In this SmugMug review, I will go through all the important details you should consider before purchasing any of its plans. I will also talk about the possibilities it offers to sell your photos and scale your photography business online.
Every artist wants to show their work to a wide audience and the best place to do so is the internet. Yet first, you need a platform to present your work with. And one of the best choices for that is the SmugMug website builder, which focuses on letting you setup beautiful galleries filled with your paintings and photographs.
With its easy set-up, beautiful portfolio templates, and numerous eCommerce features, SmugMug can become a great first step when trying to start an online shop of your artwork. Actually, it took me less than three hours to build and customize my website, and upload a few galleries.
First of all, we will tackle the content.
Filling your website with content becomes even easier as you can upload directly from Flickr, Dropbox, Amazon Drive, and Lightroom.
Moving forward, you can download SmugMug as a Lightroom plugin or even an iOS and Android app, so you can use it on your phone or smart device if your laptop dies while going from one photoshoot to the next.
Now that your website has something to show, the next concern is security and copyright.
When posting your work online, there is always a concern for having it stolen from you. SmugMug takes care of this by letting you set a password for your galleries, set personalized watermarks, and even shield your photos from right-click downloading.
Just imagine some guy wanting to use your art that you made with hard work just to be greeted by a message “Don’t even try...” as he right-clicks to download a photo for free.
Now that your work is safe from unlicensed use, you can easily start selling it. For that, you have a plethora of comprehensive eCommerce features.
You have multiple choices in what form do you want to sell your work. Among those choices are paper prints and wall art.
If you are a newcomer to profiting from your work online and still unsure about what pricing to use, there are pre-set pricelists at your disposal. The prices there are competitive and fair, so you don’t have to worry about overcharging.
Does it mean that SmugMug is only useful to professionals looking to sell their photos or drawings? Absolutely not.
SmugMug has portfolio templates, and if you want to promote the creative work you do, this is a great platform.
However, no good thing is free, so…
SmugMug has no free plan, so this is not the best solution if you just want to store your work online. Yet, don’t fret about trying it out, because you can do just so with a 14-day free trial that does not require your credit card information.
Now, let’s dive deeper in everything SmugMug has to provide.
SmugMug offers its users affordable mid-range pricing. The cheapest one starts at $8.47/month and it goes all the way to $50.81/month. However, the website strongly advertises yearly billing. SmugMug shows you yearly plan prices by default as soon as you open up the pricing page.
However, like many other paid website builders it also has a 14-day free trial of its Pro plan. This is absolutely enough to build a complete portfolio and experiment with the platform’s tools and features.
All of the available plans offer some great features:
Moving further on, let’s take an in-depth look at following four paid plans:
SmugMug starts off with the Basic plan, which costs $8.47/month or $67/year when billed annually. This is a good choice for enthusiasts and beginners that want to have a secure place for their photos.
With the Basic plan, you get unlimited bandwidth and photo/video uploads. So, you can easily present the creations of your passion to a wide audience and store them.
However, as this is only the Basic plan, there are limitations. You can’t add a custom domain. This is a huge disadvantage if you want to attach your name to a professional website filled with your art.
Furthermore, the customization of the Basic plan is not that flexible as you have only six templates to choose from.
At the price of $13.31/month or $103/year when paid annually, this plan differs from the Basic mainly in terms of design options. With the Power plan, you can use all of the 26 pre-made design templates or even create your own. It also allows you to use your own domain.
This plan also allows you to customize your right-click message or limit access to galleries, photos, or pages for certain people.
That said, the Power plan is ideal for visual artists in need of a good-looking portfolio. For some, though, this might seem a bit of an upsell as this is the cheapest plan that allows adding your own domain, making you pay more if you are looking to have a personalized website.
Costing $32.67/month or $242/year when billed annually, this is the plan where things get serious with SmugMug. Designed to serve professionals looking into online sales, it offers most of the useful eCommerce features this platform has to offer.
With the Portfolio plan, you can create custom pricing, select from 1000+ prints/products to sell, accept global currencies, or sell digital images and videos.
Also, it gives more freedom regarding your customers, so to speak. You can give them the option to add frames and mountings to buy with their prints.
The last plan of SmugMug comes at $50.81/month or $435/year when billed annually. This plan has everything the previous ones had. It seriously expands your capabilities when it comes to having a serious business.
