Sign up for Instagram, revamp your LinkedIn, spruce up your Facebook profile. If you’re a designer, get on Behance. If you’re a writer, get on Substack. If you’re a content creator, get on Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, and basically every other platform imaginable.
There are a million different places you can show a fraction of who you are and what you do online, each with their own promises of exposure or community or even, if you’re looking at freelancer websites like Working Not Working, side income. So with all of this noise, where do you even start? In particular, if you don’t have a niche like design or content creation, how do you start to build out a space for yourself on the internet that looks and feels uniquely you (not to mention, ranks at the top of search if anyone Googles your name)?
In this article, we’ll outline best practices for building out a personal website or portfolio, what to consider when you’re thinking about your domain name, and how often you should think about updating your new digital home.
Why a personal website matters
To the degree that you spend time online, it’s valuable to have an online presence to call your own. While you can leverage many platforms for social media profiles (think Twitter, Instagram), you’re given a limited window to share who you are and essentially limited capacity to control the narrative around what you present to the world.
A personal website offers you your own space to tell your story the way you want it to be told, without character limits and using any mediums you want – like images, GIFs, videos, longform copy, and/or short form copy, for example. Furthermore, it’s a space you distinctly own that isn’t subject to volatility around algorithmic changes like social media platforms are, and you can customize to meet your exact needs.
While you can leverage many platforms for social media profiles, you’re given a limited window to share who you are and essentially limited capacity to control the narrative around what you present to the world.
Creating a personal website also helps you stand out from a search perspective. If you’re applying for jobs or internships, or even just trying to build out your own personal brand, what people see when they Google you matters. If your personal website is the first (or second, or third!) thing that shows up in a search for your name, you’ve succeeded in keeping your story as you want to tell it top-of-mind.
When you have a personal website, it also becomes this incredible time capsule of your achievements and projects. On Polywork for example, users leverage their profile as a timeline of the work they’ve done, blogs they’ve published, side projects they’ve started – you name it! It’s a centralized place to memorialize work and return to it, should you need it to fill in a resume for a job you’re seeking or write a bio for a speaking engagement you’ve just locked in.
What you should put on a personal website
The beauty of your personal website is that you can use it for whatever you need it for. If you’re an engineer, it can be a great place to showcase case studies of what you’ve coded and built (and a valuable link to send job prospects or recruiters as a reflection of your skills). If you’re a writer, you can use it as a less visual expression of your same skills, with links to articles that you’ve written on various publications.
Beyond just being a portfolio, your personal site can house content that you create and publish there – like blogs or videos or even courses/resources if you’re a domain expert. You can use your website to simply say your name, what you do, and include an email link for people to get in touch. Given that this site is telling your story, you may want to consider including a bio, whether it’s just a one-sentence description of who you are, or a longer blurb that summarizes your experience, your passions, and your goals.
If you’re just thinking about building a website for the first time, take a look at examples of other professionals in your field, or just other individuals you admire. There are countless places to look for inspiration, including siteinspire.com or sifting through showcases on various website platforms and seeing what hits the spot for you. From there, it’s all about adding your own twist, gathering any links or content you want included, and choosing a domain to house it all.
How to choose a domain for your portfolio or site
A domain name choice can be daunting as this might be the first time that you’re making a payment with respect to your personal site. Luckily, it’s not a 100% permanent choice and you can change your domain at any time – though there are SEO dings to that approach should you choose it.
That said, it’s best to choose a domain you think you’ll want for the foreseeable future. For instance, choosing something that is overly long or confusing or has too many of one letter will get in the way of understandability and resonance with your audience. The website Booooooom.com is a great example of this; it’s content is fantastic and it’s been around for over a decade, but it’s very difficult to remember there are seven “o”s when you need to type it out.
Think of your guiding mechanisms here as being “easy” and “distinct.” Of course, an intuitive choice is [first name][last name].com, but depending on how popular your name is, that might be either unavailable or prohibitively expensive. In that case, you can look to add words or symbols to the domain, or choose a fun alternative to “.com” as a way to stand out and add a bit of personality to your website. You can choose .cool or .world or .fyi, if you’d like. Some domains are closed to the public (like .abc or .unicorn), but many are available for purchase, so feel free to have a play and choose a domain that matches what you want to showcase to the world.
Launching and Maintaining Your Portfolio
Now that you’ve got a domain and you know what content to include in your website, you’re ready to launch! Consider this a moment for yourself – share about it with your friends and following via email or text or on your social media accounts. Setting up your site is a big deal – go you!
Ideally as you grow and evolve in all of your pursuits, whether they are professional, personal, or both, your site develops with you. Choosing an adaptable option for your personal site, like Polywork for instance, gives you the ability to update new case studies as you have them, or change your title, add your capabilities, even share new passions you’re pursuing. You don’t need to update your website as frequently as you would Tweet or share on Instagram, but a good rule of thumb is to update it as often as it needs updating.
If you’re using the site as a portfolio, ensure that the work you’re showing is your best, latest, and greatest. If you’re using your site as more of a calling card, you may not need to update it as frequently. The important thing is that it’s there, it’s discoverable, and it’s a fantastic expression of who you are and everything you do.