Is Paying to Advertise as a Wedding Photographer on WeddingWire a Waste of Money?

Is Paying to Advertise as a Wedding Photographer on WeddingWire a Waste of Money?

It’s time to answer the often-asked question I hear from many wedding photographers. Is it worth the money to advertise with online marketplaces for professional wedding vendors? I track everything in my wedding business. If you can record it, track it, analyze it, and summarize it, I’m aware of it. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as opening up a spreadsheet of raw, unrefined data and pulling out the hidden truths that lie dormant in the numbers.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus specifically on the WeddingWire, but you could easily extrapolate this data and apply it to other sites that function similarly like The Knot.

What is WeddingWire?

At its essence, WeddingWire is an online marketplace that connects brides and grooms with wedding vendors. For example, a bride looking for vendors can search (for free) by zip code, and then refine her search using categories like starting price, average rating, or “photographic style.”

As a vendor, you can choose to pay a monthly advertising fee to have an online "storefront" on WeddingWire. This means that your business will show up in the search results when our bride above starts looking for a wedding photographer.

Why should a photographer care about WeddingWire?

Whether we like it or not (or whether we can afford it or not), sites like WeddingWire do drive business towards their vendors. Once you have chosen which level of advertising you are comfortable with (fees can be up to $400 per month) you can post some photos, set up your price page, and let those sweet sweet inquiries pile up.

Except it’s not quite that simple. From my experience it can be extremely difficult to quantify the leads you receive from the WeddingWire. It seems to me that an unusual number of the inquiries that come in through WeddingWire are light on details, light on budget, and light on follow-up.

It’s this notion that got me thinking. Based on the data I record while running my wedding business, can I prove whether or not it’s a “good idea” to invest your money and advertise on one of these sites. Let’s take a look.

First, the data.

Before I traded my cubicle for a camera, I spent about 40 hours a week in the insurance industry, working on very fancy-sounding projects for large commercial insurance risks. It’s from this line of work that my love for numbers developed. Numbers don’t lie. 2+2=4 simply because it does. I’m going to formulate a similar truth and see how it applies to advertising on the WeddingWire.

In 2016 I had 130 inquiries, which resulted in 52 bookings or 40% of my total inquiries. Which was a gross revenue of $180,856, which averages out to $3478 per wedding (Note: these are gross numbers, and don’t include any costs such as second shooters, albums, taxes, travel fees, prints, or my Amazon addiction).

It becomes very telling when I separate out the WeddingWire bookings and examine them on their own. Here are those numbers:

31 inquiries which resulted in 7 bookings or 22.5% of the total inquiries from the site, which was a gross revenue of $19,396, which averages out to $2771 per wedding.

There are two things that strike me as important. For one, my booking rate for these inquiries is much lower (at 22.5%) than my overall average of 40%. This means I have to work harder to capture the business when it arrives at my door. This adds costs since it means more meetings, more calls, etc.

Issue two is once I do capture the business it results in an average booking that is $1248 less than non-WeddingWire leads. That’s a decline in revenue of about 31% on a per-wedding basis.

Here’s a visualization of the numbers above that I think show the dramatic difference in the quality of the leads coming from WeddingWire.

The Cost of Doing Business

I pay $164 a month to be a "featured" photographer on WeddingWire. That number can vary based on your location, the type of vendor you are, and the level of advertising you want to do. Some photographers in my area pay more than 2.5 times that number to be a “Spotlight” photographer, which guarantees that your ad will be pinned to the top of the list. The $164 I pay guarantees that I’ll be on the first page of results when someone searches for photographers in my zip code.

This is actually the only form of paid advertising that I do. So, in essence, 100% of my marketing budget goes towards this service. That might not be totally fair, since I do spend money on sample albums and prints for venues, and I do some minimal boosting on Facebook throughout the year. However, those numbers are nominal, and they certainly aren’t required by contract, nor are they charged to me on a monthly, recurring basis.