True to being the most expensive plan, it also offers your customers gift-wrapped boutique packaging as an option.
And if that fancy packaging doesn’t make you look like a professional artist, I don’t know what will.
Also, you can customize the price lists for individual galleries, diversifying your price range for different products. This plan also allows you to create custom single and multi-image packages or sell with event marketing tools.
Overall with the Pro plan, you get anything that the lower-tier plans have and then some. This plan mainly focuses on increasing your branding options, ways of shipping, and marketing.
In the end, I can say that SmugMug pricing remains competitive and fair with all the features on offer for each plan. And although the highest tier plan comes off as a little bit expensive, it definitely has enough to warrant the price.
If I have to be honest, SmugMug is not an easy builder to master. It took me a while to figure out the logic behind how the platform worked.
Now, don’t jump to conclusions. SmugMug is not bad, it just could be a bit confusing when it comes to performing simple actions. Even adding new elements on the page, renaming it, or organizing your pictures in themed galleries requires jumping through multiple loops.
Despite these small hitches I still managed to customize my website in just under three hours. And if you start to really struggle, they have good Knowledgebase where you can find helpful guides.
It is really easy to navigate and the search function here works great to help you with your website building problems. If you can’t find the information you are looking for, then there is always live chat support.
Once you get accustomed to the interface, further site-building isn’t that hard. But until that point, you will be stumbling through a maze of different tabs to make changes to your website.
At first glance, you can see the tabs for Upload, Organize, Customize, and Sell on the top left corner of the builder. Once you choose which part you want to edit another menu will greet you, sometimes even redirecting to another page. So, you cant see the changes you make in real-time.
Although, not all hope is lost. One of the redeeming qualities of the builder in this SmugMug review is that it has an excellent gallery for pictures.
Uploading and organizing pictures is just a breeze. You can either upload whole folders from your computer or directly import pictures from your Flicker, Lightroom, or other media storage accounts.
By default, SmugMug creates a set of galleries ready to host your pictures and so you will have your work online in no time. Also, you can add as many galleries or folders as you need, so your works will be always neatly organized.
Overall, SmugMug is not the easiest website builder to use. Once you are done with uploading your content and want to customize your website, you get buried by a poorly streamlined interface.
Some might find SmugMug’s template design to be limited and not flexible enough to achieve their vision. Yet for others, this can be seen as a plus, because the given templates are simple, efficient, and expertly made to display your artwork.
Compared to other website builders, the number of templates SmugMug offers seems pretty scarce. With the Basic plan, you can use only six of the total 26 templates. If you want all of them, you will need to at least buy the Portfolio plan.
SmugMug templates are modern, beautiful, and made for photos specifically. What’s the use if you have 500 templates if they have cookie-cutter themes for some niche topics? these templates, although not very plentiful, hit their target audiences’ needs right on the mark.
Among SmugMug’s templates, you’ll find a balanced mixture of layouts showcasing your photos either in full-screen fashion, like a photo-blog, or in a small grid-like structure.
Now, if you just particularly like one template, you can also change the display type any time within the editor. And you can even swap out the whole template with another without losing your work or needing to start all over again. Hence the platform can suit a variety of tastes and needs.
Furthermore, all templates are mobile-friendly. Your website will look great on any screen, be it a tablet or PC. A small downside of this platform is the lack of a mobile view in edit mode. You’ll have to use your phone to check how your website looks on mobile phones and there is no possibility to edit the mobile version.
The lack of customization can be felt throughout the website builder. For example, the Basic plan doesn’t allow customizing your theme with the colors you prefer and you’ll have to go with the preset color combinations the platform offers.
To somewhat counter that, SmugMug provides a number of seasonal patterns, and texture types for themes to choose from. Yet, to be honest, the choice is not great, as they are not something exceptional and some even seem outdated.
Thankfully, the saving grace is the ability to upload photos and videos as backgrounds. Additionally, there’s a possibility to use HTML and CSS for higher customization. So you will have to pun in some work to have a unique looking website.
Continuing with the things you can change, you can add a certain number of content blocks such as title, text, photos, feeds, or social buttons. You can move them around, but the width and length cant be changed by simple dragging and you will have to manually enter the dimensions you want the element to be in.
