I am obsessed with thinking about online advertising these days — especially for wedding blogs!
My opinion piece on advertising and the wedding blog industry a couple weeks ago dealt mainly with banner advertising. This week I’m dusting off my business analyst hat to delve into wedding photographer advertising, along with an idea that I came across on another wedding blog.
I was thinking about the wedding industry as a whole, how to market services, and why a wedding vendor would want to pay for a sponsored post on a wedding blog versus trying to submit photography work for free to any number of well done wedding blogs in the hopes of an editorial article (a.k.a. featured real wedding in this context).
Obviously, I have a vested interest in thinking about this question as it is sponsors who pay a portion of the bills for Love & Lavender and help the business grow.
My wife and I acquired Love & Lavender back in early 2014 from the original founder, who lovingly cared for its growth over a period of four years. L&L sits as a ‘wedding content’ company surrounded by many other similar websites that compete for advertising dollars. I believe that each wedding blog provides value in its own way, and sponsors find that value exchange appealing.
What is a Sponsored Post?
Good question. A sponsored post is essentially paid content written for a particular company and posted on a specific online blog.
It doesn’t have to be a wedding blog, it could be a blog about horses, technology, or many other interests. All that matters is that the blog has a dedicated audience (i.e., traffic) that an advertiser is willing to pay for the privilege of accessing through content.
Here is an example snippet from a sponsored post we produced for the online printing company Vistaprint in 2015.
We came up with the idea of writing about ‘how to choose the best wedding stationery paper‘ and wrote at length about the topic. If you read through the post, you’ll find that there is an element of commercial advertising towards Vistaprint. However, the main intent of the article is to help DIY wedding couples to create great looking printables.
It has ranked in the first or second spot on Google for some time now – great for Vistaprint’s exposure/sales and for L&L!
How Sponsored Posts are Transacted
For those not in the blogging industry, here’s a very quick overview of the process around transacting a sponsored post:
- Advertiser wants to leverage social influence and/or traffic of popular online blog
- Advertiser researches and narrows down best blogs and requests media rates
- Advertiser and blog agree to payment terms, specific content, and a time schedule
- Either the advertiser or blogger writes the article
- Article is posted on the blog for the world to admire
I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty simple process!
I left out one step from the process above, but it is more of a commentary note. It is not automatic that a blogger will accept an advertiser for a sponsored post. Bloggers don’t want the trouble of shady companies/people ruining their hard won reputation. Just because someone flashes some cash at a blogger does not guarantee a sponsored post. Experienced bloggers vet and research advertisers just as much as advertisers seek out sponsored post opportunities.
Who Buys Sponsored Posts?
A wide variety of companies or individuals want to advertise in the form of a sponsored post. In the wedding blog industry numerous types of companies desire exposure or leads through sponsored posts – wedding stationery companies, gift companies, jewelers, and even wedding photographers. Each approach a blog like ours to see if a mutually beneficial relationship can develop.
What is an Editorial Article?
For the purpose of this article, I have classified an editorial article to mean a piece of content where a wedding photographer has granted the rights to use photographs in exchange for a featured real wedding or styled shoot spot on a wedding website.
An editorial article that features either a real wedding or styled shoot are great. In fact, we post anywhere from one to five of these each week on the blog.
The question remains, do (free) editorial articles actually drive sales and bookings for a wedding photographer? That is what we are going to explore below.
How Many Wedding Blogs Exist?
I can honestly say that I have absolutely no idea. And its not from a lack of trying either.
Many blogs monetize through sponsored posts as well as a ‘wedding vendor guide‘ section. I compiled a spreadsheet when we first took over L&L in 2014, which tracks wedding blogs that have a vendor guide as part of their website. So far I am at 112 wedding blogs on my updated spreadsheet version. I don’t track a lot of the smaller blogs as it is just not worth my time to update and ensure I have reliable data to analyze.
I suspect that tens of thousands of photographers submit their work to hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of wedding blogs every single day.
Why Does that Matter?
Why is it important to know how many other wedding blogs exist and what they are up to at any given moment?
Well, I think all businesses in any industry must keep tabs on their competition. From a publisher’s perspective, I like to know how we compare to our competitors, and what L&L can do next to best serve our customers – both vendors and readers alike.
From a wedding photographer’s perspective, it means that photographers have a wide variety of advertising choices. Figuring out which advertising channel garners maximum ROI is the time consuming and difficult part.
Love & Lavender’s traffic is not small by any means, but it is also not in the same league as industry giants The Knot or WeddingChicks – wedding media companies that get more traffic on a daily basis and have a larger resource pool.
That being said, we are proud of the work we do and the wedding media company that we have built in Love & Lavender. It allows us to live a minimalist slow-travel lifestyle, all while pouring our efforts into serving our customers as best we know how.
Sponsored Post vs Editorial Article Debate
A fellow wedding blog with roots in the Pacific Northwest (Offbeat Bride) wrote an article back in 2013 on the subject of sponsored posts for wedding photographer advertising. In it, Ariel talks about results that can be obtained from a sponsored post vs an editorial article.
As an analyst I was drawn to her article. Although the example she gives represents only one data point (not statistically significant), I can see the point that Offbeat Bride is trying to make. Buyer intent is present in sponsored posts whereas it is not present in featured real weddings. This makes sense the more you understand the inner workings of the wedding process.
