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SmugMug Review 2018 (A Rollercoaster of a Ride!)

I’m so glad you could join me today…

You see, I’ve been reviewing general website builders for quite some time now but SmugMug is my first specialist photography platform and I’m kinda excited!

I’ve heard many good things about them along the way and after hearing the recent news of them acquiring photo storage site Flickr, I couldn’t put it off any longer.

An example website I created using SmugMug. The site is called "Photography In The Rain" and consists of people, landmarks, and nature shots all taken in the rain

My Test Photography Site Created With SmugMug

With that said, I’m itching to get started so let’s jump straight in.

Disclosure: To be completely upfront, I’ll be compensated if you sign-up using the links below. My top priority is, and always will be to help you and my opinions/recommendations will never be swayed by a potential commision.

Website Builder Wars Rating:  4.0 out of 5.0

The Pros;

  • Unlimited photo storage.
  • You control the level of privacy and security over your work.
  • Customizable templates for both beginners and advanced users.
  • Client proofing – Allow clients to choose their favorite shots.
  • Sell downloadable digital prints and videos directly from your site.
  • Sell physical photo books, wall art, and gifts.
  • Edit your website from your mobile phone or tablet.
  • Seamless integration with your favorite social media channels.

The Cons;

  • Some aspects of creating your site are more confusing than they should be.
  • No official blogging platform although there is a workaround.
  • No way to add ALT tags to images (not great for search engines or website visitors who are visually impaired).

Free website option? 14-day free trial

Premium Plans: $3.99 – $29.99/month (annual plan, billed upfront). Monthly plans also available.

Recommendation: If you just want somewhere safe to store your personal photos, then it’s worth knowing that Flickr (recently acquired by SmugMug) offers 1TB of storage for free.

However, if you’re a professional photographer looking to create a portfolio and showcase or sell your work, SmugMug is a fantastic option. Just bear in mind it does come with a slight learning curve but the same can be said for any platform.

Ready To Get Started? Click here to try SmugMug for free!

Full Review Outline

1. Getting Started With SmugMug

When you head over to SmugMug, you’ll need to enter your name, email address, create a password, and decide whether you would like to sell photos either now or in the future.

If you’re not sure, simply choose that option. As soon as you’ve created your account, you’re 14-day free trial will begin.

Once inside, hit the big green “Let’s Go” button and there’s a two-step walkthrough to help you get up and running as quickly as possible.

The first screen after creating your account prompting you to click the green button to get started

Step 1) Upload your images; You don’t have to add them all know, but you’ll need to upload at least one to move onto the next step.

A screen asking you to upload at least one image before you can continue

Upload Images(s) To Get Started

You can upload photos from your desktop, Amazon Drive, Flickr, DropBox, Adobe Lightroom, or using the IOS and Android apps for your phone.

Step 2) Create a gallery; The next step is to create a new gallery for the image(s) that you just uploaded. Don’t worry too much as you can always change it later.

Step 2 requires you to add a name to your first gallery and choose to make it public or private

Name Your First Gallery

Once you’re done, you’ll head over to the main website editor and you’ll start out using the default SmugMug template which can easily be changed as you’ll discover in the following section.

2. Design Templates – Good Quality & Customizable

Once inside the main editor, find the “Customize” option in the menu at the top of the screen and a drop-down menu will appear. Click the “Choose a new site design” option as you can see in the image below;

One of two main menus. The one at the top of the screen allows you to begin customizing your website

You’ll then be presented with 26 designs to choose from.

At first, I was a little disappointed to see so few but that soon melted away when I saw they were of a high-quality and very customizable to boot. Besides, if you get bored, you can change it anytime you fancy!

Two Photography Related Templates

A Taster of SmugMug’s Designs

If you’re comfortable with HTML and CSS then you’ll be pleased to hear you’ll have full access to make advanced customizations.

For the beginners amongst us (the majority of readers), you’ll also be pleased to hear that the templates are also customizable on the front end too.

You can add background images, colors, textures, as well as changing the layouts of your galleries and image sizes.

With just a few minutes work, your website could look almost unrecognizable from the original design.

3. Ease of Use – Not as Intuitive as I’d Hoped

I started out creating my test site with a big (probably silly looking) smile on my face as I was pleased with how easy it was to make changes to my chosen template.

To start customizing your site, simply click the “customize” button in the top menu bar and a new menu will appear on the right-hand side of the page.