What’s the bottom line?

That’s the question I am struggling with. On one hand, sites like WeddingWire are a great way for a photographer to drum up business when just starting out (or when things get slow). But is there an issue with the quality of the leads? My answer to that question is yes. 

If you think about it, there are only so many weekends in a year. Here in New England where I operate, we can get some pretty cold, pretty snowy months. In my case, wedding season is cut down even more than someone living in a more temperate climate. I have to make sure that I am maximizing my earning potential in every possible way. While seven weddings is nothing to sneeze at, I have to wonder how much revenue I left on the table by turning away non-WeddingWire leads after booking up those dates.

It’s also important to mention that WeddingWire also serves as an aggregator for reviews. Of course, there are other sites that do this too (think Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc) but WeddingWire and The Knot seem to be the major players in stacking up reviews for wedding vendors. I often find myself pointing potential couples to my WeddingWire site to check out my "vast collection of stellar reviews." It can be a great way for couples to start the process of qualifying me as their potential photographer.

But outside of all that, the question still remains. Is paying to advertise on WeddingWire a waste of money? 

Short answer, maybe. 

Long answer, see above.

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25 Comments

In 2015 I negotiated a deal with them where I'd pay up front for the year, but at the six month anniversary could receive 100% refund if I wanted. I figured, if I got 1 lead a month in those six months and 1 booking, I'd keep it. Now keep in mind I have 108 great reviews on WW, and you'd think, "He's a natural candidate to succeed."

Total waste of money. 1 lead. 0 bookings. 11 hits to my site. I got my refund on the first day I could.

Eric Brushett's picture

Good on you for working out such a deal. I never really attempted to negotiate my monthly rate. I saw it more as a necessary evil, especially since I use WW for all of my reviews. Cheers!

I asked them to share their google analytics with me (or any stats) and they refused, which led me to ask for the deal. Every other media company uses data to push their ads, I have no idea why WW wouldn't.

Kendrick Howard's picture

This is one of the best articles I have seen on this site which by the way has fair amount of great content!

Eric Brushett's picture

Thanks, Kendrick! I really appreciate that.

Michael Shea's picture

Great article! Had WeddingWire call me today. I declined. I used The Knot for my 1st year and it did bring business to which I was very thankful for but cancelled it after that year because my word of mouth sales and Facebook were enough to get me 36 bookings the second year! I do live in Houston so our market is very vast. For me, I don't advertise much. My word of mouth clients are the best!

Eric Brushett's picture

36 weddings is a full book, congrats. The majority of my weddings come from word-of-mouth and those are definitely the warmest leads. I'll probably write a post later this year that compares the values of the different kinds of leads (personal, venue referrals, leads from other vendors, Facebook boosting, etc). Good luck with your 2017 season!

gabe s's picture

Speaking from personal experience, yes. I advertised with them for a month. I got 1 inquiry about my wedding services. I got 5 inquiries about renting out my barn for weddings (I only do photography, no space rental), and three inquiries for other wedding photographers in different states. They said it all has to do with how brides rate you. Contacted several brides for ratings, as wedding wire has a messaging thing that will do that for you. Supposedly they send out three messages over the course of a month. One bride said she never got any inquiry for a rating.

Long story short, don't advertise through them, buy a Facebook add for $20, and spend the rest on a new flash card.

Eric Brushett's picture

Hi Gabe. I'm not sure if this is helpful at all (you may be done with WeddingWire anyway) but there's a direct link you can send your couples that they can click to review you. If you go into your 'reviews' tab after you log in you can find it.

Anyway, you're right about the Facebook thing. At the very least FB advertising is worth trying. I've been running some adds in 2017 so I can put an article for Fstoppers together later this year about its effectiveness. I'm not sure what to expect, so it'll be an interesting experiment.

gabe s's picture

I did that, got nothing.

