There are a lot of designers out there, which means there are lots of design portfolios on the web. Yours is one of millions. Which means it will never be found on it’s own. But because the design community is so massive, there are plenty of opportunities to self promote.
The first thing you do before you launch your big promotional campaign is figure out exactly what you are promoting. Getting traffic for traffics sake is a waste of time. That should seem obvious but just browse around the internet and you’ll find lots of design portfolios and personal websites with no real purpose.
A purpose is a business objective, since we are not designing for fun but for profit. Simple objectives of your website could be:
- Getting a job at a kick-ass studio
- Getting general freelance work
- Promoting a unique service
- Promoting a product
Don’t bother trying to promote your design site without first addressing what purpose it serves. If you are looking for freelance clients, know what they are looking for. Just having a place to show your work isn’t good enough. Well, if that is all you are looking to do it is, but since you are reading a blog post about increasing the visibility of your personal site, it really isn’t. You have other objectives. You need to clearly define them.
If you just plan on making a cool looking portfolio and hope for people to contact you about a job opportunity, it could happen. But why leave something as important as finding work up to chance.
What Your Portfolio Site Isn’t
Just real quickly, here are few things your portfolio isn’t.
Your portfolio is not a place to play with the latest design techniques that only work in two browsers, new and half finished layouts, or any other experiment you feel like working on. You can build a sandbox elsewhere or even there on the site, but don’t make it publicly accessible.
Your portfolio isn’t a competition to try and impress the design community. Unless of course your whole goal is to impress someone in the design community, in which case, you can stop reading now. What is new and impressive to us isn’t always what a client or a potential customer wants to see.
Your portfolio isn’t a hangout where you share all of the things you are doing in your social life. Your taste in music, fashion, television, movies and politics are not going to help you with your goals so go ahead and leave them off. If you want to build websites for business people, don’t have cartoon illustrations and other dorky things you are into all over your site. If you don’t use Twitter exclusively for work, don’t put a feed on your portfolio. If you use social media for anything other than work, don’t link to it. There are numerous reasons why you want to keep your personal and work life separate, but for this topic, sharing your personal life simply provides no value in obtaining your business objectives.
To me it seems like common sense, but again just look around the web and you’ll see these same things everywhere.
Perfect the Design
If you are currently not employed, looking for more work or trying to sell a product but not having very much success, there is a really good chance your current portfolio isn’t up to the task.
The best thing to do is find a person/people who’s opinion you trust to help give you feedback. There are also a few sites where you can submit your work and get a little bit of exposure and hopefully get a little bit of design feedback as well.
- Behance - Yet another place to build a portfolio.
- Dribbble - The designer popularity contest.
- Deviant Art - I guess people still use Deviant Art, never done it myself.
There are more, but you get the idea. Submit your current design with a little statement about what your objectives are, and see what people say. If it isn’t good enough you should figure it out right away by the lack of positive feedback, lack of feedback and/or numerous suggestions to fix things.
If the response isn’t stellar, start over and make it right. Resubmit to the same sites again. See if the opinions improve. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what these people say. I wouldn’t trust any of their design advice over your own but if you really hit a homerun with a design you should get enough positive feedback to see it.
Keep revising until you hit one out of the park. Now it is finally time to start promoting.
There are galleries for pretty much everything: logos, typography, portfolios, and all different types of web designs. These are a good source of low quality traffic for the small amount of time you need to put in. But really, they are just another method to gage the success of your design and the message.
Submit your new portfolio to every free gallery you can find. You get a little bit of traffic and a dofollow link for a minute or two of work each. If it is a really successful design you will start to see it pop up in design roundups and other galleries you didn’t even submit to. If that doesn’t happen than your design probably isn’t that amazing. You might want to go back to the drawing board, or decide if you can live with it.
Will Work For Exposure
Ok, now we will get into the serious promotion. The trick is to find people who have already become influencers in the niche and get them to promote your work. It will probably involve doing work for free since most people aren’t going to be doing favors you for no reason.
