The Ultimate Guide to Getting More Clients From Your Website
If you’re not sitting down already, grab your favorite beverage and find a chair. This article clocks in at over 5,000 words and it’s not because I like to ramble.
The #1 topic people ask me about is how to get more clients, which are the foundation of every business. But big questions require big answers.
This guide is perfect for: Any freelance designer (part-time or full-time) who wants clients to find them, rather than constantly chasing after projects.
This guide is all about: How to convert your portfolio website into a powerful, lead-generating machine that can grow your freelance design business.
Are you ready? Let’s do this.
Until 2014, I found myself redesigning my portfolio website every year because I just wasn’t quite happy with it. Sound familiar? I know I’m not alone in this.
I’d bet that you or someone you know has been desperately trying to design the perfect portfolio website for years. If not, maybe you’ve heard the stereotype that you are your own worst client or that the most difficult website to design is your own.
After a while, these designers come to the crushing realization that they’ll never be quite satisfied with their work. So they give up trying to redesign their website or logo every year.
If that’s you, this mentality and approach is the reason why your website isn’t a powerful lead-generating machine.
If you want to get more clients, your website can’t be about you anymore. It’s got to be written, designed, and built for your ideal client.
So here are the practical things I’ve done to attract hundreds of clients to my website each year and grow a healthy, full-time freelance design business.
Have Your Own Website
Would you agree that every serious business should have a website? Even as a freelancer, you still operate as a business.
If you want more clients, you need your own website.
Do you need to design it yourself? No. Do you need to code it yourself? No. Why? Because having a hand-crafted, pixely-perfect website design isn’t going to get you more clients.
If you don’t have your own website, you’re limiting your own visibility, which is counter-intuitive if you want more leads. Your goal should be to establish yourself online in as many places as possible (website, design platforms, social media, etc) and then link those websites together as intimately as you can.
Personal vs. Company Website’s
Should you brand yourself as an individual or as a company? This is a question you might have asked yourself at some point.
To me, branding yourself as a business seems like a lie.
There are thousands of clients each day looking for freelancers and consultants who specifically don’t want to hire a company or team.People like to hire other people. Don't brand yourself as a company unless you are one. #freelancing #marketing Click To Tweet
If anything, you’ll limit yourself and create a lot of unnecessary work. It might seem easier to brand a company than yourself, but when you start having to say “we” in reference to yourself, things get weird.
Other top freelancers like Kaleigh Moore have written about their transition away from a company brand as well.
That said, if you have a legal business entity and two or more people on your team, great. Brand your company. Otherwise, keep it simple and position yourself as a freelance designer or design consultant ready and able to help on individual projects.
"I took Matt’s advice and designed a website I thought prospective clients would appreciate without sacrificing my own design preferences. With the same audience and visibility, I went from almost zero hits to 50+ each week, which I’m hopeful will result in more paid client projects this year."
Define the Purpose of Your Website
If you’re still in college, having a portfolio website is fine. It’s all about convincing potential employers that you’re better than the next person in line. They have a specific role to fill and not much time to fill it.
Stating what you do and showing off your best work quickly is the best way to design your portfolio website when you’re in college. For the purposes of this article, let’s say there’s not much your college portfolio website can do to help you negotiate your first salary beyond the work you showcase on it.Portfolio websites aren't dead, but freelancers should upgrade to a business website that's focused on the client. Click To Tweet
But if you’re a freelancer or consultant whose goal is to have a website that attracts paying clients, then you don’t need a portfolio website. You need a business website.
The difference can be subtle. Having a business website doesn’t equate to a bigger sitemap with an about page and company info. It’s just about a change in your positioning.
What’s positioning? Think messaging. A business website has messaging and copywriting that focuses on the client rather than you, the designer.
Write Copy for Your Ideal Clients
When I launched a new version of my website in 2014, I stopped focusing on myself and my work. In fact, I didn’t even start the redesign in Photoshop.
Instead, I started by writing copy (page content, titles, etc) that focused specifically on what I thought startups would want to read. The messaging needed to grab their attention, separate me from other freelancers, and convince them to fill out my contact form.
