In 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.