are personal branding websites a crock?

A reader writes:

What are your thoughts on personal “branding” websites? I’m talking about websites where the home page is usually a few brief sentences that provide a snapshot of the person’s profession, a casual picture of the person (sometimes engaged in a hobby, such as playing an instrument), and an About Me section that focuses on personal hobbies and interests. There is nothing interactive about these sites, so I don’t even understand who the intended audience is. It just seems like a half-hearted attempt to bolster “online presence.”

Do these details help? Unless a person has (a) an explicit service that they can only offer via a personal website or (b) a blog where they’re sharing thought-provoking insights, personal websites seem sort of silly to me. Most of them read like a goofy, less informative version of a LinkedIn profile. Am I being too dubious, or are these websites as frivolous as I suspect?

Yeah, they’re pretty superfluous. Those sites often have resumes included too, so it seems clear that it’s intended for job-searching, but I can’t figure out how they’re being used or what they’re intended to achieve.

I think you’re correct that they’re usually being done by people who have been told that they need to have an online presence but don’t realize that that means something more than what’s essentially an online business card. Online presence is about things like a fully fleshed out LinkedIn profile, a more expansive website (when relevant; not just to have it for the sake of having it), a well-maintained blog, thoughtful participation in online discussions on other people’s sites, etc. It’s not about staking out a little piece of the Internet and just putting your name on it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if career counselors or campus career centers were behind this — it sounds like the type of thing that the mediocre of those professions would tell people to do, without understanding what it takes to do it well or why employers would care.

As for personal branding more broadly, that’s a perversion of the concept of reputation. Reputation matters a great deal, but it’s not created by a three-page website with little content; it’s created by doing great work and operating with integrity and generosity. Of course, that’s not a concept that the personal-branding evangelists — who are looking for something to hawk in an already overcrowded marketplace — can make money off of, so they’ve turned to gimmicky concepts of “branding” instead.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie*

    These website only make sense for jobs that require some type of portfolio – writers, designers, photographer, marketing managers, social media managers, event managers, architects etc…

    Basically any job where there is some visual or written component to it.

    1. Anon*

      I agree, I maintain one to keep a portfolio available that I can link to when applying for jobs, in addition sending hard copies for those with preference. It is a bit of branding, in that it’s what comes up when you google me pretty high in the search (my job is such that googling me produces my work product too.) But it gives me some control over what is going to come up if you start looking for me online.

      I think that might be another good option for them. If googling you produces lots of unprofessional things, like pictures from your bowling league party or your arrest record, a website, maybe with a little more than your name and a picture, could be a good option to give internet searchers something you control instead of just landing on results that are out of your control.

      1. CAA*

        Yes, these types of sites are recommended by reputation management companies. If you need to push something bad down to the second or third page of Google results, you can do it by creating some good (or at least innocuous) things and linking them to each other.

        1. Anonymous*

          This is correct. Its also for people whose name search triggers negative content due to criminals and unsavory characters with the same name. I read an article on reputations management where a guy couldn’t find a job because he shared a [not to common] name with a convicted murderer in his state. He had a company make some of these sites for him and started getting more call backs.

      2. Kathryn T.*

        Or if it yields someone else with your name who just happens to play bass in a horrorcore shock band. (As is true of my husband.)

    2. Anonsie*

      I know a few grad students (the aspiring academic types) and adjuncts who have a page with their CV or just a list of all their publications, and maybe upcoming talks they may be giving or conferences they’ll present at.

      1. Melissa*

        I was just about to say this; it seems pretty common for academics in general to have their own personal webpages. I’ve also seen professors (more assistant/untenured, but some tenured associate and full professors) who have personal webpages with their CV information, plus some detailed information about their research interests and future directions for their research, their teaching philosophy and style plus past courses taught (with syllabi linked), and past presentations with the slides up.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I expect to see one for artists, designers, anybody with a portfolio, as Katie says. In the last few years, not having an online portfolio has become out of step.

      I’d like to suggest, though, that if using a personal branding site for this purpose, it’s not a good idea to put everything on it. I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff posted including violent images and pornographic.

      Which, is fine if applying for edgy magazine work but using the same domain when applying for a corporate job, notsomuch.