Lets say you build blog themes and want to increase sales. You want to be promoting on blogs dedicated to blogging and social media, which there are tons of. The problem a lot of designers have is they don’t try to promote themselves outside of the design community. There are benefits to being a “famous design” but the ones making real money are where the clients are.
Find a blog or several blogs with a good following but with a bad blog design and offer to build a custom theme or install one of your themes for free. In exchange, just ask for a small link in the footer to your site. When a popular blog makes a theme change it gets a lot of attention. The blog owner may also write a post about the change and should include information about you and your wonderful themes. This same idea can work for any number of produces or services you provide.
To recap, find influential people, befriend them and/or do favors for them, and you are likely to get exposure for your work in return.
Influential blogs and bloggers are great people to know. To get to know them you need to do something for them, like write some guest posts in order to build a relationship. By themselves, good guest posts can drive a little traffic to your site. Building a relationship with these people can also help you big time. They can help you promote your new blog post or a product or do a review of one of your products. Having a good product is necessary but knowing influential people is how you get the word out.
Giving It Away
Freemium has been a popular business model on the web for a while now. Basically, giving away one product for free to bring in traffic and convert some of that traffic into paying customers. It can work for many design products, maybe too much in fact, looking at the huge number of free templates, vectors and other design garbage a lot of design blogs are hocking. But regardless of that, if you make great products, and give one or two away for free you are going to get traffic. It is now just a matter of getting some of them to pay for your real products.
- Photoshop templates - Demonstrate your design skill and can be portfolio pieces themselves.
- Greeting cards - A simple way to show your graphic design and typography skills.
- Stock photos - Probably a small money maker but you can build your portfolio while doing it.
- Photo Templates (for t-shirts, product packages etc.) - There is actually a need for blank templates for designers to put logos and packaging onto. Probably not any money involved but plenty of traffic to be generated from this.
- html/css templates
- Blog Templates and Themes - People who don’t know what they are doing will probably leave the link to your site in the footer of the template you built. They also have a good chance of coming to you with little design tasks related to using the theme you made.
- CMS themes and templates
- Photoshop Brushes
- Posters, t-shirts, swag
- Patterns and Textures - Pretty easy to make, probably not a lot of money in trying to sell them though.
- CMS add-ons - If you plan on selling add-ons you should always give one away for free. It shows people the quality of the add-ons you make and how good your support is.
- Fonts - An easy way to get exposure for your fonts is to give one weight of each away for free.
- Vectors and Icons - Easy to make and apparently people really go for these.
Hopefully that list gave you some ideas.
I should not have to tell you why every designer should blog, the benefits are numerous. A blog allows you to connect with your audience (*cough* customers). There are two types of traffic to go for, social and search.
The best way to get search traffic is to go after low-hanging fruit (easy search terms). Make a quick list of 25 or so words and phrases you want to be found for. Hop on over to Google Adwords and start searching, using the Keyword Tool for the terms you came up with. You will get a general idea what people are searching for, how many are searching, and maybe pick up a few other suggestions.
What you are trying to do is get a list of what people are searching for in your niche, with as many results as possible with as little competition as possible and then write blog posts on those topics, using those keywords. One post alone tends to not be enough.
For example if are trying to be found for “Drupal 7 church templates” you are going to want to build a page called www.yoursite.com/drupal7-church-templates and make it the hub for your SEO efforts. Write posts about the subject such as: “25 Church Websites for Your Inspiration”, “Making Drupal Templates for Non-profits”, “Best Drupal Templates for Under $25”, “Why Your Church Website Matters” etc., etc. Make sure you have plenty of links connecting the posts and they all should lead to your hub page. Your one page by itself isn’t going to be found but hopefully if you make a little cluster of posts on the subject, one of them will hit big, and you can move up the search ranks.
Here is a little more on the subject: How Cornerstone Content Gets You Traffic and Subscribers.
To get social traffic:
There is a myriad of ways to promote your post via social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, and so on. The problem being you actually need followers beforehand to get any use out of them. For a lot of people they can be nothing more than time-sinks. If you have better things to do with your time you can at least do the bare minimum. Create all the account and link them all up together so that your updates from one make it out to every other social network. You don’t have to use them very much, just broadcast your content when you can.
