We've all had the experience of trying to look someone up on Twitter or Instagram and discovering that all of their content is private. There are myriad reasons someone would choose to gate their content: not wanting to show their photos to the world, concern about backlash from Tweets, or wanting to ensure their children's photos don't go anywhere beyond their control, to name a few.
For personal websites, it's very much the same. While the rationale may be different, there are a number of reasons to consider whether you keep your website private or public. Those justifications are reliant on a few factors:
- What are you using your website for?
- How often do you imagine the content might change?
- What permissions do you need in order to post the content you would like to?
In this article, we'll outline some of the key considerations for the public vs. private website debate and the questions to ask yourself before building your own page. But first – let's start with what a personal website is and how you might use it.
Personal websites, defined — and why you might need one
A personal website is exactly what it sounds like – a web page for your personal and/or professional needs. Some professionals use a personal website as a way to aggregate all the things that they do – from their work to content creation or case studies they are proud of. Some people have very simple personal websites that just share their names and email. Bloggers might use a personal website as their own publication much like others use a Substack.
Others might not be as concerned about what is on the site so much as just owning the SEO around their name. That is, they are less concerned with what they are publishing to their personal website, and more interested in coming up first (or at least on the first page) when people search their name on Google or other search engines.
Having a personal website is a quick way to stand out if you're applying to jobs and need to share a link. It comes across as both more professional and more personal than linking out to social media. Beyond when you're applying for new work, you might need or want a personal website as a catalog of your accomplishments (work and not-work related), a place to publish your own news or new work, a destination to sell your goods or services, you name it.
The point of making your own home online is that it can be whatever you want it to be – from a portfolio of your work to a better looking resume, a home base for your side hustle, or something else entirely.
Using a personal website as a calling card
One great use case for a personal website is simply as a business card for yourself – much like how professionals used to (and some still do!) have physical business cards to hand out when they meet people they want to network with.
In this case, you’d likely want a simple website that says your name, what you do, what you’re interested in working on, and how to get in touch. Chances are your site will not be focused on pushing out a ton of new content, but rather serve as an evergreen destination for people to know who you are and what you do.
The key benefit of having a personal website as your calling card and not a social media site is that you own that content. You aren’t at the mercy of an algorithm that wants to deprioritize your ranking, and you don’t need to worry about your content changing or disappearing in the future. It’s entirely yours from the moment you create it onwards, so you control your story.
Chances are your site will not be focused on pushing out a ton of new content, but rather serve as an evergreen destination for people to know who you are and what you do.
If you’re using a personal website as a calling card, you would probably want to keep your website public, because the whole point is that it is a destination for people to get in touch with you. If your personal website is password protected, you wouldn’t be able to achieve your goals of creating it – for more people to know how to get in touch with you. One thing to consider if you do have a personal public website is ensuring you’re comfortable with the content you’re making public. That is, you may not want to list your phone number or you may want to have a specific email address or email form that isn’t just your personal one if you want to separate professional from personal or maintain a greater level of privacy.
Using a personal website as a portfolio
A portfolio might be the most common use case for a personal website. When you build a portfolio website, you’re curating projects that you’ve worked on, generally with some visuals and description of your contribution to those projects. Portfolio websites may vary based on your occupation. If you’re a content creator, you may want to have a site that focuses on the content you’ve made and some core metrics of performance. If you’re a designer, your portfolio may be entirely visual. If you’re a filmmaker, your portfolio may take the form of a reel.
Portfolio websites can be public or private, and that all depends on your goals and permissions. For instance:
- You may want a public portfolio if you’re broadly and consistently looking for work
- If you’re a freelancer, a public portfolio ensures that your work is always discoverable and it’s a strong proof point to potentially getting your next gig
If you use a portfolio only when you’re looking for full-time work, you can consider keeping a public portfolio for a short window and then password protecting your site. Alternatively, you could just keep your site password protected all the time, and share that password with recruiters or hiring managers.
Permissions are the most important factor to keep in mind when you’re considering whether to have your website be public or private. In many cases, you may not have permission to share the work that you have contributed to because of legal agreements you’ve signed. Some companies are much more stringent on this than others. A way to ensure that you’re not violating any agreements, but still showcasing yourself and your skills to the best of your ability, is by password protecting your site. That way, the more sensitive content that you’re publishing is completely within your control, so you know who can and cannot access your work.
Should you have a public or private website? 2 questions to consider
While there are any number of reasons to have a personal website, you want to keep in mind a few central questions when you’re deciding to keep yours as public or make it private, as websites will generally be public by default. Among those are:
1) What are my goals for the website?
If they are to be more broadly discoverable, stay public. If they are to show work that you may not have permissions to share, make your site private.
2) Am I comfortable with anyone finding this information?
Once you have your site content up, ask yourself this question. If the answer is yes, you’re good to keep your site public. If the answer is no or maybe, consider making all or some of your site private. Keep in mind, this is your online home! You can make some pages public (like your contact information) and others private (like your work).If you’re interested in building a personal website of your own, try Polywork. You can hook up your Polywork profile to a custom domain and show off everything you do and everything you’re into.