      (We review the domains or portfolios before deciding who to phone interview.)

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Oh, I forgot the one where she had a blog attached, a good chunk of the content being complaining about her current job.

        This was on a personal domain, specifically linked to on her resume, for her online portfolio.


  2. webDev*

    I think it works best if you actually have something to write about. Spreadsheet expert? Write about some macro you made. Personnel wonk? Write about that. Content is king and the best marketing you could ever come up with. If you must write about personal stuff, have a second blog (I have a programming stuff blog and a dog agility blog and never will the two be linked. My dog has a blog too, but he is on his own.) Writing out your Latest Big Thing is good practice for interviews too. I don’t think you need a lot of links to other sites so if you don’t want all that info about you easy to find, leave it out, it’s up to you.

    1. louise*

      Oh! Now my interest is piqued re: your dog blog. And your dog’s blog. It’s all kitties, kitties, kitties around AAM.

      (Don’t tell my dog or yours, but, um, kittiesarestartingtogrowonme. Yes, I’m embarrassed about that.)

      1. webDev*

        My dog has actually had a blog since he was a puppy! He was very Internet-savvy even before he was house-trained. There used to be a group called “Dogs With Blogs” and I got to know folks all over the world by being part of that. I am still in contact with many of them but now we mostly use Twitter. Yes, my dog’s been on Twitter since it was in beta and he has about 1200 followers. Not bad for a guy with no thumbs.

    2. Nodumbunny*

      WebDev would you be willing to give some advice about easy to use, professional-looking web platforms? I’m a consultant and would like to start putting some content out there to add to my reputation as a subject expert on this particular topic. I was going to use LinkedIn, but it’s really not flexible enough. What should I be looking at?

      1. webDev*

        You could post the links to your LinkedIn account, but I’d want to own my own content. What you post on LI or FB is owned by them.

        For you, since you are not really a web monkey like me, I’d suggest you stick with WordPress. You can get very inexpensive hosting for it almost anywhere. And then install a non-default theme on top of it. For that, check out ThemeForest, that’s my fav. Good luck!

        1. Meg*

          I had the pleasure of meeting Raymond Camden at Fluent 2013 in SF last year. He gave a great workshop on PhoneGap.

          1. webDev*

            squeee!! I got Ben Forta’s autograph once. I still have my “WWFD” poster from the CF5 days. (what would Forta do?)

      2. CAA*

        I was also going to suggest WordPress. You can try it for free to see if it’ll work for you before going for the hosting option.

        Someone also asked me about Squarespace recently. I took a very quick look and thought they’d be worth trying out too.

      3. Barbara in Swampeast*

        At (not you can start a personal blog for free. If it grows and you want to start making money from it, you will have to move it, but as long as you’re not selling anything its free.

  3. LouG*

    I know a lot of PhD’s looking for jobs in academia who have similar websites. Academic jobs are almost always an exception to the rule, as we’ve discussed on here before.

    1. The IT Manager*

      PhDs should be able to list a bibliography and perhaps even share aritcles they wrote, though, so it already sounds like more content than the LW described.

      I see this as an attempt to “take back” a person’s online reputation (from facebook and mentions elsewhere) and appear at the top of the google name search, but as Alison mentioned if the person lacks content then its like web page spam – pointless and useless.

    2. Daisy*

      I think the same precepts still apply there though: that you have to provide something extra, not just an online resume. If it was just a bibliography and a statement of research interests or whatever, that’s information that’s already on your CV. The good personal sites I’ve seen from PhDs are well-maintained blogs that talk about the subject in a less formal manner than journal articles- medievalists who discuss manuscripts they’ve been looking at, people in international development who blog about their experiences on the ground in the countries concerned, things like that.

      1. Sophia*

        But that vast majority, and the norm, is to just have a cv, a bio section, info on courses taught, research interests and a list of publications

        1. Daisy*

          That’s what I saying, I think that’s just as pointless as for non-academic careers. Why have a whole website for that sort of basic information? Aren’t those precisely the sort of things that you put on LinkedIn/ your uni’s website if employed/your CV if jobhunting? Since there are several comments suggesting this is normal I’m going to assume this is an American thing, but I still can’t see why it’s useful.