Superb article Eric, this has to be one the most useful write ups I've read on this site. Though imagery/eye candy and fun shoots are great to check out for ideas, this legitimately helped make my business better. Please keep these coming as we all appreciate the time and business strategy behind it! Many thanks Eric.

Eric Brushett's picture

Thanks, Jon! I appreciate the kind words. I plan on writing most of my articles along these lines (the nitty gritty of the wedding photo business) but I'll probably attempt some gear reviews down the road.

I literally shoot everything with 2 prime lenses, so I'm not exactly the poster-child for camera gear. Cheers!

Great article, Eric! Did you record any SEO benefit to your site from having a listing on Wedding Wire? I doubt it, but maybe for brand new sites one back-link from them may help a little. Either way, it always struck me as odd that a wedding photographer would want to advertise where 10,000 other wedding photographers advertise. Unless your work is markedly different from the others (I.e. Less than 1% of those in the industry), you're just helping brides price match. It makes much more sense to me to spend your advertising budget elsewhere. Even FB ads is 10x more attractive, and has a far lower CPL. Sites like WW are laughing all the way to the bank thanks to optimistic (clueless?) wedding photogs who blindly throw money at their marketing. I'm glad you brought this to light on FStoppers!

Eric Brushett's picture

Hi Mark. Great points in your response. I didn't even touch on the SEO benefits, so I guess my post isn't 100% fair. I was trying to come at it more from the standpoint of WeddingWire's direct ability to generate leads.

You're right though - how many of us are producing work that is so remarkable and unique (yet still desirable to clients) that we simply outshine all of the other competition? I certainly don't believe that I am doing anything like that. WeddingWire does encourage price shopping. In fact, most vendors are asked to put in a 'starting price' and a 'most popular price,' which the user can then refine his/her search by.

I plan on touching on the benefits of good SEO in an article later down the road. That subject has probably been beat to death, but I think I can put together something that speaks directly to wedding photographers. Either way, thanks for the response!

Also, you're the founder of ShotKit? How awesome, I'm a huge fan of your site, I was just browsing through your wedding photographer section last week. Keep up the great work.

peter kiral's picture

This is great! Thanks for this article!

I had a similar result to some of the other listed above. I advertised on Wedding Wire for one year. In that time I had 19 inquires. I responded to all of them promptly & with a good opening email. I received 1 response email, zero meetings, and zero bookings. So 0% on the booking ratio, compared to my normal 51%.

The response through Wedding Wire was so bad that photographers local to me began to suspect at least some of the inquiries were fake. Needless to say, I dropped my advertising with with Wedding Wire.

By the way, great article!

Jon Barrett's picture

Great article! As a fellow photographer/number cruncher, I love me some spreadsheets and statistics too!! There was a photographer a while back who showed how WW's awards and ratings are a scam. http://birdsongphotography.com/2014/01/why-i-killed-weddingwire-deep-tho...

i think having john doe as my photog would def livin up any event. just think having him at a 8th birthday party instead of a clown ? with the booze and break dancing ? oh man, that's how legends are made.

Eric Brushett's picture

Excellent write up, I really enjoyed the read. I myself have won a Bride's Choice Award for like 6 years running. The reason why I don't advertise it is because EVERYONE wins one. I truly think they do it to just sell the plaques.

Pat Black's picture

Thank you so much for taking the time to post this!

Eric Brushett's picture

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Will Thomas's picture

Thanks for running the numbers! I have skipped Wedding Wire because I did not like the high pressure calls.

This is great article,, thanks for the info on Wedding Wire.

i used to advertise with all the wedding sites, knot.com, weddingwire.com and local store theweddingcafe.com i paid a lot of money $$$$$ and the amount of bookings didn't pay off. i either broke even or lost money. so most of my marketing is though Instagram and Facebook, but word of mouth is the best. takes cost less but take more time to create the content for each platform.

ERIC VELADO's picture

Great article, I would like to know what the Sales Representative of WW should have to say.