Sadly, there are no layouts for pictures with text and even though you can add it manually to a picture, you can’t place your info anywhere you want.
As a whole, the customization possibilities of SmugMug are not very flexible.
To conclude things, I think that despite it lacking customization options, SmugMug is a great choice to quickly go online with your photography or paintings. With the way all of the layouts work, the focus is on your work and not how the website itself looks.
SmugMug is true to its principle of making your artwork the main point of attraction when it comes to its business features.
However, some want to see more diverse possibilities when it comes to marketing or social sharing. And for them, SmugMug will seem a bit too lacking.
Furthermore, SmugMug offers great tools for selling your prints online without having to deal with the printing process yourself, but you’ll have a hard time advertising your product, as marketing features are lackluster.
Let’s begin with the eCommerce features because this seems to be the most fleshed-out when it comes to business.
If SmugMug has one major selling point, well… It’s selling!
With this platform, you can sell your photos in multiple formats: online downloads, prints on gifts and cards, or by offering packages of prints that have several different photos grouped in them.
It is really easy to organize all of your listings as you have pre-made categories for varying sizes and print types. Your customers will never feel lost when they see all the neatly arranged works they can purchase.
Now, to sweeten things up, SmugMug works as a middle man between your online store and printing labs. It automatically forwards your work to them when a customer orders a print.
You won’t even have to lift a finger to your prints to the customer!
This way, you won’t ever have to do the printing yourself or worry about where to store all the materials. The sales operate with the drop-shipping method, so you never need to package and send the actual physical merchandise, saving you precious time.
Another thing to consider is that SmugMug works with Loxley for buyers based in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. All other buyers are directed to EZ Prints.
Which means you can’t choose your printing lab. For me, this is not a huge problem as it could save you time and worry around organizing your own printing and dealing with shipping.
Furthermore, you can make item packages, which include several pictures to be sold in a bundle. You can create packages for all galleries, or a gallery of your choice.
Your packages will never feel the same and dull with so many options of prints you can sell, varying from paper prints, finer can’t prints and even flat metal desk art.
SmugMug lets you choose how much profit you want to make when creating packages. It automatically adds the desired sum on top of what you will pay for the printing companies, that will provide the goods.
Now, since I have covered the prints, if you want to make a separate custom pricing list, all you have to do is just visit the “Selling” section of the menu and create a new price-list from there. Then you just decide what type and size of prints you want and set their pricing.
Although, keep in mind that global currencies are available only with the Portfolio and Pro plans. So if you plan on selling your work in other countries, you will have to purchase one of the more expensive plans.
Now, to incentivize your customers to buy, you can create Coupons, Events, and Branding. The Branding option allows you to add thank you prints, stickers, print marks, and backprints.
Although, one thing was strange, as I found no way to make a mixed bundle with downloadable content and prints. The branding options are hidden in the account settings, but this platform has a knack for sub-par user optimization.
One important thing to note is that this builder does not let you set up appointment booking options or a membership area. So, those wanting to limit user access to certain content can do so with the help of a password protected pictures and galleries.
Overall, with SmugMug’s higher-tier plans you can offer your customers a huge choice of beautiful products. And here comes the question of how are you going to spread the word about your work?
The SEO of SmugMug feels very basic. Here you can only add keywords to galleries and photos, or meta descriptions to folders, but that’s all.
There are no redirect settings or the possibility to add alt tags. If you are thinking that this all can be remedied with some plugins, you are sadly wrong. SmugMug has no available plugins to improve its SEO.
If your next guess on how to improve your SEO is writing text with keywords, well you’ll have to really work on that.
For every photo, you will need to manually add an accompanying text block, as there are no layouts that include a photo with text. All of this really limits your possibilities to rank high in search engines.
If you want to have a blog and count on some content marketing with SmugMug, I’m afraid you’ll have to use an outside service. This could mean spending additional money. The platform doesn’t have a blog option or any email marketing possibilities. You don’t even have the ability to connect email marketing with outside services.
Well, you can add and store contacts, but for anything more comprehensive you’ll have to use other providers.
I find this a major downgrade of the platform if you want to keep a healthy connection with your audience.
Therefore, if you’re ok with having just a beautiful online gallery of your photos, with the possibility to sell them in multiple print formats, SmugMug might be your platform.