For example, instead of my footer title saying, “We Should Chat” and listing contact info, it said, “I design websites and apps that help grow startups and small businesses.” and the button label was “Lets Work Together”.
See the difference?
To a client, this is infinitely more relatable. Instead of thinking to themselves, “Ok, this is another designer who has pretty good work.” they’re thinking, “Oh man, that’s exactly what I’m looking for!”
* clicks contact button *
Imagine you work at a startup and need to hire a freelancer. You browse through a dozen websites and find one that says, “I design websites and apps that help grow startups and small businesses.” at the bottom of each page. Wouldn’t you want to contact that freelancer? Yes, you would.
The key here is to be specific and intentional with your writing while designing the UI and UX of your website around the content.
Don’t be afraid to ask your past clients a few questions either:
- When you need to hire a freelancer, what do you search?
- When you need a website redesign, who do you think about hiring?
- Where do you instinctively look online for freelance designers?
This can give you valuable insight into your client’s mind, even if they weren’t a perfect fit the first time around.
Do you need to write everything before you open Photoshop? No. Just make sure there’s a clear emphasis on the clients needs rather than your skills, experience, and design preferences.
You’ve got to understand your client’s language, then learn to speak it.
The Impact of Writing Better Copy
The design is visually different, but if you look closely, the most important change is the language I use and the person I’m targeting with it.
My old website was all about me. My new website was all about the clients I wanted to hire me. I’ve made lots of small, iterative improvements to the design and copy since then, but the overall website has remained the same.
This is critically important for you to understand, so I’ve revived a working version of my website from 2014 that you can probably relate to.
But after I ditched that self-centered approach, something amazing happened.
The green line represents my freelance income. The blue line is the salary from my high-paying Interactive Art Director job. The red line represents the total value of the projects I lost or couldn’t close.
As recently as 2013, I was making almost no money as a freelancer. As you can see, my income spiked dramatically after relaunching my website for my ideal clients at the end of 2014. Just 16 months later, I was able to quit my day job and begin freelancing full-time.
Think Like a Client
Writing for your ideal client isn’t as easy as it sounds. Thinking like a client can be challenging. My advice? Start by writing as if they were in the same room as you. Write as if you’re answering the question, “Why should I hire you?”.
Take your time on this.
The more you can connect and identify with potential clients, the more leads you’ll get and the more money you’ll make.When designing your website, be sure to prioritize the clients needs over your own design preferences. Click To Tweet
From there you can make small, iterative improvements to the design over time, rather than tackling a meaningless redesign every year only to find that you still don’t have any clients.
Use Terms You Want to Rank For
In the titles and page content of your website, make sure that you’re using terms that you want to rank highly for in Google. Once again, start by putting yourself in the shoes of your ideal client.Study the terms you want to rank highly for and then use them consistently throughout your website. #seotips Click To Tweet
Are startups and small businesses really going to search Google for “freelance startup designer” or “freelance small business designer”? Probably not.
What’s more likely is that they’ll search for:
- The task they want completed (UX, UI, website, redesign)
- A geographic location (to help narrow the results)
- The type of people they want to hire (freelance, consultant, agency)
That’s why I continue to rank at the tippy top of Google for queries like:
Guess what terms are in all my page titles? Matt Olpinski, UI+UX Designer, and New York. All three of those parameters are met and the results speak for themselves. I get consistent work inquiries each week that easily sustain my freelance business.Don't be too creative when describing yourself. No client is searching for a UX Guru, UI Wizard, or Pixel Mason. Click To Tweet
It’s also important that you aren’t too creative with what you call yourself. You want to put yourself where clients are looking and no client is searching Google for “UX Guru”, “UI Wizard”, or “Pixel Mason”. Just call yourself whatever your ideal client is most likely going to search for. In my case, freelance UI/UX designer is the most appropriate.
Optimize Your SEO
I always cringed when I heard the term “SEO” until I learned how powerful it can be. Search engine optimization done correctly can bring massive growth for your business, which is why I’ve taken the time to write about it in detail.