          1. Sophia*

            In my experience, most Americans don’t use, and it allows for more space than the university / department page, which is usually only a single page. I often google people and prefer their personal webpage because it’s often easier to find their CV etc

          2. AdjunctForNow*

            I have no idea, but I was told I needed to have one during my academic job search. I guess that people can click the links to each of my academic papers, instead of just seeing the titles on my CV and then going out and googling them. There are also links to my course syllabi and some stuff like that. I agree, it’s stupid, I have no idea if anyone looked at it, but my advisers all said to make one.

            1. Sophia*

              Grad students at my university don’t have a dedicated webpage on our department’s website – only a single blurb. So it’s also a way to post my CV etc.

          3. Melissa*

            It’s usually more expanded than the CV. So instead of just a list of your articles, you have links to those actual articles. Instead of just a list of classes taught, you can link to the syllabi and discuss your teaching philosophy in a less formal way than you would in the teaching philosophy you send to search committees. You can discuss your research agenda – the kinds of projects in which you are interested, and what you plan to do in the future – more fully.

            But, I’ve never been one to argue that academics don’t often do pointless or useless stuff. I’m an advanced grad student and I’ve also been told that I need to have a personal website, by academics. It’s mostly so that when the professors on SCs (assuming I want to be an academic, which I don’t really) Google me they can find the webpage.

  4. Sandrine*

    Yeah, the concept weirds me out. I mean, I happen to have a Facebook page coupled with a Youtube channel (I’m inspired sometimes so I make “vlogs” ) , I write a blog in French, one in English, and I do have a domain name reserved with my name on it (and another one because I felt it was pretty :P ) but at the end of it, I sure as heck won’t put my resume out there… nopes, my “personal” website will be when I can finally launch myself as a freelancer.

    (Anyone welcome to critique the videos, btw. I feel like a doofus and I’m pretty sure I’m making tons of pronunciation mistakes xD)

    If the page is nothing but a “hey look at me” space, useless. However, if it speaks about services, or does, in fact, contain a portfolio, then it’s another story entirely.

    1. vvondervvoman*

      I watched your intro video and your pronunciation is great!! Seriously, I lived in Paris for a year and your accent is almost not even there. The only thing is the word content. So when someone is feeling content with their life/job, ie happy, then the pronunciation is the way you put it. But when you’re talking about the table of contents, or youtube content, it’s more like con (like con man) and tent like pitching a tent. Just switch the emphasis to the first syllable. =)

  5. James M*

    Marketing 101: approach any marketing activity by answering the questions “who am I trying to reach?”, “what message would the site send to readers?”, “what is the cost (time + money)?”, and “what outcome can I reasonably expect?”. Then the answer to “Is it worthwhile?” becomes clearer.

    I would venture that “personal branding” websites can help a few people reach their marketing goals, but more users (read: those who shirk due diligence) reap significantly fewer benefits.

    Usually, go with your gut. You are your last, best authority on what is right for you (exceptional circumstances notwithstanding).

    1. The IT Manager*

      I have an old college friend who is a writer. It’s fairly clear to me her page is designed for marketing, but at least she has actual content – reviews of other books in her genre and talks of her writing and publishing travails.

      Although her updates were so very intermittent that I quite looking for updates a few years back. And that’s one of the things Alison means when she says a blog is a lot of work. If you don’t update very regularly people forget to keep coming back.

      1. Evan*

        Though that last bit might not be so true anymore, given RSS feeds. There’re a couple dozen feeds I’ve subscribed to and just forgotten about until a couple months later, when a new post from one of them turns up in my reader.

        1. The IT Manager*

          True, true. I do not use RSS. I prefer to pull rather than be pushed – that allows me to exert a tiny bit of control of my web time wasting.

