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.