The Main Menu On The Right Hand Sid of The Page Wich Contains The Design Tools and Settings

SmugMug Makes Customizing Your Site Fun

This is where you’ll find the majority of the tools & settings and for the most part, they’re a piece of cake to figure out.

Some of the options include;

  • Changing the colors of your site.
  • Upload a logo.
  • Use an image or pattern as a background.
  • Add content blocks to the page such as photos, video, galleries, text, and social media icons.
  • Alter the design layout.

For me, the confusion started when I tried to reposition the three main galleries on my homepage and it took me almost twenty minutes to figure it out!

Then, when I had to consult the support tutorials for a second time as I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to add a simple contact form to my site, I realized that SmugMug isn’t quite as intuitive as I first thought.

Yeah, I know, that’s why the written and video tutorials are there for to teach you how to use the platform right?

I can’t help but think that certain tasks are a little more complicated than they really should be.

Luckily, these are the types of things that you’ll only need to do once and then you can get back to the important stuff such as showcasing your beautiful pictures.

4. Mobile-Friendly – No Additional Effort Required

In the image below, you’ll see how my test photography site appears on a smartphone;

A snapshot of how my test site looks on a mobile phone.

How My Test Site Would Look On a Smartphone

Pretty good right? And the best part is, I didn’t have to do any extra work to achieve it. I just created my main site and let SmugMug take care of the rest.

One thing that I did find a little odd is that there isn’t a way to preview how your site will look without actually whipping out your phone or tablet and physically typing in the website address.

5. Tools & Features – Everything’s Here Waiting For You (Almost)

Rest assured, SmugMug has the features you’d expect such as seamless social media integration, a search box making it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for, a contact form, and a hit counter for each photo or video on your site.

Let’s go and take a look at some other essential features of any good photography platform to see how SmugMug stacks up;

Uploads & storage space

This isn’t something you’ll need to worry about as you’ll have unlimited cloud-based storage regardless of which plan you choose (nice work guys)!

A breakdown of the Basic plan showing unlimited photo uploads

Unlimited Photo Uploads Even On The Cheapest Plan

Privacy and security

When it comes to protecting your memories or work, you’re in control.

You own the full copyright to your images (as you’d expect), you can add watermarks and disable the right-click feature to help prevent people from stealing your shots.

Privacy Settings For an Individual Gallery

Privacy Settings For an Individual Gallery

You’ll have the option to password protect your whole site, certain galleries, and sleep easy knowing that everything is backed up in the Cloud.

If you wish, you can block your site from being found in search engines such as Google and Bing.

Client proofing

Quickly create a new event and give it a name, for example, “Lee’s Wedding”. From there, choose a memorable URL such as (yourwebsite.com/lees-wedding) and send the link over to your clients.

They’ll be able to login, browse the shots, and mark their favorites which will then be added to a new gallery.

A wedding photo that has been added to the "favorite" gallery

SmugMug Allows Your Clients To Select Their Favorite Images With a Single Click

Note: You’ll need to be on the top plan to access this feature (more on pricing further down).

Photo editor

Click on any image and edit using the powerful PickMonkey integration. You won’t even need to create to create an account to start using it.

Editing a photo of a flower using the Pickmonkey integration

PickMonkey Is Fully Integrated With SmugMug

There is a basic native editor which allows you to crop images, and add watermarks etc but when I saw PickMonkey, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s easy to get the hang of and packed full of features.

Blogging

Personally, I believe blogging is an important part of just about any site these days. It allows you to get the word out about your product or service, show off your latest work, and promote your website.

Unfortunately, SmugMug doesn’t have a blogging platform as such. There is a workaround involving creating a folder, and adding a new page for each blog post but honestly, it’s far from ideal.

Search Engines (SEO)

Another featured which started out well but left me feeling a little disappointed.

You can help the search engines such as Google understand your website by giving relevant titles to your pages as well as a full description. You can customize individual page URL’s and a sitemap will be created which can then be submitted.

But when it comes to your images, you can only add image titles and captions.

There isn’t a way to add ALT text which is an explanation of the photo as search engines can’t read images. It’s also critical for any visitors who are visually impaired.

Optimizing an image for the search engines including title, caption and keywords

Add Descriptive Titles & Captions To Your Images

I did see a user ask this question on the forum and a member of the team explained that search engines would use the captions instead.

That’s all well and good assuming that you want to use a caption below every image.

Again, like the blog, it isn’t an ideal way of doing things and I wrongly assumed ALT text would be a standard feature for a photography site (I really must stop assuming!).