          1. Melissa*

            I have found using an RSS feed (which I was also very resistant to) has actually lessened my time-wasting vs. raising it. It’s because all of my time-wasting blogs and websites are collected at one place rather than being flung across the WWW. So when I want to waste some time/read some blogs, I go to feedly (or use my feedly app, more often) and read what’s new – and that takes me much less time than individually visiting every blog and tumblr that I like. I make exceptions for very good blogs that are updated pretty often and where I like to comment, like here at AAM.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I have a blog posting challenge coming up in April so I’ll have to post every day. It was too much for me last year, but I’m determined not to bail on it this year. I almost always get a follower or two from that. Sometimes I review stuff, too, and link to other people I like or have been talking to or reading their posts. I REALLY wish I could get something pubbed so I had more for people to read! People are always asking me when they can read stuff. Um, I don’t know–soon, I hope! Critiquer said ON TWITTER, IN PUBLIC: “Oh, you’ll publish. I’m confident of that. Just takes time and patience.” :D :D :D

          There’s a follow option on my blogs too so you get an email every time I post. Plus new posts show up on Twitter. I like that function, because I rarely remember to post the link.

  6. Jenny Foss*

    How timely – I just had this exact conversation with an early career job seeker this morning — Her college career advisor said, “Get a blog,” but provided no real meat on what the hell she should do once she set that baby up.

    YES, if you work in a profession in which showcasing samples of your work is important (copywriter, graphic designer, musician, model, etc.), having your own website can be a good place to showcase your talents. However, it’s pointless to craft one without a real idea of why you’re doing it, and what you plan to do with it.

  7. KC*

    I ONLY have a website so I can have a non-work-issued “professional” email address that is — There’s nothing on the website right now, though.

    Does anyone think that it’s hurting me in job hunting and/or networking that I use that email address for business, but if someone visits, there’s no content?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      I doubt it’s hurting you. But I definitely googled personalized domains when I was hiring, because I assumed there would be something there.

    2. AnonymousCanadian*

      I’m jealous that you were able to get Both my first name and my last name are in the top 10 most common names and I’d have to sell my first born to get

      1. Felicia*

        I think my first and last name together is unique, other than one other who is a 3rd cousin of mine. I have a very uncommon last name. I don’t have though because i’ve never bothered.

        I know my close friend has, and the first time she sent me an email from there my first impulse was to google I think a lot of people would have the same first impulse when googling such an email. I don’t think it would hurt, but it would just be something a lot of people check. You could use it to help! but now just seems weird, but wouldn’t hold it against you.

      2. Fiona*

        My name isn’t that common but someone still beat me to the .com about 10 years ago, so I had to settle for .info instead.

    3. Ashley*

      I would think it was weird, but I wouldn’t hold it against you. But I do think you can have a perfectly acceptable and professional email address at something like It doesn’t have to be a personal website to be seen as professional.

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      I have a domain, but no site at all. I wanted the email address that wouldn’t change (prior to gmail), but never bothered with a site at all. I can set up any email address I want and it all comes to the same mailbox, so I can have or or pretty much anything. I’ve even had conversations with emails with no content ( I can make up a name for a site that wants an email address, which helps in sending emails directly to the garbage if they sell that address to spammers.

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      I don’t think it’s hurting you, but it may be a missed opportunity. Like Victoria, I would google the domain with the assumption that there would be content there.

    6. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m a little (okay a lot) more geeky than the next person. If I saw your email address in a bunch of resumes flying around, I’d look your domain up to see what you have there.

      If there’s nothing, the only time that would seem actually wrong is if you had the sort of profession where an online portfolio would be expected. Then I’d wonder why you went to the trouble to get the domain but sent out resumes before having the time to put your portfolio up.

      Anyway, usually if someone has a personal name domain, they do have some content there, but since the hires I’m involved in are mostly marketing or creative, I have no idea what engineers or sociologists or lawyers should do.

    7. KC*

      Thanks for the .02, folks! I won’t worry about it hurting me, then–but you all HAVE given me food for thought re: actually putting some content up there. It might be a fun project.

  8. Meg*

    As a web developer, having a personal “branding” website is pretty common, especially if you’re a contractor or freelancer. Serves as a portfolio, resume, and experience sample all in one. I keep mine as updated as my resume, and when I’m learning new technologies (for example, Bootstrap 3.0 or Skeleton framework, or SMACSS, a new javascript library or framework), I use my personal site as my sandbox, and I can show future clients that I know the technology even if I’ve never used it for a client.

    It may not be as helpful in other fields, but it’s very common (I’ll even go as a far to say it’s an unspoken expectation) for serious front-end developers at the least (the ones responsible for presentation and interaction within the browser).