Unfortunately, many greedy companies have polluted our perception and understanding of what SEO really means. They’ve brainwashed us into thinking that there’s a way to buy a seat on the top page of Google. There’s not.Our perception of SEO is polluted. You can't buy a spot at the top of Google, but you can't ignore SEO either. Click To Tweet
But that doesn’t mean SEO is any less important. It’s simply about optimizing certain aspects of your website for search engines and of course, the people searching for you.
The higher you rank on Google for popular searches, the more leads you’ll get. That translates into more clients and therefore, more income.
So how do you give yourself the best chance of ranking highly on Google? First, you need to understand what Google needs in order to move you up in search results. In my experience, the most important factors are:
- HTML Titles
- Page Headings
- Page Descriptions
- URL’s & Slugs
- Inbound/Outbound Links
- Fresh Content
- Proper HTML Code
- Domain Age
This article seems to contain a much more exhaustive and detailed list. I also use the free Yoast SEO plugin for my WordPress website which allows me to easily manage and maintain these ranking factors.
This is incredibly important, but since I don’t want you to get stuck in SEO land for the next 1,300 words against your will, I’ve collapsed this content by default.
Just click this button if you want to read my SEO tips in more detail.
1. Page Titles
You always want to have a few terms clients are searching for in all of your page titles. The general anatomy of my page titles looks like this:
Page Title | Your Name or Company | What You Do | Your Location
which then translates to this on my website:
- Work | Matt Olpinski | UI+UX Designer | New York
- Articles | Matt Olpinski | UI+UX Designer | New York
- Contact | Matt Olpinski | UI+UX Designer | New York
This would all go in the <title> tag of your HTML. Page titles are really important to Google. Having key terms in each one is a must if you want to rank highly.
2. Page Headings
Page headings are also very important. These are the <h1> and <h2> tags in your HTML. While they can be different from your page title, I think consistency is beneficial. For example, let’s say the page you use to display your work is called “Work” in the page title, but it actually reads “Projects” on the page.
This is very common (and sometimes necessary) in web design, but the inconsistency can cause confusion for viewers. However, as websites become more copy-focused, design trends are pushing us away from single-word page headings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as they’re clear, relevant, and contain key terms.
In this example from odopod.com, it’s not clear what page I’m on by looking at the heading. There’s also a slight disconnect between the navigation title “offerings” and the sentence-style page heading. I would improve this page by including the word “offer” or “offering” in the page heading or renaming the navigation link and page title.
Regardless of your decision, be mindful of your page headings and how they affect the page title, content, and overall SEO value.
3. Page Descriptions
Unique <meta> descriptions on each page will also boost your website’s rankings, especially if they contain focus keywords for that page. This is a little more difficult to maintain, but it’s a worthwhile investment.
Page descriptions are only shown in search results to help viewers understand what they can expect to read on that page. They will not appear anywhere on your website.
I have a generic description that is applied to each page by default. That way even if I forget to write a custom description, a good one is still being used. Then, I use the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin to write custom descriptions for each page.
If you aren’t familiar with the plugin, here’s a preview of how it looks in the WordPress admin:
4. Page Slugs & URL’s
When it comes to page URL’s, you’ll once again need to find a balance between the user experience and SEO value. I always try keep my page URL’s very short and memorable while still containing the most important keywords for that page. This gives users a better chance of remember the URL for that page and makes the page link much easier to read when shared on social media.
This is fairly easy for most pages such as:
But when it comes time to choose a URL for a blog article, this becomes much more challenging.
For example, I wrote an article called Reduce Referral Spam in Google Analytics Without Using Filters. The default URL slug would be:
which is really long, hard to remember, and cumbersome to share on social media. Instead, I shortened the page URL to:
This strategy will result in a much more clean and simple URL structure that can help improve your page rank.
If you want to update your page URL’s, I recommend using 301 redirects to make sure anyone visiting an old link will automatically get redirected to the new one. You don’t want all the links you’ve ever shared to suddenly be broken as they float around the internet.
