Zenfolio vs. SmugMug – 3 Months Later

Zenfolio-SmugMugIn October 2012 I decided to move the hosting of my web site, www.chipjonesphotography.com from SmugMug to  Zenfolio. These are two highly regarded web site hosting providers for professional photographers.

It’s now been about three months since I made the move and I thought I’d share a few more insights and experiences I’ve had since making this change. (note: for insight into why I made this move, check out my prior post on this titled Zenfolio vs. SmugMug).

[NOTE: This review was published before the release of SmugMug's new page design tool which was launched on July 30, 2013]

Overall I’m fairly pleased with Zenfolio. It’s been easier to setup and manage than SmugMug. Zenfolio’s online help has also been enough to get my site online without much issue.

In fact, I think I’ve only had to reach out to their customer support team once since October, a little detail that does not go unrecognized. SmugMug has excellent customer support, but I’ve found less of a need for support with Zenfolio because it’s an easier platform to get set up on and manage.

What basically makes Zenfolio so much easier is the fact that there’s less need to customize than there is on SmugMug. For example, on SmugMug if I wanted to place a slide show on my home page I was required to add customized code to do so (this has been updated by now). In addition, if I wanted to have a drop-down navigation menu on my site, I had to add code that could do that. With Zenfolio these features come out-of-the-box.

Although SmugMug provides more options for page customization, this can be a challenge for creative types who want a more personalized web site. The limited customization in Zenfolio has worked out just fine for me because I prefer simpler designs that can highlight my photography more. You can do some basic customization with Zenfolio (header banner, colors, background image, font styles, etc.) but the solution that Zenfolio provides is pretty basic from a design perspective.

The one major downside I’ve found with Zenfolio is in their search engine optimization (SEO) implementation. For those not familiar with this, SEO allows more people to find your images via search engines like Google, Bing, etc. Having a search optimized site will drive more search traffic to your site. Zenfolio provides detailed instructions on what you need to do for SEO, but they are missing one big element… their SEO own implementation.

After being with Zenfolio for three months, I’ve found that the variety of keywords driving traffic to my web site has dropped significantly compared to the search traffic I was getting thru SmugMug. In fact, I now have more photographs on my web site, BUT the number of URLs indexed by Google has dropped more than 50% since moving to Zenfolio.

One primary reason for this decrease is because Zenfolio doesn’t correctly make use of tagged and hyper-linked keywords associated with each image. In fact, I’ve found that only one of their templates displays tagged keywords, BUT they’re not visible to the search engines. They are also not linked to any other page (like a search results page). This later aspect is the largest shortcoming in the Zenfolio SEO offering.

SmugMug does a much better job with utilizing tagged photographs (sometimes called “tag clouds”) for search engine optimization and it makes a big difference in terms of driving new visitors to your web site.

While this last issue may be enough to lure me back to SmugMug, for now I’m quite happy with Zenfolio and am staying put. If you have any feedback or other insights about SmugMug or Zenfolio that you’d like to share here, please post below.

NOTE: For a more in depth overview of the SEO differences I’ve found with Zenfolio over the past four months, be sure to read my post Zenfolio vs SmugMug – SEO. If you find this information helpful and you’d like to sign-up for a SmugMug account, please use my referral link. You’ll receive a discount on your membership and I’ll get a small referral fee. It would be greatly appreciated. The link is:
https://secure.smugmug.com/signup?Coupon=JOSPqyLUcJ1Ew

10 Comments. Leave new

Good article with useful info
I’m a current smugmug user and amateur photographer who is looking for an alternative. I’ve considered zenfolio but given your search optimization experience I probably won’t use them.
Have you looked at SquareSpace at all?

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Thanks. No, I haven’t looked at (or even heard of) SquareSpace. I see that they recently formed a partnership with SmugMug (see https://blog.squarespace.com/blog/smugmug). May be worth a look…

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Nice article. I don’t know much about SEO, so thanks for covering that. My biggest problem with SmugMug is that it doesn’t have the vendors that I want. I think SmugMug is more customizable just like what you wrote. You don’t get to mess with any html or the like with Zenfolio which can be downer for some because Zenfolio’s designs are basic. Their designs are NICE and OKAY but basic.

I just tried Zenfolio again a week ago and decided to finally get a subscription. All in all I’m pleased with only minor issues. One thing to note for people who are considering going with Zenfolio, setting up pricing and packages can be daunting for a new user. I’ve also read that SmugMug’s admin menus can be a little convoluted. [promotional code removed]

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Chip, thanks for updating your experience. I’m currently a “Smuggie” (3 years) and now eyeing my options. I want simple interface with deep options and Zen looks to be the ticket. I just sat through a recorded webinar on customizing a Zen website and I like the layout. More up to date code vs the shell laid over the SM legacy code.

Thanks again.

Kerry

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Steve Nichols
May 12, 2013 6:37 pm

I’m new to this, but could you elaborate on; “Zenfolio provides detailed instructions on what you need to do for SEO, but they are missing one big element in their implementation.” What is the big element?

Thanks,

Steve

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Steve, this gets into a technical area, but the biggest element that Zenfolio is missing (when it comes to on-page SEO) is that they don’t utilize hyper-linked keyword tags. In addition, they don’t provide a hyper-linked tag cloud element like SmugMug does.

These two elements alone provide more opportunity for the search bots to associate specific keywords with specific images. The bottom line is that If you want a site that ranks well on Google or Bing, then go for SmugMug. If you don’t care about search rankings, and use other ways to promote your online portfolio (Facebook, Twitter, print media, etc), then this isn’t really a concern. Hope this helps.

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Where are you hosting now? Any more thoughts you want to add since SmugMug updated their interface? I’ve moved back to SmugMug from Zenfolio, but still weighing my options since Zenfolio has told us they have some upgrades coming soon. Wish I knew what is planned and when. Both my accounts renew soon and I’d like to settle in for good somewhere.

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Collen, I’m now back with SmugMug, as mentioned in my post “Zenfolio vs. SmugMug – 8 Months Later“.

I liked several features in Zenfolio, but not their SEO implementation. Making sure that my photographs can be found via search is very important to me… maybe this will improve in the newest Zenfolio update (?).

In regard to the latest SmugMug design tool, I’m waiting a bit before migrating my “legacy” design over to the newer version. On first glance though, it seems that the new design tool is much easier to use than the previous one.

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Thanks for sharing all the great info. I am currently looking into this so it is very helpful. I am also considering Photo Shelter. I know it is more expensive but am considering it anyway. Have you looked at them at all?

thanks again,
Amy

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Amy, I tried Photo Shelter briefly about a year ago, but didn’t spend enough time with it to form a conclusion. The one thing I really like about Photo Shelter is that they seem to have good customer support. They also provide really useful marketing information. I would definitely give them a close look.

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