Let me ask you: Are you a Bride or Groom?
Read on …
This article is for any content consumer in the wedding industry. If you are a bride or groom just looking for some down and dirty real wedding inspiration – we have that. But, I implore you to consider first reading about advertising and the wedding blog industry for a couple of reasons:
- Understand why all those annoying ads (we hate them too) appear in multiple places on your favorite blogs
- Help cure over-advertising syndrome. Engage in a conversation to find an alternative!
Since joining my wife (Meredith) full time as the behind the scenes tech guy, editor, strategic thinker, and chief breakfast maker, I haven’t been visible on Love & Lavender (L&L) in terms of writing my views and opinions on the wonderful wedding industry we find ourselves.
And that’s fine by me!
I am not the type to seek out the limelight and will remain behind the scenes. However, I do enjoy crafting engaging pieces from time to time when there is something worthwhile to debate, express, or newsworthy. In this initial editorial article I touch on the future of wedding blogs, our media company, and monetization strategies.
Time is scarce, but I will put my new good intention out there: devote time
every quarter whenever I can to writing an opinion piece.
I read a variety of other well done blogs in many niches: online business, SEO, trend hunting, and wine to name a few. One blog in particular that I follow has absolutely nothing to do with weddings (per se), but is definitely applicable to any and every other wedding blog out there.
The former CEO of an online SEO company called Moz writes sporadically about a variety of topics.
A genuine guy who skillfully mixes business and personal experience in his writing, I like how Rand Fishkin (cool mustache) built Moz with a clear focus on culture and people. I think that’s what great companies do: envision and embed a certain culture from day one in order to attract like minded people to grow a valuable brand.
After much trial and error Meredith and I both feel that Love & Lavender is now focused on doing that too.
In a recent article, Rand talks about what he would change, keep the same, and what he doesn’t know yet. While I won’t go into the same depth of detail about what I would change/keep/don’t know in terms of L&L, I’ll say that it got me thinking along the same lines about both our company and the wedding blog industry as a whole.
I especially like #1 and #2 on his list of things he’d keep the same. Having a supportive life partner (#1) does wonders for a company and for each other. When you feel like nothing is going right, or there is no one else to turn to who understands the problems you are facing, we have each other to confide in, laugh, cry, and support one another.
In that same vein, capturing your company’s core values (#2) is an extremely useful exercise. In fact, we took the time to create a draft of Love & Lavender’s core values a few months ago. We have been refining it over the better part of 4 months to the point where I feel it is finally time to release it into the world.
We are calling it our Butterfly Manifesto!
My Experience with Wedding Blogs
The fragmented wedding industry is an multi-faceted world of fantasy, desire, and cold hard financial reality. I never imagined myself running a company focused on weddings, not in a million years. A software company or something to do with financial markets would be more up my alley.
Yet here I find myself smack dab in the business of weddings. To say, ‘I’ve learned a lot over the past two years,’ would be an understatement. I learn more in the span of one month than I ever did working for nearly 5 years at a bureaucratic government institution. Shudder.
Where is Don Draper when you need him?
Anecdotally, one thing in particular is the severe under-representation of men in the wedding industry. For example, the numerous bridal trade shows that I have attended I notice there are not too many men present.
Now, I know this isn’t 1960 and the age of Mad Men, but I would have thought that more men would want to enter a lucrative business niche filled with potential opportunities to build viable businesses. Some do. In my experience though, offline and online wedding business niches are dominated by females.
The analyst inside me wants to confirm my bias by getting hard statistics, but for now I will have to leave it at that.
Finally, when it comes to wedding blogging I will say that categorically there are few men who do it as a full time endeavor. I could count them on one hand.
A Business Balancing Act
To be honest, I personally don’t have the (how shall I say this) skills in many wedding related things. Words like ‘swoon’, ‘frilly’ and even ‘adorable’ don’t enter my daily conversational vocabulary too often.
I am an analytical guy who likes ecommerce, business, tech stuff, finance, and all those things that many in our target market demographic likely find utterly boring or unfulfilling.
Maybe that is why my wife and I work so well together behind the scenes at Love & Lavender. I love working side-by-side with her day after day. I enjoy the freedom of being able to work 12 hours a day, or take an hour or two off in the afternoon to go for a walk in the sunshine. But most of all, I love being able to create and use all of the talents and skills developed over the course of 15 or more years of work.
On the flip side, Meredith can concentrate on doing what she loves most: writing amazing wedding content, engaging with brides, or knowing the difference between a chapel and cathedral length veil – all the stuff that I don’t enjoy very much! I think Meredith appreciates having someone to take care of the other boring and mundane technical things that running a media website entails.
We strike a great balance and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Business of Wedding Blogging
Wedding blogging has become big business over the past decade. What started out as a hobby for a few intrepid folks in early 2008/09 has exploded into a viable business for many blogger teams. I keep an updated spreadsheet listing the top 100 wedding blogs. Needless to say there are many more that are not on my spreadsheet.
Phew! That’s a lot of wedding blog screenshots. Like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ image, you can find ours somewhere in that pile!
How Wedding Blogs Make Money
In exchange for our time and skill in crafting valuable content, wedding bloggers primarily earn revenue in the form of advertising dollars (direct, Adsense, or sponsored posts) and affiliate income.
There are other avenues to earn additional income such as writing an ebook, publishing a wedding magazine, speaking engagements, or perhaps becoming a part time wedding planner. In general though, online media companies like Love & Lavender make money through advertising in one form or another.
Blogging in general is not an industry that one enters into expecting to become rich beyond their dreams. There are outliers who make it big by using initial success as a blogger to catapult towards other ventures. However, I suspect the average (or more importantly median) income is much lower than you might imagine.
