I’ve been trying for a long time to get my SmugMug gallery indexed by Google. And I’ve concluded that on SmugMug, photos have less visibility than the Loch Ness monster on a dark night.
I’ve detailed my struggle in a series of posts starting here. In a nutshell, after creating a domain, blogging, back-linking, and waiting a couple of years, my blog is doing fine. But out of 750 photos, the number indexed by Google is in single digits. Those photos all have titles, descriptions, keywords, Alt tags… it made no difference. This dog won’t hunt.
And SmugMug doesn’t care. Why? Because SmugMug is really aimed at photographers who shoot events, like weddings and sports. You don’t go home after your wedding and search Google for the photos; your photographer gave you the URL of a private gallery on SmugMug where you can see them and order the 8x10s for Aunt Pearl.
But if you’re an “art” photographer, you want people that you don’t know to find your photos on Google by searching for the keywords you entered, or the text in your titles and descriptions. With SmugMug that’s not likely to happen, because Google will never even index those photo pages.
And now I have a better idea of why, thanks to a very helpful email I received from Dahlian Lamy. Dahlian – better known as “Dale” – is a co-principle of iBeFound Digital Marketing, an SEO and web marketing consultancy in New Zealand (with which I have no connection).
Dale came across one of my posts while doing some research for a client. He got interested in my ongoing indexing struggle, looked into it, and told me some interesting things. I’ll just quote him directly.
What Dale Told Me:
“… I took a look at your photo website and noticed some things that could account for some of your Google indexing issues.
“For example, here’s one of your pages that has been indexed by Google: https://gallery.jimhphoto.com/Hawaii/
“If you view the source code of that website, you’ll see the following…
<title>Hawaii – jim hughes</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”Hawaii, on Maui and the Big Island. Hawaii is a world of photo opportunities which I could spend a lot of time exploiting. There’s geology, botany, biology and history – and, of course the big blue Pacific and all that it contains. Prints of all my photos are available here“/>
“Now, click on any photo on your Hawaii page and view the source of that page. You’ll see that the Title Tag and Meta Description are exactly the same for each photo even though the URL is different.
“Example, the Hawaii Waterfall photo’s URL is https://gallery.jimhphoto.com/Hawaii/i-CQWZtxM/A but it has the same title tag and description as the main Hawaii page.
“So, as far as Google is concerned, all those photo URLs are just duplicates of the main Hawaii page and therefore does not need to be indexed.
“Another thing to note is that your photo images don’t have description names. For example, can you tell what photo this is without opening the link in a web browser:
“Instead, it should look something like:
“Interestingly, if you do the following site search in Google, you’ll see that not a single image on SmugMug’s photo website has been indexed by Google.
“This says the problem is not your images, rather it’s with SmugMug’s photo storage platform. And, you are not alone with this SmugMug issue. I examined a few other websites powered by SmugMug and can see the same issues there.”
Dale gave me a great sanity check. I’d already noticed that SmugMug’s URLs for my photos were pretty bogus looking; and I’m not sure they’re even stable, so linking to them is risky. I thought I’d done all the right stuff in terms of titles, descriptions and keywords, but I didn’t realize the importance of the literal URLs. Dale’s insight also explained why my top level gallery pages had been indexed, but not the individual photos. Basically, SmugMug generates pseudo-pages so indistinguishable that my gallery looks to Google like a house of mirrors in a carnival.
And it’s not just me – no one else seems to be getting indexed at SmugMug either.
What will I do now? I don’t know yet, but I can see that SmugMug is an SEO black hole. I’m looking into other galleries and plugins, and that will be the subject of a future post.
UPDATE: the final word?
If you have thoughts or ideas on this issue, please leave a comment. If it includes a link to your own photo site, you get a nice SEO-boosting ‘dofollow’ backlink.