Search engines are designed to give people the most relevant, useful information. So if search engines are geared toward what people want to read, it’s a good rule for you too.
At this point, we know that stuffing a website with robotic keywords doesn’t get you anywhere. Think of what attracts you as a human to a website, and what you expect to see, and you’re considering the search engines too. That includes the following steps.
Buy your own domain name
A top-level domain name (ie. yourname.com) is going to fare much better than a generic kimmy.myportfoliotool.com in search results. Domain names are cheap. If the one you want is taken, find a variation of it that’s still simple enough to remember and type. Avoid numbers and hyphens as this only makes it more complicated.
The human-first rule applies here. According to moz.com: "Because of search engine's growing reliance on accessibility and usability as a ranking factor, the easier a domain (or URL) is to read for humans, the better it is for search engines."
My NOW page (vanschneider.com/now) is an easy way to refresh my portfolio more often.
Update your portfolio often
Review the first page of your search results and you’ll see most are from the last year. A recently updated site is given priority over an outdated one. That doesn’t mean you need to constantly be adding new content. If you don’t have a new project to add, refresh and optimize your existing case studies.
SEO aside, I try to update my portfolio every few months, whether it’s adding a new project, optimizing an existing one or tweaking the design.
Photographer Cait Oppermann optimizes her image to just a few hundred KB on her homepage (caitoppermann.com), and they're still crystal clear.
Optimize your images
I can’t stress this enough. Designers tend to upload images at outrageous sizes in an attempt to keep them sharp. This only slows down your site and hurts your performance overall. I can’t tell how you how many strange performance issues I’ve traced back to improperly sized images.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your images under 1mb. Your image will still look crisp, but your performance won’t be compromised.
Update your page titles & meta descriptions
The workings of Google’s search engine algorithms will forever be a mystery. Several years ago, headlines & meta descriptions seemed to count a lot for how you appear in search results. At the time of this writing, it seems Google looks more at the content on your page. Nevertheless, it can only help to give your pages unique titles and descriptions. Not only for SEO, but for sharing on social media.
Title your page with your name, the project name and project type. Include the client's name if it’s a recognizable one. In the meta description, describe the project in more detail, but keep it brief. About 50 characters for headlines and 150 characters for descriptions is a safe bet.
Nelson Balaban's use of a share image and a title/description make his Tweet more likely to be shared.
Add share images with unique titles & alt names
Anytime someone shares a page from your site on social media, a unique image should appear in their feed. This will get you better click-through rates. When you do add that image, take the extra 30 seconds to give it a unique, descriptive title and alt description. Do the same for any images you add to your site. The robots love to crawl it.
This homepage intro from Gemma-Lea Goodyer's portfolio (oioi.gg) is straightforward and clear without sacrificing personality.
Don’t waste your introduction
Too often I see designers attempting to wax poetic with their portfolio introductions. Saying you’re a storyteller doesn’t really tell me anything about you, your interests or what you have to offer (it’s certainly not telling a story). It’s also a wasted SEO opportunity.
You don’t have to try so hard. Start with something straightforward like “Illustrator & UX designer based in Chicago” and if you want to elevate the language a bit or elaborate from there, do it. But a straightforward headline is going to benefit you more than a poetic one, so keep it simple.
Adi Constantin's case studies include long-form captions for each photo / phase of the project. adiconstantin.com
Write scannable, thoughtful case studies
Your case studies should be easy to scan with headlines separating each phase of the project, and captions for every image. Nobody's going to read it otherwise. Plus, anything less doesn't set up your work or explain your process the way a case study should.
If there's anything we've learned from talking to 20+ of the leading design companies in our How to Get a Job at X series, it's that they want to see your process in your portfolio. Your case studies are meant for just that.
For SEO purposes, this naturally adds more important keywords to your site (the type of work you did, the company you did it for, the techniques, the tools, etc.). This doesn't necessarily make your site rank higher (an outdated concept), but rather sends more relevant people to your site – the people searching specifically for what you offer.
John Mueller from Google explains it this way: "So it’s not so much that suddenly your page ranks higher because you have those keywords there. But suddenly it’s more well Google understands my content a little bit better and therefore it can send users who are explicitly looking for my content a little bit more towards my page."
Use category subheads
Labeling your projects according to the type of work is way to work in relevant keywords without it seeming forced & unnatural. Design a simple and consistent style for categories like “identity design” or “UX design” and use them for every project.
And categories are helpful for reasons beyond just SEO. As someone seeing your work for the first time, this helps me understand your range of skills at a glance.
Tina Smith includes categories for each project in her thumbnail hovers on her homepage, a natural way to tie in important keywords. tinasmithdesign.com
For more portfolio tips, read the other articles in our Portfolio Project series. We talk about writing case studies, avoiding common portfolio mistakes and a lot more.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the founder of DESK, nice to meet you!