5. Inbound & Outbound Links
Linking to external website’s and having them link to you is a big part of SEO. When other website’s link back to you, it helps Google verify the legitimacy of your website. If there is more traffic coming to your website from external sources, you’ll get moved up in search results.
That’s why it’s important to get your website featured on other websites as much as possible. The more you make your way around the web, the more highly you’ll rank on Google.
That doesn’t mean linking to other websites is bad. In fact, just the opposite is true. External outbound links help Google associate your website with other relevant websites and position you as an authority on that topic.
6. Fresh Content
Google loves it when you update the content on your website. For a portfolio website without a blog component, that might seem difficult. But regular updates don’t have to come each week or even each month. For designers, it might be adding a new project once a quarter.
Your ability to maintain fresh content on your website should be a factor when establishing a strategy for your website. What content or pages can you realistically maintain that would need regular updates? Here are some pages on my website that get regular updates:
When you update parts of your website regularly, it establishes credibility with Google and your site will rank better. Be sure you have a plan for updating the content on your website, even if that plan changes from time to time.
7. Proper HTML Code
Given that I’m barely halfway through this article, I’m not going to give you a lesson on how to write good HTML code. However, if you are coding your website, make sure you stay as close to standards-compliant HTML as possible.
H1 – H6 tags help Google understand the priority of your content. Only use H1 and H2 tags for titles and subtitles. Use H3-H6 tags for tertiary titles within your main page content.
The idea is that your code should follow a logical format and be easy for Google to scan and index. Consistency and simplicity in both your HTML structure and content are the key to success here.
If you want to learn more about writing HTML code that improves SEO, check out this article.
8. Domain Age
From what I’ve read, the age of your domain isn’t a big ranking factor. However, my website has been consistently updated at the same domain (mattolpinski.com) since 2009 and I’m sure that’s established some credibility with Google’s search algorithm.
My advice for you is not to get too over-eager. There is no turn-key solution for immediate success when it comes to websites. Google needs a few weeks to reindex your website once changes are made. Even then, it takes traffic (people visiting your website) to start seeing results.
You’ve got to think about where clients are looking for you. Maybe it’s Dribbble and Behance. Maybe it’s Google. Regardless, you need to make yourself as visible as possible in the places clients are looking online.
You need visits to rank higher, but you can’t get more visits without ranking higher. To avoid this catch-22 situation that could leave you stuck at the bottom of Google, pay close attention to where clients are looking for you online and what they’re searching for. Then put yourself there using these SEO tips.
Still with me? Good.
Display Your Best, Most Relevant Work
How do you decide what work to display on your website? Should you display personal projects? Prioritize quality over quantity? Show your process? Should the projects be the same or should you show variety? What’s a case study?
The answer – once again – is to show whatever your ideal client wants to see.
If you want to work with startups, try to show work you’ve done for startups. If you haven’t worked with your ideal client before, try showing work that they can relate to. Maybe something in a similar industry to their own.
Once again, I’m about to cover a lot of detail. Just click this button if you want to read more about each of these topics:
1. Personal Projects
It’s ok to show personal projects if they will help get you hired. Maybe you redesigned a social media platform like Facebook because you haven’t gotten any new clients lately. That’s fine to showcase as long as you’re ok getting contacted about web and interface design projects, possibly with rich social components.
Do not show personal projects just to fill space on your website. Each project you show should make potential clients want to hire you to do the same thing for them.
That said, the majority of your portfolio should contain work you’ve done for clients. Why? They want to know that you’ve got experience working with real clients on real projects. The design decisions involved are much different when there are business goals that need to be met. Remember, your website isn’t for you. It’s for potential clients.
2. Quality vs. Quantity
When it comes to quality vs. quantity, I always choose quality. The reason? Think about the person browsing your website. Do you think they took time out of their busy schedule to browse your website for fun? Of course not. They need to hire someone and they usually don’t have a lot of time to do it. They probably won’t look at more than a few of your projects anyway.
