  • Louis Gubitosi, July 27, 2010

    Thank you very much for including The Web Blend! I’m also in the middle of redoing InteractiveBlend.com…

  • Alex Cooper, July 27, 2010

    This was great info. I really learned a lot about gaining exposure to my design portfolio. Thanks

  • Vladimir, July 28, 2010

    Very interesting article.
    As always … :)
    Thank you

  • Doug C., July 28, 2010

    Strangely I’ve never received much business from having a web site or portfolio online. My current one doesn’t generate much of anything. It would be nice to know how to get some exposure, but I must lack the know-how to do it.

  • Web Design Portfolio, July 28, 2010

    Leave comments on other blogs? OK! :)

  • Arkadi, July 28, 2010

    Hi,

    Very useful post!!

    I would like to focus my response on selling Templates… Recently, I needed a Joomla template, so I went to some top site that I found on google, spent 50 bucks, then 2 weeks later I found the same template laying somewhere for free. It was also a big Joomla template site that looked pretty legit.

    My point is that right now there are millions of free templates. Especially for WordPress, HTML/CSS, Joomla. Plus, competing with huge template stores that have templates that are full of flashy animation, jquery flying up and down, and bunch of other stuff seems highly unprofitable. No? Giving away templates for free is a different story.

    But I wonder if you managed to sell a lot of templates and for how much. Are you talking about selling some high-class professional templates that make Apple’s website look like a 12-year-old made it? Or just regular nice-looking templates? – You know what I mean? – The templates that please the eye but you still don’t go “WOW!”.. I must admit that a lot of templates that cost $60 at those Template Stores are really impressive and do make Apple website look like a baby’s store.

    Anyway, great article! Good luck! =)

    • Vandelay Website Design, July 29, 2010

      Arkadi,
      I do not personally have experience selling templates and I didn’t have any specific type of templates in mind. I know plenty of people that are making money with template/theme sales, for some it’s a part-time income and for others it’s full-time. It certainly does require time, not only to design and code the templates but also to support your customers.

  • Geng, July 28, 2010

    Great article!

    Having a high-quality design is definitely the most important factor.

    A beautiful portfolio will get featured on other sites easily.

  • Nauman Akhtar, August 3, 2010

    Great article and a very great collection of well designed websites, impressed :)

  • Shawn McConnell, September 14, 2010

    One Tip that helped me is to focus on what you are proficient at

    Don’t waste time showing your some what good abstract work when that space could be used for your better Vector work etc…

  • Spokane SEO, September 26, 2010

    This is really great advice. From my experience thinking out side of the box with tactics like these can go a long way towards getting noticed.

  • Ioan Popa, March 6, 2011

    To be honest I would add 2 more points:

    1. Submit your work or website to awards like cssawards.com etc to get brand awareness and traffic that could get you customers.2
    2. Work on websites like 99designs.com and improve yourself, the best branding and web designers are the and you can measure your designs and also get some good money out of it,

    Great post I will tweet it to get more people to see it.

    Thanks.

  • Chris Titze, July 5, 2011

    Thanks for the tips. I like the gallery rush one a lot.

  • Kudos, July 26, 2011

    Nice read. Particularly like point 9 – Do Interviews. Never really thought about this and just shows how much research and thought you’ve put into this post.

  • cofixy, September 10, 2011

    Here’s a facebook page where you can post your site: http://www.facebook.com/postyourwebsite

  • I especially like points 4 and 9 and must give them a try. I think one of the pit falls for designers is that althought we are designers we are not great writers?

  • Steven Snell, May 26, 2012

    Hi Stuart,
    You have a valid point that most designers are not great writers, but you really don’t have to be. Blogs are typically more informal in style and if you have something valuable to teach or to say it doesn’t have to be eloquently written. I’m not a great writer, but blogging has been a huge part of my career, and I know many other designs who are the same.

  • Joe Willmott, June 20, 2013

    Some cool tips, albeit fairly obvious. Some quirky new imaginative methods would be nice, but for now I guess I can just leave my website on here and hope you’re all going to click it due to all being in the same boat as me. So yeah, http://joewillmott.com – you know what to do.

Close