But again, the best way to use social media is not to do it yourself but get people who are more active and more popular than you to promote your work. Make friends and do favors for these people and they’ll promote your work for you. Network people.
To Promote Your Posts:
Like submitting your portfolio to galleries can be a little bit of easy traffic, submitting your blog posts to link sharing and community news sections of blogs can bring in a one time shot of traffic per post.
Most design blogs have a spot to submit design news and there are a few other site specifically dedicated to it as well. For the most part I’ve found 95% of them return little or no traffic but here are a few I’ve found to work to bring in a little bit every time.
The image shows the traffic I’ve received from a couple of different sites to give you an idea of how much traffic you can actually get. You can see I’ve gotten a decent amount from Design-News. Although the bounce rate and time on site isn’t very good. It could be that my content isn’t very good or it is just low quality traffic. Either way, it is a little traffic for not a lot of time invested to submit to these sites.
Here are some comprehensive lists of sites you can submit links to for design related posts. Again, most of these will return little traffic, but at least you do get a link out of it, and you’ll figure out which ones do bring in traffic.
Now that you are getting some traffic to your blog, you need to funnel that traffic to meet your overall goal. Your USP should be clearly defined on every page and more than one link should lead to your goal area.
Again, the point of your portfolio isn’t just to get traffic, it is to get traffic for a specific purpose.
Copyblogger is a blog but it is very clear that it is a business first and foremost. You need to be the same way with your website. Make your business objectives obvious and visible.
The Tuts Network and ThemeForest of Envato really just started out as one person with a blog. Take a look at their sites and check out all the places they advertise their products. They have three review streams: the job board, the ads, and the big one, ThemeForest. The pages might seem a little crowded but you have to realize it isn’t all about design, it is about making money and getting your objectives.
Another good way to get some traffic to your portfolio site is to run a contest. You can give away the products you are selling or just buy something trendy like a iPad to give away. Contests can promote user engagement. Contest can also be used to grow a following and they are pretty simple to conduct. Here are some tips for running your contest.
It really amazes how many designers have never advertised anything, ever. We design for a living yet many of us have never spent money to advertise our own products or services. We expect our clients to shell out thousands of dollars for the same purpose yet we have no experience doing so ourselves. It is almost like because we can build websites for ourselves for free, that we expect to never spend any money on our business ventures. What is even more ridiculous are the designers out there complaining about online ads. As if they are too good for the profession they are pretty much a part of. But that rant is for another time.
If for no other reason than to actually know something about advertising (which goes hand-in-hand with design) you should actually do some of it. The first thing to know is, it doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. You can spend $50 a month if that is all you have to spend, but you have to and need to start somewhere.
- Pay for reviews of your products or mentions of them on popular design blogs
- Niche Websites - The perfect place to advertise. There are thousands of blogs and websites who would be willing to take an add from you for almost nothing. Find the one with the most traffic in your niche and ask to place an ad for say $25-50 a month. The worst thing that can happen is they say no.
- Google Adsense and Facebook - If you are targeting a group that isn’t very computer savvy these two are both great options, although they can be a little pricey.
- BuySellAds - The design community is pretty immune to ads, as in they ignore them for the most part. But that also means there are tons of sites with dirt cheap ad slots. And if your product is really good you should get some traffic from it. Getting 50 clicks and 3 sales out of 100,000 page views might still be worth it if all you paid was $10 for the ad spot.
Find your target niche and start small. If your ads bring in 10,000 viewers but no sales you could have a bad product, the wrong niche, or the visitors your are attracting are not interested in your product. Play around with different ad types, different ad layouts and slogans. Eventually you will stumble on something that really works well.
Do yourself a favor and get these things done. The sooner you define your goals and start promoting, the sooner you will achieve them. I recently took my portfolio site down because it really had no direction. I’m working on that and a few other business ideas. If you have a personal site or portfolio you want to share or want me to take a look at, get in touch.