Online SearchSo how does SmugMug shape up after the release of the “New SmugMug” on July 30, 2013? Well, the real answer depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your photography web site.

If you’re a photographer looking for a solid eCommerce driven solution with easy to use page design tools, then I highly recommend the New SmugMug*.

If you’re looking for a photography hosting solution capable of generating more visitors via search and SEO then SmugMug is NOT a great choice, at least not the current “out-of-the-box” variety.

A Little History
I’ve written a handful of articles about SmugMug vs Zenfolio in the past and have solid experience with both. In short, I started out with SmugMug, then moved to Zenfolio, but ended up going back to SmugMug because of my disappointment with Zenfolio’s SEO implementation (read more at “Zenfolio vs SmugMug – SEO“)

My Switch to SmugMug
I made the switch back to SmugMug on Jul 20, 2013 for SEO reasons, but as my luck would have it, ten days later the “New SmugMug” platform was launched.

This new platform was a total code rewrite and revamp that included new page design tools and templates. It also incorporated “responsive design” which is critical in the growing mobile device world. I was initially excited about the new “drag and drop” page design tools in SmugMug and found them to be much easier to use than the older version of SmugMug or Zenfolio.

The Downside to New SmugMug
Unfortunately, I have found “New SmugMug” to be very poor in terms of generating search traffic. In fact, I would say that the new SmugMug platform is about on par with Zenfolio when it comes to SEO and search ranking capabilities.

What am I basing this on? I base this on Google Analytics reporting, more specifically the Acquisition reports which shows how much traffic is reaching my site through various inbound channels, including “Organic Search”.

Why the Search Ranking Difference?
If I look under the hood at the underlying page code, what I’m finding in “New SmugMug” is that it now utilizes much more Javascript and HTML5 coding than the old version. Typically this would be a good thing when it comes to creating a search friendly web site. The issue is that the SmugMug team has not implemented the search friendly solution correctly.

The biggest SEO issue with the new SmugMug platform is that most of the site navigation links are embedded within Javascript code. Search bots have historically had a difficult time seeing and following links embedded within code object. Yes, the bots are getting better at recognizing embedded links like this, but it appears they can only translate a fraction of these links. It all depends on the “elegance” of the code though.

Ironically, SmugMug recognized this as an issue early on in their testing (see http://sorcery.smugmug.com/2013/12/17/using-phantomjs-at-scale/ – first paragraph). In this post they stated, “We had a problem; SEO is critical for our customers and search engines couldn’t index the new site.” Unfortunately this still seems to be an issue for “New SmugMug” because all of the crucial navigation links remain embedded in Javascript.

Changes I’ve Made So Far
To try to get more search traffic to my site, I initially added as much text and keywords to my galleries and images as possible. Unfortunately this did not help my search visibility.

What I finally decided to do was to move my SmugMug gallery to a sub-domain and use my www site (in WordPress) to create my own home page and then deep link into my photography gallery via traditional HTML based links.

This was a fairly involved process. It involved moving my SmugMug site. What I did was move my photography gallery from:
https://www.chipjonesphotography.com
to:
http://gallery.chipjonesphotography.com

I then reconfigured my content site (blog.chipjonesphotography.com) so that it became my primary web site (at www.chipjonesphotography.com). All of this required a well thought out strategy that included several 301 redirects and careful planning (for all you techies).

This new site architecture provides me with much more control over how my site appears to the search engines. The biggest advantage is that I can now use standard HTML links to point to my galleries and photographs. This is much easier for the search bots to follow and crawl.

The Results?
The changes I made were completed about three weeks ago and the results are still coming in. What I am seeing since this change is that the Google search bot has been able to crawl and index about twice as many of my gallery links.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all of these links will show up in the search engine results page. It does mean that the Google has now indexed about twice as many links than before. This gives me at least a fighting chance to improve my search visibility.

Conclusion
This is a high level overview of the changes I made to improve search visibility, but there are other ways to do the same. For example, you could use the HTML widget within SmugMug to create your own HTML based menu. I simply wanted a more flexible solution and decided to go down a different path.

Naturally, if you’d like some feedback or help on improving your search engine visibility, please contact me. If someone at SmugMug is looking for a solution to this issue, I have one in the back of my pocket ;-).

I’ll post a follow-up regarding these changes in about 3-6 months to let everyone know how this worked out. Based on what I’ve seen so far though, I’m fairly confident that this new approach will generate more organic search traffic to my photography galleries.

*If this information is 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

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