Having more projects doesn’t necessarily indicate you’re a better designer. Showcasing a few high-quality projects will serve you well.
3. Process Work
It’s good to give potential clients insight into your design process. Though, the way you do that can vary. For example, you can talk about your design process and approach on a services page.
Alternatively, you can show a few extra images for each project. You don’t need to link the client to a giant PDF of all your sketches, but only showing the final result can leave them wondering how you got there.
Clients have objections to hiring freelancers and spending money. The more your website can help them overcome those objections, the more likely they will be to contact you.
I do a little of both. I have a services page that explains what type of projects I work on. Then, I have a page for each part of my process so the client can educate themselves on my approach to each project.
Is it better to show a variety of projects or just one type? Think about it this way: potential clients will only need you for one or two skills. Anything more than that and they’re going to hire multiple people.
It’s highly unlikely a client will need someone who can design, code, animate, and provide photography. Remember what I said about how clients search Google? No one is looking for a jack of all trades. If they are, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway.
If you do want to let clients know that you’re multi-talented, don’t show them in your body of work. Tell them somewhere else on your website (like on a “services” page). That’s another reason why I love case studies. If I took photos for a project or did all the coding, I can tell them right in the project case study.
When a client who’s looking for a web designer finds your website, you want them to see a lot of web design projects. They probably won’t even look at anything else. You’ve got to have a focus when it comes to your work. Everything else should be secondary.
5. Case Studies
I take the time to write a detailed case study for each project. A case study is simply a detailed record of the project. It typically includes some information on how the project started, what the goals were, and what my solution was.
The writing is reinforced by images of the design work I completed for that project. The idea is to show off your work in a way that:
- Clarifies the problem or challenge the client was facing
- Demonstrates the quality and effectiveness of your solution
- Is relatable to the person reading the case study
Case studies are an effective way to prove to potential clients that you’re the right choice for their project. They also differentiate your website from a traditional portfolio.
Design for Your Ideal Client
Hopefully by now you can guess where I’m going with this. When you design the interface and experience of your website, you’ve got to design it for prospective clients. What do they want to know? What do they want to see? How do they want to navigate?
My advice? Keep your website simple, at least in the beginning. It’s no longer about being super trendy and cool like it was when you had a traditional portfolio website. It’s about getting potential clients to contact you.
That’s all that matters.
Before every design decision, start by asking yourself if it will help clients contact you more or less frequently.
Does that mean your design needs to be generic and boring? Of course not. But I’d recommend starting simple, then adding style and flare as you go.
Someone once told me that your website can either be a place to keep your portfolio or it can be a portfolio piece itself. This distinction might help you decide what design style and layout is best for your website.
Mine is a little of both. Let’s say I want to get hired as a UI/UX designer (which I do). When someone looking for my skills finds my website, they need to have a good experience. If they don’t, they might hesitate to contact me even if my work is really good.If you don't have a lot of work to show, design your website in a way that show's what you're capable of. Click To Tweet
When you don’t have a lot of work to show on your website, design a website that’s a tribute to the work you can do. Spare no expense. Make the user experience shine.
Stay Consistent on Social Media
Social media is important. I’m going to assume you have at least two social media accounts that you use on a regular basis. If you want more people to find you, make sure your personal or company name is consistently used throughout all of your social media accounts.
For example, my username (@mattolpinski) is the same everywhere. I realize that may not be realistic for you, but get as close as you can. If you can’t grab a similar username everywhere, make sure the titles and descriptions on each account include at least a few keywords from your website.
On my Twitter account, I have a bio and a pinned tweet that talk about UI/UX design and link back to my website. I tweet a lot about design, but I also post my articles and links to my Dribbble shots there too.
On my LinkedIn account, I call myself a “Web & Mobile Design Consultant” and try to post links to my articles when possible.
On my Instagram account, I have the same username, but that’s about it. I don’t post anything work related there, but it still helps my name indexed by Google. On my Facebook account… actually I don’t even use Facebook for anything. But I know you do.