Is there an upper limit to the number of wedding blogs that can earn a living wage? Again, as with any system my suspicion is that the answer is yes.
Wedding Blog Innovation
As the co-owner of a wedding media company I’ve researched, tracked, and analyzed literally hundreds of other wedding blogs in my niche. I enjoy digging into the nuances and looking at the changing landscape of blogging.
What I’ve come to see is that many in the wedding blogosphere do things ‘because everyone else is doing it’ … especially when we talk about innovating around design, layout, navigation, or even product offering mix.
Whenever there is a new fad, many capture the idea, integrate it into their individual website, and implement it within a very short time frame. Whether it has been tested and proved to work, or not.
Basically, we like to borrow from others … after all, flattery is the sincerest form of compliment. In any event, I believe in abundance over scarcity, and the idea that the blogging sphere is not a finite world with fixed rewards to capture.
Granted, there are only so many couples in the world who will be married any given year – somewhere on the order of two million in the USA alone. A large number indeed. In my opinion, that means there’s room for innovative concepts and media companies in the guise of a what many consider a traditional blog.
Banner Advertising on Blogs
And its not just wedding blogs that are trying to survive off advertising revenue. Many print publications and newspapers have had to adapt to the online world and find new business models and ways of surviving over the past 10 years or so.
Which leads me to an article I read, linked below.
The Future of Advertising Online
To other wedding bloggers, or anyone interesting in how to make advertising online better, I recommend reading this article about the future of advertising online. Trust me, after reading it you’ll quietly thank me.
Two passages that really stood out:
“We should be focusing all of our energy on prioritizing user experience, and not short-term revenue gains. Start re-building content experiences”
“… ask the brilliant minds working at Facebook, Twitter, and even Snapchat about their monetization strategies for the future. They’re all advertising driven. Advertising online isn’t going away. It’s getting contextualized.“
More ads on wedding blogs. Go to any of the popular wedding blogs (there are many) and you will see:
- top bar banners
- side bar banners
- ads at end of articles
- pop-up newsletter ads
- and any number of ads scattered all over the site
I’ve seen so many ads that I have definitely developed ad blindness.
After thinking long and hard about this, I can safely say that ads aren’t the enemy.
Consume great content in many forms comes at a cost. In the online media world, that cost is predominantly supported through advertising.
I personally don’t mind seeing some ads that have value. The right ad, at the right time, and in the right context. At that point I feel like the ad is helpful to me as a consumer, especially when I am actively seeking either information regarding a purchase decision, or at the stage where I’ve committed to buying a specific product and have difficulty finding it.
Love & Lavender tried to migrate away from ad driven revenue, but we weren’t able to effectively implement an alternative business model. Now, we are testing other revenue models and would love to fully embrace an ‘ad free’ wedding website in the near future – one that offers the best possible user experience and content as a primary driver. We use ads sparingly, until we can finally wean ourselves fully from the ad addiction.
A Better Way
Part of me wants it to be this simple: Just tell us what you value!
Resistance is futile. It’s in your best interest as well as ours. A win-win scenario, as they say.
Seriously, I would love feedback and discussion on this topic.
Are Surveys an Option?
I don’t think anyone enjoys spending time filling out a survey. I detest surveys or any type of lengthy form for that matter. Yet surveys are one of the main tools used to collect primary research data and customer feedback. I know of one wedding blog who enticed its readers with a sweet $500 cash prize just for taking 5 minutes to fill out a survey! Bribery may work. However, we don’t necessarily get the desired end result – less ads, or the right contextualized ads in minimal amounts.
What is the alternative then?
A quote attributed to Steve Jobs says,
Does that imply that it is our job as a creative wedding genius to come up with something first, test it out on a pilot basis to a small segment, and then roll out to a larger audience?
Another quote from the future of advertising article says, “Relevancy and context are the biggest drivers of consumer satisfaction when it comes to advertising.”
Content comes in many different forms on a wedding blog:
- Real weddings & styled shoots
- Wedding product roundups
- Guides and How-to articles
- Fashion or style trend commentaries
- Wedding industry news
- Vendor articles
- And more …
Each content piece requires a measurable amount of time and resources to research, produce, and upkeep.
One of my stated goals for L&L is to eliminate banner/text ads that do not serve to create value. I don’t want to get rid of banner ads, nor advertising on the site. That is not what I am saying. I want all forms of advertising on the website to create beneficial value for our advertising partners and L&L.
After much thought and analysis we decided to move towards a duel approach. We want our content production and scheduling approach to be simple:
- Produce amazing content that people value and will share
- Add key recommendations (i.e., adverts) from those brands that we personally know, like, and trust
- Evaluate goals, tweak, and repeat
A lot of time, sweat, and sometimes tears goes into the first two bullet points above.
The second approach is one that we are really excited about sharing — one that is unique and has the ability to create a dependable competitive advantage within an often commoditized space.
I loved the concept mentioned in the article above about re-building content experiences. I won’t talk too much about it as this article is getting rather lengthy, but I think it will be a key component of our strategic approach moving forward.
Meredith and I sat down and brainstormed over a few sessions to hash out what constitutes a content experience in the wedding blog space. We hit upon the (not so new) idea of story telling to conceptualize our products and add value to our product’s user experience. The idea is to bundle value in the form of entertainment, content, and products.
User experience matters most; Monetization through advertising matters as well. User experience should come first, and monetization follow. Too many times I see the opposite in the blogging world. I instinctively feel there is a better way forward that doesn’t sacrifice one at the expense of the other. L&L won’t get it completely right the first time, but I suspect that we’ve taken a big step in the right direction as far as a sustainable model for our media business.