SmugMug Review

11 min read

What is SmugMug?

SmugMug is a website builder aimed at photographers.  It uses a grid canvas where content blocks can "stick" to. You can drag a block of content and drop it in a certain area of the canvas.
Content Blocks

SmugMug has the following content blocks:

  • Galleries
  • Photos
  • Navigation
  • Video
  • Design
  • Text
  • Social
  • Discovery (Search Box, Keyword Cloud, Map)
  • Services (Google Calendar, Google Translate, AdSense)

Other than the above content blocks, you can add HTML & CSS content blocks. This, however, requires knowledge of coding. It is limited to a content block, as it will not change your website layout.
Canvas
SmugMug is a grid canvas website builder. It means a block of content "sticks" to a certain area. Unlike a blank canvas website builder, where you can drag & drop content blocks anywhere you like.
Templates
With a basic plan, you have access to just one template. SmugMug does offer 21+ templates, but this requires an upgrade to the Power plan.
Themes
A basic plan does have 20+ themes. You basically have access to just one layout, but 20+ color & font variations.
Custom Templates
SmugMug claims you can have custom templates. You can not buy off the shelf templates and install them. This requires hiring a developer who will log in and adjust the layout to your liking. Or getting dirty coding, if that's your thing.
Pricing
SmugMug offers 4 plans
SmugMug offers 4 monthly plans, Basic $6, Power $9, Portfolio $14, Business $42. The jump between the first 3 plans are reasonable, but the jump from Portfolio and Business is a whopping $28!

Basic $6

The basic package not suitable for a portfolio. It lacks brand building capabilities. While you get an unbranded website, you cannot connect a custom domain. Either one you purchase elsewhere or via SmugMug.

You also cannot use SmugMug as a safe cloud storage for your photographs. It does allow unlimited uploading of JPEG, GIF, and PNG files but not RAW files.

When it comes to personalizing your website, a Basic plan is also very limited. You can choose themes but no templates. This is just one layout with fixed content blocks and you can change colors and fonts. But the layout remains the same.

Power $9

The power plan is not a very big jump from the Basic. It allows you to connect a custom domain. And you get access to 21+ Templates. SmugMug claims you can make custom templates, but this requires hand coding or hiring a developer (see custom templates above)
Foundation
- portfolio
Using SmugMug as your online portfolio requires the Power plan, which is $9/month. The Basic plan does not allow connecting your own domain. You do get an unbranded website, but the biggest brand asset you have is a domain name.

- store

A store starts at $24/month. It lacks a lot of much-needed component for running a successful e-commerce store. You can sell both digital and physical products.

-- Digital Sale

A digital sale is very easy. A visitor adds pictures to the cart, checks out, pays and downloads the image. You can sell digital pictures along with license agreements in various sizes. From 1MP to Full Resolution.

All selling happens within your shop, called white-label checkout. Your visitor never leaves your webpage, for example to a banks website, to pay. At a price point of $24/month, this is not a feature, but an expectation.

On top of the monthly fee, you pay 15% for each order! For selling digital! This is the highest sales fee with any website builder. On top of that, if the order is less than $10, you're also charged with $0.50.

  • Order less than $10: 15% + $0.50
  • Order more than $10: 15%

To put it in comparison: Shopify charges: 2.9% + $0.30, Weebly charges: 0%. Let's say you sell a digital image at $1.00. This is what you earn:

  • SmugMug: ($1 - 15%) - $0.50 = $0.35
  • Shopify: ($1 - 2.9%) - $0.30 = $0.68
  • Weebly: ($1 - 0%) - $0.00 = $1.00

When you want to sell (specialized) stock photography, as we all know, the competition is so fierce, you might need to compete on price. While we don't recommend stock photography platforms, such as gettyimages.com, you're still better off than going with anything than SmugMug.

On top of all that, the monthly fee and sales fees, you also lack access to coupons and custom pricing, both require the business plan for $48/month. Coupons and custom pricing are upselling.

And to make it even worse, 75% of customers leave their cart behind. This is just the reality of e-commerce. One marketing tactic to get them back is Abandon Cart mails, which is sent out after a few days, reminding them about a cart they left behind.

-- Physical Sale

It's possible to sell physical photographic products with SmugMug. Like digital sale, you get a white-label checkout and pay the 15% sales fee on each order. Plus $0.50 if the order is below $10.
--- Products

1000+ products from selected companies. The companies are Bay Photo, WHCC, EZPrints, and Loxley (UK). With those companies, you cover North America and European markets.

--- Shopping Cart

White-label, meaning an end-to-end customer experience. Your client never leaves your website.
--- Check Out

Checkout is also white-label. One thing that is missing is the requirement for Abandon Cart Emails and that is requesting a potential customers email, right at the beginning of the checkout process.
--- Payment Gateways

Customers can pay with PayPal and Credit Cards. This doesn't necessarily mean it's limiting. It depends on the market you're serving.
--- Currency

As usual, customers can pay in currencies supported by PayPal. It's unclear which payment gateway is used for processing credit cards. However, SmugMug mentions USD, CAD, GBP, EUR, AUD, JPY, CHF, NZD, SEK, and HKD. That should give you an idea of the markets you can serve.
--- Fulfillment

Order fulfillment can only be done with the connected labs. It's not possible to do self-fulfillment. Even if it would be possible, you still pay the 15% sales fees.
--- Shipping

The choice to choose a shipment company is very limited to US Postal Service. The odd thing about this is when a customer is located in Europe, and they offer Loxley (UK) as a fulfillment company, your customer still can only use US Postal Service.

