I’m a web designer. If I chose to do so, I could custom build my own photography site. I don’t need a service which caters to photographers. I choose to use one.
Why? First off, convenience. Even if you know what you’re doing, building a photography website, and maintaining that site is a pain in the ass. I’d rather be taking photos than screwing around with the nitty gritty of a website. I love the idea that someone else is taking care of things like updates and security.
Seven years ago, when I decided to look into using a service rather than building my own, I shopped around. There were fewer choices then, but the one that stood out was SmugMug.
To begin with, they offered the features I was looking for – a great way to display my images, intuitive organizational tools and the ability to sell prints online. At the time I also did a bit of portrait and wedding photography, and I appreciated having the tools to do that more effectively.
Also, their SEO tools, though fairly basic at the time, were very effective. As it turned out, SEO proved to be the reason which clinched my decision.
Unless you find all your clients offline, your SEO rankings is how your site lives and dies. If you want to sell for instance, images of Colonial era taverns to photo editors, it’s essential that your images rank near the top of Google. Once there, you want to stay there. And regardless of how narrow your particular niche is, the competition is getting fierce.
Making a drastic change to your site structure means the loss of your Google rankings, unless you go through the long, torturous procedure of redirects. Trust me, that takes much longer than simply switching your photography web hosts and uploading your images again.
So when I chose SmugMug, it was with the intention of developing a long lasting relationship. It didn’t include becoming one of the first certified SmugMug customizers. That came about because I believe in their product.
What sold me on SmugMug is that they’re a family owned business. In a world where other photography website hosts are bought and sold with neck snapping speed, working with a company that believes in their product, and is invested in their product is incredibly important. I want a service I can trust. Of the options out there, based on the product, the tools, price and stability, SmugMug was the only one which I felt I could trust with my site, and with my Google rankings.
Nine years later they haven’t let me down. Sure, they raised their prices a couple times and I watched people fly to the competition to save a buck, and then watched the others raise their prices to match SmugMug.
As I’ve watched new services pop up, old services sell out to larger corporations where keeping the product competitive is no longer as important, I’ve come to appreciate my decision more and more.