The wedding off-season coincides with the new year and is the time when many wedding professionals are setting goals for the upcoming year. I remember the moment I added winning the “Best of Weddings” and the “Bride’s Choice Awards” as a goal. I saw other wedding professionals with banners on their websites and I have to admit I wanted those awards too. It was 2010 and I had set my goal for the upcoming year! As of today, I have 143 reviews on The Knot and 155 on WeddingWire. But was this a good idea?
How they leverage banners for SEO benefit
Everyone loves awards. Bride’s love them too! I remember shortly after winning one of my first “Best of Weddings” awards, a bride exclaimed to family and friends on her wedding day that her wedding photographer was the “Best of the Knot”! Internally I knew that I wasn’t the only photographer who won that award, but the bride was really excited about it.
During this time I was a bit of an SEO guy. I ranked very well (and for the most part still do) for the keywords I desired. I quickly noticed the impact the code provided by The Knot and WeddingWire was having on their SEO dominance and the subsequent negative impact it was having on individual photographers. We’d put their code snippet on our websites and it would boost THEIR website via embedded anchor text and links back to their website, often from our own homepages and many times throughout our webpages (for example banners in footers). You see this very thing played out by Expertise (who are they anyway?) and others. Today the very directories we pay thousands of dollars to have leveraged us and taken the most valuable web placement from us. We’re often relegated to the bottom half of page one at best. Google (your city) wedding photographer and see the results for yourself.
I personally changed how I display industry awards, and although that allowed my website to load faster, the masses continued embedding the code on their websites and we now have The Knot and WeddingWire at the top of search engine results. The damage was done. The impact is solidified yearly with new awards issued, new banners added to websites, and of course their push for you to share press releases with even more links to their websites. But that’s not even the worst thing.
The Knot & Shutterfly business agreement
I had two really weird Shutterfly experiences with clients in 2019. The first was Spring of 2019 when a client was excited to show me the wedding album she spent two weeks designing with Shutterfly. She met me in my residential studio and revealed a surprisingly massive album. The template usage was evident, but she took the time (remember those two weeks) to add text to almost every spread. Although I was surprised by the heft of the album, I was immediately drawn back by the color of the images. They were blue, or at least much more blue than they should have been. My bride was excited and I would NEVER offend her. But why was she bringing this album to me, when right in front of us at my studio are MANY album samples she previously saw during our wedding consultation?
A second experience provided me clarity. A wedding client thanked me for the coupon she received from Shutterfly. What? Here’s a little back story, I ask ALL of my clients to leave me feedback after their wedding day. In fact, in the same email in which I send them their Shootproof wedding gallery, I included an ask for the couple to leave feedback for future couples. You see I never cherry pick reviews. I’ve always wanted them to be the most honest reflection of every client’s experience with us. This strategy of asking every client is also why I have more reviews than almost any other photographer in my area. Enough about me. What I didn’t know was that I was undercutting myself in doing this. The Knot has a business agreement with Shutterfly. My sales rep for The Knot (and WeddingWire) just confirmed this via email with me today. Every client that leaves a review on The Knot is sent an email with a coupon from Shutterfly! WHAT?
My cost vs benefit analysis didn’t make sense
The Knot and Shutterfly business agreement was enough for me to stop being a paid advertiser on their sites. However, in recent years I realized the cost versus benefit of listing with them wasn’t advantageous. I averaged two booked clients from each site. I photograph 40 weddings per year, so on average, that was 10% of my bookings. After further evaluation, I recognized that those were lower average sales, often my bottom wedding collection. This isn’t a problem necessarily, but when I calculated my net income (not gross) on these weddings versus the advertising spend, I realized that the ROI didn’t make sense. Sure, some would argue that name recognition has benefits but that isn’t necessarily the intent of small business owners.
Let me make this real for you. Let’s say your lowest wedding collection is $3000+tax. My net is much closer to $1000. Let’s just say I spend more money on gear than I should, but I digress. That means my net from advertising on each site is a little over $2000. I was paying $185/month to advertise on The Knot! I would have accomplished the same financial benefit had I stayed home and watched college sports! The financial benefit was only for The Knot. I was struggling to break even!
What am I going to do about it?
So what am I going to do next? Well, I’ve already stopped paying to be listed on these sites. It simply didn’t make financial sense for me. It’s not that I didn’t receive leads, but many of those leads weren’t good matches for my business.
This one is difficult because it disrupts what I’ve been doing for nearly a decade: Telling all of my couples, during the consultation, that I’m going to ask them (all of them) for a review later. I’m no longer going to ask most of my couples for a review on The Knot and WeddingWire. There are other options available.
You’ll want to make the decision that’s going to be best for you. I simply wanted to let you know how The Knot and WeddingWire are not only benefiting from you paying for ads (nothing wrong with that), but also leveraging you for their SEO benefit (hmm), and undercutting you by persuading your clients to purchase from Shutterfly (not cool).