This is because when you sell pictures, you need to choose which company has to fulfill it. In a way, if you want to cover both North America and Europe, you need to make 2 price lists. This is just confusing for your potential clients.
- Domain name

SmugMug has subdomains like most website builders. You get a YOURNAME.smugmug.com. They do not offer Free Domains, which is an incentive some builders offer if you purchase annually. SmugMug does offer paid domains, essentially reselling GoDaddy domains. Connecting your custom domain, purchased else is possible, starting with the Pro plan for $9/month.

Buying a domain at SmugMug is not recommended. They resell domains from GoDaddy. This is not a bad thing necessarily. It's purely done form convenience. You do pay for that comfort. Furthermore, the selection for vanity domains for photographers is either limited and expensive.

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Perks

SmugMug does mention perks, but it remains unclear what exactly those are. I assume it's just one-time discounts you could get anywhere. In comparison, Zenfolio is clear about the perks and even purchasing the Basic plan of Zenfolio could save you $404/year on Royalty free music.

Extra
- Bookings

SmugMug does not offer any ways to do bookings. One way around it is to offer your sessions as a "digital download" and have customers book and pay that way. Keep in mind the 15% sales fee applies while you're out there doing your job.

- Proofing

SmugMug lacks proofing. In fact, they do use the word "proof" and "proof delay", but this is definitely not client proofing. It's a very subtle way of SmugMug to fool potential customers to get them in the door.
- Client Delivery

SmugMug does have client delivery. By making a gallery private and password protected you can do client delivery.
- Invoice

Sometimes you need to charge a customer for work that is not within your most used services. An invoice generator comes in handy in those cases. SmugMug doesn't offer this.
- Contracts

With the lack of booking, client proofing, an invoice, it's obvious that SmugMug is not for freelance photographers and studios. So it also doesn't have contract capabilities.
Behind the Scene
- Storage

Some builders (in the past) were glorified online storage. SmugMug is not different, as it allows unlimited uploads. But it is limited to standard web images, such as JPEG, PNG and GIF. You cannot upload RAW or TIFF.

They also allow uploading video's to be used on your website. However, this is a very simple system. YouTube and Vimeo are far more superior in this regard. SmugMug does allow embedding, much like any website builder.
- Pagespeed

Page speed reveals the expertise that goes into making a platform for us photographers to showcase our work. While all this is very technical and not worth our time to learn, page speed is very important for SEO and our brand building. Nobody likes to wait for a slow loading website.

Page Speed is measured using two factors: Time to First Byte which is how fast does a user see something when visiting your website without any interaction. And Full Load Time, when the user starts to scroll, swipe and click.

For SmugMug the page speed is:

  • Time to first Byte: 0.7 sec
  • Full Load Time: 9.2 sec

The user experience this type of Page Speed as a crashed website. They get to see something quickly, but then it takes forever before they can scroll the page. Usually, the user is gone within 3 sec. thinking it's a non-working website.

Much of the Full Load Time can be fixed by optimizing the images. This can be done by the user, but considering SmugMug is made for photographers, they should take the blame and fix it.

On top of very slow load times, a research reveals SmugMug is using Amazon AWS network to serve user website. Considering Amazon AWS is one of the fastest networks out there for developers, it doesn't make sense to have website taking almost 10 sec. to load.
Marketing

SEO and Social are in working order, much like any other website builder. Email, on the other hand, is lacking. You can use an HTML & CSS content block and add the code any mailing-list platform gives you, such as MailChimp.

One complaint is that this should be done as easy as possible, without digging in code. Much like the way you can add Google Analytics and StatCounter to your SmugMug website.
Advertising

SmugMug doesn't offer ways to advertise on Facebook. It also doesn't offer any incentive to advertise on Google or Bing.
Integrations

Google Analytics and StatCounter can both be used by just adding the Web Property ID they give you. Other integration, if possible, can be added by using an HTML & CSS content blocks.
Payment Terms

You can pay monthly and annually. When choosing annually, you save around 30%.

Beyond the website

While a website is the first and last touchpoint of your brand, it doesn’t stop there. Behind the scenes, you also need to use tools to complete the experience a user started on your website.

CRM

Customer Relations Management is vital when dealing with clients. CRM is a special type of platform. Its focus is on customer retention and driving sales (growth). This is what mid- and large size businesses use to gain competitive advantages. CRM gathers data from various channels, such as a website, telephone and, email. You can understand your clients’ needs and cater to their needs.

Zenfolio doesn't have a proper CRM. You cannot follow a clients journey from awareness to a sale. But, almost no builder offers this. It's best to seek a third party service for this.


Should I use SmugMug?

No. SmugMug fails at every fundamental need for us photographers:

Personal storage: RAW and TIFF are not allowed.

Portfolio: starts at $9/month

Store: starts at $24/month, 15% sales fees, limited fulfillment companies and to cover the majority of the markets you need to duplicate your products /pricing causing confusion for your visitors.

Behind the scenes are not great either, of which page speed is seriously worrying. Almost 10 sec. loading time and no image optimization reveals a lack of expertise needed for online image processing. This is something SmugMug should be good at, considering their market is photographers.

Why should you use SmugMug for?

While as a website builder SmugMug underperforms, you can still use it for some other features: SmugMug App for both iOS and Android. But our recommendation is for iOS because of Apple TV.

If you need a way to showcase your pictures on a large screen, like you often see in a window store of fortune 500 company lobby, you can use SmugMug iOS app for that! At a price point of just $6/month or $4/month, if you pay annually, you can have a professional grade showcase piece in your gallery or home. (TV not included!)

Much like Zenfolio, where the builder seriously underperforms, you can still purchase a subscription to get access to 17000+ royalty free music for just $17/month, instead of $50, saving you $404/year!