    Now if you’re an employee and expect to stick with the same company for a while, it’s not necessarily as important as it would be for those who work 6-12 month contracts or similar.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Word on that: I got all the way to face to face interview with a guy with an iffy resume and a great website only to have it clear in the first 10 minutes that there was no way he made that website himself.

      I don’t think he was intentionally misrepresenting himself so much as he didn’t grasp that if he listed web design and development in his skills, and he had a personal domain website, there was going to be an assumption he made his own website.

      After a few uncomfortable questions he couldn’t answer he said that his friend helped him with it and then I wanted to ask for the friend’s name and was he looking for a job.

  9. Emily*

    I have a site that’s kind of like this, and I did it so I could have a bit more control over what pops up when you google me. It has a blog that I update infrequently but thoughtfully, a list of publications/presentations, and a blurb on what I do. I don’t expect anyone to follow the blog, but at least it gives me a place to post something, and link to it on Twitter, if I have something to say or a code example.

    Recently, I’ve thought I could make it clearer that (a) I do presentations and (b) here’s how to contact me–because I’ve heard feedback that one reason women are harder to recruit as speakers is that it’s now always clear whether someone is interested in being a speaker. But I haven’t really done that yet so can’t report on the results.

    I don’t put much effort into it but I take care it doesn’t look abandoned. I’d describe myself as mid-career. I’m less impressed when a recent grad has a jangly personal site that’s full of social media stuff, and it’s not backed up by much in the way of serious contributions.

  10. Ash*

    I have a “personal website” specifically to solicit speaking and media engagements. It has worked for that purpose. Usually people are googling me to find contact info based on something else I did, so its helpful to have that up as well as a list and links to my past speaking and media appearances.

    I don’t even think about it as a job searching tool, although I’ve been meaning to update it since it may be a hindrance to the whole moving beyond my current area thing…

  11. Anonymous*

    A website that actually curates a person’s work and makes an easy gateway to a portfolio is helpful. Writers who put up links to their published works, artists who list their gallery appearances, links to the full set of active social accounts one’s willing to share, etc. But that’s more robust and useful than what’s being described here.

  12. the_scientist*

    I know someone who did this- they are in a JD/MBA program and purchased the domain name associated with their name. I guess it might be useful one day, in the future, but for now it looks a bit silly that they have a near-empty website (I guess they wanted to snap up the domain name and do some SEO).

    I recently caved in and got a twitter account for google-fu purposes. I follow a lot of science bloggers and re-tweet public health/science/mental health things, nothing personal. I figure it gives me a bit of a positive internet presence, and eventually I’d like to branch out into science commentary/blogging. Although I’m not confident enough to do it right now :)

    1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

      My advice is jump in – fake it until you make it! I started my blog on a whim while bored at a conference in 2007, and I’ve got so much from it over the years – writing practice, but most importantly, lots of really solid friendships.

  13. AnonymousCanadian*

    I’m a writer so I have a personal website, though I wish I didn’t have to, because its annoying and I’d rather write stories than web content. Some magazines won’t let you submit a story unless you have a personal website where they can see other stuff you’ve written, so its useful for that.

  14. Amy*

    Back in 2009 when I was a member of the 99 week unemployment club, I had one of these sites. I am a project manager and the only benefit that i saw for the site was that I was able to set up one of those tracking things where I was able to see what IPs were googling me, what they googled, and how much time they spent on my site!

    The biggest issue I faced with the site is that if I wanted to tailor my resume to apply for a job, I’d have to go and change it on my personal site – OR leave it generic. I don’t think having a site did any harm, but there was really no benefit either. It may have even made me come off as a bit desperate.

  15. Rich Grant*

    Good points, Alison. Agree 100% about the whole issue of “personal brand.” I wrote on my blog, Focus on Fundamentals, Not your “Personal Brand.” (richcareer dot net slash personal-brand)

    Some of the websites seem really static, with nothing but a home page and a place to plop your social media links. Others give job seekers more to work with, like SayHello There where you can create a video, or Vizify which has cooler graphics.

