Your portfolio site: what’s in it for your audience?

Is your site worth others' attention?

An objective for this class is to create a portfolio site—a digital place online showcasing you and your work. While this can benefit you professionally, it will only do so if the content you create provides a good return on investment to those who read it.

“What is it that makes the economy hum, but is not growing? What’s the limiting factor behind all those web pages, business plans, strategies, books and articles, marketing initiatives, partnerships and alliances, and expansion initiatives? An attentive human mind.” (The Attention Economy, 2001).

The web contains 11 billion pages, and as web usability expert Jakob Nielsen points out, “short-term memory famously holds only about 7 chunks of information, and these fade from your brain in about 20 seconds.” Assuming anyone can even find your portfolio site with a search engine, what’s going to make them pay attention once they get there?

When you write the copy for your portfolio site, it’s tempting to think it’s about you, but it’s about them: your potential future employers, colleagues, and business contacts. Why would such people want to look at your site? Because you’ve convinced them you’re able to solve a problem they have. You’re a salesman, and your goal is to sell your reputation and skills to the market. In Web Copy That Sells, Maria Veloso has a few tips about how to think like a salesman when designing content for your site:

  1. Don’t create an online brochure. It’s a weak selling tool. Provide original, researched content about a business problem you know matters to your audience. This establishes you as an expert, increases relevant keywords in your blog, and provides a reason for people to seek out your site. If the content is good, you’re solving problems for them already, and earning their trust.
  2. Your home page is important. Do you have a picture of yourself, a large banner, or other uninformative content taking up a lot of real estate on your home page? A better approach is to consider the use of headlines and well-written home page content that addresses business issues of relevance to your intended audience.
  3. Use conversational and direct language, avoiding abstract and analytical business speak. Showcase your ability to communicate.
  4. Use testimonials to enhance your credibility.
  5. Know your objective and your target audience. Do you want employers to reach out to you? Do you want to build or join a community of experts? Do you want people to send you mail, follow your Twitter stream, or sign up for your newsletter? Design your content around your objective and audience, making sure to provide them with the information they seek, and a clear action they can take.

Here’s an extra idea from me: what’s your value proposition? There are tons of “social media professionals” and “marketing specialists” out there. How do you stand out from that crowd? Make sure this is clear to your audience.

A terrific example of how to do this is found on the web site of Austin Kleon, “A writer who draws.” Read his About page. Do you have any question about what Austin Kleon can do for you? Are you confused about how to reach out to him? Take a look at his Blog page. Do you wonder whether Austin has anything unique or interesting to tell you about writing, art, and information design?

I could spend hours on his site, because it’s not just a portfolio about him. It tells me interesting things I want to know about (he’s already paid me handsomely for my attention). It tells me how Austin Kleon can solve my professional problems, and exactly how and why to reach out to him.

In conclusion, take a page from Austin. When you create your portfolio site, don’t design a brochure. Design an experience for others.


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