However, if you’re looking into strong and diverse marketing, you might want to either expand your budget and use outside services or choose a platform that had a wider selection of marketing features.
Keeping up with the ongoing theme, the analytics of SmugMug is also very basic. All you have is simple numbers about photo views, comments, and uploads, which can be further examined by day, week, or month.
The sales history is just as simplistic. The only difference is that you can see your paid and unpaid profit, your total profit, and tax collection.
No history of abandoned carts, no breakdown of products. I would have expected at least this much from a platform that has an online store setup this good and convenient.
Nevertheless, I think for some this would be enough, as not everyone needs complicated stats to always keep track of and optimize indefinitely.
Although, if you really need the precise metrics, you can connect Google Analytics by simply adding your Web Property ID and analyze the visitor behavior on your site with that.
With SmugMug, you can add follow buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Flicker, YouTube, WordPress, and then some. You can also add the Like button for Facebook and Tweet button. That seems to cover all the most important social media platforms, which is a really great thing.
However, the Facebook Pixel can be integrated only with the Portfolio and the Pro plans, which means that you can’t do much social media-wise with the cheapest option.
Even if SmugMug lets you place social media buttons on your website, it still does not integrate fully. You cant show your feed on your Twitter or other feed on your website or showcase your products on Instagram.
SmugMug really shines when it comes to eCommerce and letting you sell your artwork without much effort. Yet it does suffer from the lack of SEO, absence of a blog, and some other marketing features, which make interaction with your audience nigh-impossible.
When it comes to photography, the loading speed of a website and its overall performance have a huge impact. No one likes to wait nowadays and especially when it’s about beautiful pictures. Well, I’m glad to see that SmugMug actually did pretty well here.
I used GTMetrix and Loadimpact to check how my website behaves. GTMetrix tests the speed of your website and provides a report on the possible issues that slow down its performance. While LoadImpact shows server stability when faced with high website traffic.
Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty technical details.
In addition, my YSlow score is 92%(A). This metric concerns front-end optimization and resources like HTML, CSS, and media files.
So it seems SmugMug does a lot of the optimization job for you and if I do my job too, I can cut the loading time even more and have an amazingly fast website despite it being stock-full of high-resolution pictures.
The second test with LoadImpact shows how well the servers hold up when they are bombarded with many users at the same time.
As you can see, this shows that there was no timing out or refused connections and the system didn’t find any other issues. The servers remained very stable throughout and only reached 15ms, which is very great.
At the end of the day, the conclusion is that your website will have a solid front-end base and with some effort from your side your audience will never have to wait to look at your art.
SmugMug excels so much in giving you a near-perfect gallery for your work, that many turn a blind eye to its shortcomings. Believe me, of which, there are several.
When you first start out, you get such great things like the expertly designed themes to display your work and eCommerce features tailored towards making both artists, and their customers happy. You can easily sell your work as various prints and SmugMug works as a middle man between you and printing labs which make your digital work come to life in real physical form.
Yet, as mentioned, there are hurdles to overcome. It will take time to learn how the interface with SmugMug works and how to edit your website. While you can certainly, with determination do so, you cant add some features that are simply missing.
SmugMug falls short when it comes to bringing your work to your customer’s attention. SEO and social media tools are very limited. It’s plain to see that this platform was originally created to be an online gallery and web-store provider.
out of 10
SmugMug is great when it comes to presenting your artwork online and selling it to customers. Although if you want to engage with your audience in a blog or better market your work, I would suggest looking for another builder.
In this part of the SmugMug review, I will present three possible alternatives to this platform. They all are great website builders, offering solutions for photographers. Without any further ado, here are my personal recommendations and why I think they’re good:
Another one of the popular platforms for photographers. It falls behind SmugMugwhen it comes to upload possibilities but has a bit more comprehensive eCommerce analytics and reports. It doesn’t offer as many plans and pricing options, but has lower pricing.
Squarespace will please you with its award-winning, minimalistic designs, super-intuitive interface, comprehensive marketing, and analytics features. There are Business and eCommerce plans for those who want to sell their work, but you’ll have to organize your own printing.
Wix is an easy-to-use, flexible drag-and-drop builder with a huge variety of designs. It has a great mixture of in-built features and apps for almost everything – from marketing, through communication, automation, and analytics.