Selling Prints & Products

I have to say, I was very impressed with SugMugs eCommerce tools.

With any premium plan, you can sell prints, albums, and novelty gifts such as keyrings, fridge magnets, and mugs. All of which will be fulfilled by one of the print labs mentioned below;

With the Portfolio plan, you can easily begin selling digital copies of your photos, framed prints, or even videos. Your visitors can browse your galleries where they’ll find a “Buy” button next to each of your images.

Green Buy button underneath each image

Once purchased, the orders are fulfilled by a US or UK print lab such as Loxley, Bay Photo, EZprints, or WHCC.

You’re in full control of setting the prices across your site and you’ll retain 85% of the sale with the remaining 15% going to SmugMug.

6. Help, Support & Training

The first thing to note here is the comprehensive support center which is packed with easy to follow tutorials covering just about every aspect of creating and managing your site.

SmugMug’s Comprehensive Support Center

If you prefer, they have videos available over on their Youtube channel. I also recently received an email from the customer support team notifying me of an upcoming webinar which they hold regularly.

To speak to a member of the team, you can get in touch via email. Power, Portfolio, and Business users also have access to live chat Mon-Fri 9am-8pm EST.

As usual, I tested the email support and received a reply from a friendly “Support Hero” who answered my question in just over an hour so I really can’t complain!

7. What Do Others Think?

You’re around 2,000 words deep into this review at this point, so let’s change things up for a minute and see what other people think of SmugMug, shall we?

Spencer from Photography Life scores SmugMug a 4.6/5.0 after recently making the switch from Zenfolio.

When it comes to customer reviews (past and present), they tend to vary which is usually the case.

What people liked: The unlimited storage or high-resolution images, very little website downtime, reasonable pricing, customization options, and the fast and friendly support teams.

What people didn’t like: I noticed a few people mention that they’d like to see more templates, the website editor can be a little slow when moving & organizing images, feels a little clumsy at times, and someone else found the learning curve a little steep.

Note: Reviews correct as of 27/04/2018.

8. Pricing – Which Plan Is Right For You?

While SmugMug doesn’t offer a free plan, you will have a full 14-day free trial to test things out before deciding whether to continue with your site.

If after the two weeks you wish to carry on, you can choose between one of the four premium plans as you can see below;

An overview of the premium plan showing prices of $3.99/month, $5.99/month, $14.99/month and $29.99/month respectively for an annual plan billed upfront.

Choose The Plan That Suits You Best

Plan 1) Basic – Best for personal use.

Restrictions: You’ll only have access to a limited number of templates and you’re free web address will contain the SmugMug branding (For example, yourphotographysite.smugmug.com).

Highlights: Unlimited uploads, Cloud-based storage, password protection, social media integration, sell prints, photo albums, and novelty gifts.

  • $3.99/month (annual plan, billed upfront).
  • $5.99/month (month-to-month)

Plan 2) Power – Best for a little more control over your site.

Highlights: All of the above with access to all of the templates and the option to use a custom domain name. You’ll be able to stop people right-clicking and saving your images, create private galleries to share with clients, and access your site’s code for advanced customizations.

  • $5.99/month (annual plan, billed upfront)
  • $8.99/month (month-to-month)

Plan 3) Portfolio – Best if you’re ready to start selling.

Highlights: All of the above with the ability to watermark your images, and sell digital prints and videos.

  • $14.99/month (annual plan, billed upfront)
  • $23.99/month (month-to-month)

Plan 4) Business – Best for established photography businesses

Highlights: All of the above with client proofing, create custom price lists & coupons, and add your branding to client orders with the option of gift wrapping.

  • $29.99/month (annual plan, billed upfront)
  • $41.99/month (month to month)

9. Final Verdict – Is SmugMug Right For You?

My time with SmugMug was certainly a roller coaster of a journey!

One minute I loved it, the next, I’d find myself frustrated as I was having to refer to the tutorials to accomplish what should be the simplest of tasks (such as adding a contact form).

Also, the lack of a real blogging platform and the fact that you can’t use ALT text for your images does bother me.

But if you’re prepared to look past these things then SmugMug has everything else you need to store, showcase, and sell your beautiful photos all under one roof.

Click here to start your 14-day free trial.

Do you have any questions about SmugMug? Maybe you’ve used them yourself and you’d like to share your experiences?

If so, get in touch using the comments section below and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours!

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