    I work in college career services and to my knowledge, nobody I know is behind these sites. @RichCareer

  16. Not So NewReader*

    I was wondering how many of our readers actually use these sites in sorting through the hiring process. I see a lot of people have them. But I am not seeing a lot of people writing in to say how they have used these sites in making the decision on who to interview/hire.

    I picture myself as a hiring manager. I cannot imagine pouring over 25 websites to see who is the preferable candidate. I can see it if the job has to deal with internet, writing, art, photography… I could see it if I had narrowed the list down to three people. But otherwise this has to be extremely time consuming.

    1. PEBCAK*

      Nope. Once I get to the final three-five candidates, I typically google them to see if anything unsavory comes up, and I suppose if they listed a personal website on their CV, I’d go check it out, but this certainly wouldn’t impress me if all it did was repeat their resume.

      I would be interested in personal projects, even if they were only loosely related to the position applied for. A cool project, presented well, could show organization skills, project management skills, and communication skills. But this is the sort of thing that I would think was kinda neato, and might give a general positive impression of a candidate, not the sort of thing that would *really* influence a hiring decision.

  17. Cimorene*

    Hasn’t there been a LW who wrote about sharing a name with a porn star (or porn actress, if not quite star)? So when she googled her own name to see what was coming up when hiring managers were googling her, the first page was full of links to this person’s oeuvre? So I feel like maybe a website with this sort of information, even super basic, might be useful for something like that–for sussing out which Firstname Lastname is applying to any given job.

  18. Funnyone*

    I’ve heard stories of people being asked for their Klout score, which ranks a persons online social presence. A high Klout score may be of benefit when applying for jobs in certain social related industries.

  19. lindsay*

    I hate, hate, hate the blanket advice to people to start a blog or make a personal website. Unless you actually have something to say (and the stamina to make it last more than 6 weeks), don’t do it. Having something half-assed up there is worse than nothing at all. That advice drives me crazy, especially since so many people my age (mid-20’s) eat it up, hook line and sinker.

    1. OP*

      Yes! This really resonates with me. I’m in my mid-twenties as well, and I think generic career advice like this is really common. I do my best to filter out the nonsense. It makes me wonder if enough people buy into a piece of nonsensical career advice, does that “validate” the advice, since so many people would now do it (even if the practice itself is still ridiculous)?

  20. Audiophile*

    A few years ago, I bought a domain name – a shortened version of my name and hosting using bluehost. I didn’t know what to do with my site, so I dropped the hosting package. Then last year, I decided I really needed to have more of an online presence since I’ve being trying to go back into marketing/communications and a lot of these jobs are overlapping with social media, where everyone wants to see your links, your footprint, etc.
    So in that vein, I decided to purchase hosting again, and found weebly, which I use as my site. I’ve been thinking about switching to wordpress, but it didn’t work out last time I tried.

    Anyway, on my site there’s a quick bio, a truncated version of my resume, a blog (which I haven’t done much with except link to things) and a way to reach all my social media profiles (Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter). I don’t get a ton of traffic, because I only put the URL on business cards I hand out sparingly.

  21. OP*

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! They confirmed what I suspected. I’m a young professional, and I want to make sure I don’t get roped into gimmicky ploys. I’ve learned the importance of viewing professional practices such as these through a critical lens, thanks to Ask a Manager. I wish I could have participated more in this discussion, but I just got home from my work day. Thank you all again!

  22. Alex*

    Don’t worry, career advisers give lots of bad information about LinkedIn too. The majority of my law school had basically this conversation with our various advisers:

    Student: So, I’m thinking that {insert area of law here} would be a great field of practice but I’m not sure the best way to break in.
    Adviser: Have you tried LinkedIn?

    Student: There are so few paid internships listed on the school’s jobsite. Any recommendations for where I could look?
    Adviser: Have you tried LinkedIn?

    So many questions were answered/avoided with “Have you tried LinkedIn?” that suggesting a website sounds almost proactive.

  23. Jennifer M.*

    I have a cousin and a few friends who have websites not for today but for that future date when they might start their own business so they are staking out the domain names. My cousin used his for a while to advertise a condo that he was renting out and to curate some family photos.

  24. anonymous*

    I don’t see the difference between these “branding websites” and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is just an online resume. Why is everyone so in love with LinkedIn?

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