Just do everything you can to keep it professional so your name isn’t associated with anything you wouldn’t want a potential client to see.
On my Google Plus account, I try to post the articles I write, but that’s about it. Still, my username is +mattolpinski once again.
Personal vs. Professional Accounts
You don’t necessarily need to have separate social accounts for your business. If you’re a single freelancer or consultant, I’d recommend using one social media account for everything.
There’s no need to make yourself look bigger than you are, confuse people, or compete against yourself in Google rankings.
The takeaway here is that everything you do online matters. It affects how you rank on Google. If you stay consistent on social media, you’ll have a better chance of ranking higher and being associated with the key terms you want to be found for.
Examine the Competition
This is a basic battle tactic. If you’re trying to beat the competition on Google, Dribbble, Behance, and Upwork, you’ve got to know who you’re competing against. Do a search as if you were your ideal client and find out who appears on the first few pages of each result list.
Explore the web as you think a client might explore the web. Then, carefully examine the results to see what your competition is doing right.
Remember, clients are only going to dig so deep before performing another search or trying a different website.
You should also look for weak areas. What can you offer that is better or different than your competition? When you find the answer, use that to your advantage by integrating it into your marketing strategy.
Don’t let your findings intimidate you. Your goal shouldn’t be to get to the top of Google. It should be to gain more visibility than you have right now so you’re in a position for more potential clients to find you.
Give It Time
There are no turn-key solutions or guerilla tactics for getting more clients. You’ve got to work at this over time and learn as much as possible along the way. Then iterate when something needs improvement. That’s why you should avoid “making the leap” into full-time freelancing.
This process can take some time, so don’t quit your 9-5 job until your website starts bringing you organic leads each week.
For the sake of completeness, there are platforms such as Crew and Upwork that will send you new projects each day or week without you having to lift a finger. But these are short-term gains that make you a slave to that platform. They also take a cut of your pay to stay in business and don’t let you negotiate.
More importantly, most of the clients searching these platforms want (and expect) hourly, commoditized labor. They aren’t in the mindset of paying for a valuable solution or even having a strategic conversation about their goals.
These aren’t the types of clients who are going to set your business up for long-term success, which is why I don’t spend much time talking about these options. It’s just not worth it.
You’d be better off bypassing clients altogether and instead designing small products that you can sell on the Envato marketplace until your website brings you a new project.
Are you curious about how to move away from hourly rates, sell value, write winning proposals, and collect payment upfront?
I’ve written a book and a free 5 day email course that offer a more wholistic approach to improving your freelancing career (pricing, proposals, positioning, payments, and more).
If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out the free email course:5 Days to a Better Freelancing Career
A free 5 day email course designed to help you master the basics of freelancing. Based on my book Kickstart Your Freelancing Career, I'll cover one major topic each day from transitioning into freelancing to collecting payments and everything in between.
You won’t have clients banging on your door the morning after you make these changes, but you might get close. When I relaunched my traditional, self-centered, single-page portfolio website as a more robust business website that focused on my client, everything changed.
I started getting so many work inquiries that 16 months later I quit my job as an Interactive Art Director and started freelancing full-time. It’s not unrealistic for the same thing to happen to you if you follow these steps.
Remember, there are thousands of clients already looking for you online. You just need to do a better job of getting yourself in front of them. That’s achieved by improving your overall online presence, starting with your own website.
You should never wonder where your next project will come from. You also don’t want to chase after clients and projects. With a good website, you won’t have to. It should consistently bring new business right to your inbox.
There’s no turn-key solution for a powerful lead-generating website. But this advice will put you in a position to get more organic leads and therefore, more clients. Subsequently, you’ll make more money from your freelance business or consultancy.
Lastly, don’t get too hung up on the “process” of getting more clients. Every business is different. There’s no magic formula and this article doesn’t offer a perfect solution.
The best thing you can do is think about everything you just learned and decide for yourself what you want to change about your business moving forward.
If you found this article helpful, let me know in the comments below and take 10 seconds to share it with your network. Thanks for reading!