Bridal Buyer Intent
For me, the concept of buyer intent is such a key takeaway that relates to the online media world — in terms of both content creation and consumption.
Brides look at real weddings for multiple reasons:
- to find decor examples they want to emulate
- to find color schemes to integrate into their own personal vision
- because they are bored at work, and looking at cute wedding decor is so much more amusing
- to gawk at dresses that resonate with them, which they may end up purchasing
… and many other reasons I am sure.
Most brides don’t look at real weddings simply for the sake of appreciating the stunning photography. Sure, it is a side benefit. But brides are time strapped and have certain goals along the wedding planning continuum.
Whereas, photography aficionados (like wedding bloggers) appreciate a well shot wedding! We see thousands of real weddings and styled shoots that seep into our conscious and appeal to our inner sense of wedding design aesthetic. We know a high quality wedding photo from a poor quality one. Evaluating, editing, and posting thousands of wedding photos a year on a wedding blog allows you to become a bit of a photo quality snob.
For brides, however, not so much.
They usually browse real weddings to obtain two illusive wedding goals: inspiration and ideas. Their intent has nothing to do with ‘buying mode,’ and they usually don’t remember a specific photographer. They may pin a few favorites on their Pinterest board, but in general the constant barrage of wedding imagery is overwhelmingly noise.
When a couple does decide to book a photographer, who do they hire?
That’s a question beyond the scope of this article. We’ll have to get into the specifics of creating a wedding photographer list, budget, and ultimately selecting your photographer in another post.
Comments from Real Brides
In Offbeat Bride’s article, a few brides chimed in with their comments on the subject. Here is a brief snippet from one bride:
“That makes sense to me too. I’m planning my wedding now, and when I read the wedding porn posts the first time around, I’m never really thinking about the vendors unless they were for something really unique … When I read a sponsored post, I think ‘Man, this vendor is awesome,’ and then later when I think about needing say, a photographer, I go back through sponsored posts to see who to look into. I’ve never really scoped out the wedding posts for which vendors to use.”
A second bride follows up:
“Yup, never even occurred to me to check out weddings in my area for the vendors list at the bottom. I will NOW, maybe, but the sponsored posts and the listing in the vendors tab is where I went when it was time to get down to making decisions.”
By way of my own experience with Love & Lavender these past years, I feel the same way as the two brides above. I would love to put together a case study that examines a number of wedding photographers who have bought a sponsored post and contributed a featured real wedding to our blog, but I just don’t have the data (or time) at this point. We don’t get too many photographer sponsored posts.
However, it is something we could do. I see the wisdom in paying for specific value creation, and the associated potential return on investment.
In this section I’m talking specifically to wedding photographers and other wedding vendors. As a wedding photographer, you know how to effectively take pictures at weddings, do post production editing, and all the other associated work. Ensuring happy wedding clients is what you do.
Sure, you may dabble a bit in website creation, how to rank for keywords on page one of Google, and all the other “search engine optimization” and content creation stuff that usually lies in the expert realm of bloggers. But, I suspect you would rather not.
How Wedding Bloggers Create Value
Bloggers create specific value. Talented and experienced bloggers know how to both write well for Google AND write persuasively for a target audience in a native language.
“Wedding bloggers don’t just put up pretty pictures ala Pinterest.”
I don’t think these type of bloggers are easy to come across. If you do find one, hire them and never let them go. They are like winning a golden ticket into the famed chocolate factory.
Let me explain why you should invest your limited marketing dollars in a competent writer.
I likely don’t have to point out that there are only so many spots available on the first page of a search engine. For example, you can see below that L&L ranks in the coveted first organic position of Google for the phrase ‘things to buy for your wedding.’
We’ve ranked number one for that keyword phrase on Google for
months years now.
But it doesn’t stop there. That one post ranks for a number of other related keyword phrases (keyword group) like ‘stuff for your wedding’ or even just ‘wedding things’. You can see how one post can really help in reaching your online marketing goals.
Any business must make it a priority to not only get to page one of Google (or Yahoo/Bing), but get to the top spot for certain keywords. Don’t take it from me, see why page one of search engines matters so much.
Page two is like getting tenth place in a beauty contest – no one real takes note and it doesn’t matter all that much. Strive for the top spot — always. Put forth an initial effort of time or money, and then reap the rewards for many months or years later.
Further SEO Example from Love & Lavender
Another example from Love & Lavender is a post we did back in 2014 on ‘How to Address Save the Dates.’ At the time of writing that post, we had no idea that it was actually a popular keyword that advertisers were paying money to get their message in front of an audience.
We didn’t do keyword targeting research back then, not like we do now.
Our main goal in the early days of running L&L was to produce content that was helpful to our audience – authentic and trustworthy, derived from our own thoughts, opinions, or research. That’s still the goal today, but with a much broader understanding of a process driven approach.
I guess you can say we got lucky with the save the date article. However, I can clearly see that we somehow managed to inherently do a lot of things right in terms of SEO and content creation.
That particular article got to #1 on Google and stayed there for a solid 14 months straight. It still sits in the #3 spot, as we try to update the content to reach #1 again. I am not sure how much affiliate income we made, but I do know it was definitely worth the day or two that it took to write the article.
And that is the key to it all. Write exceptional content for your audience that can garner a #1 spot on search engines.
Or hire someone that can do that for you!
If you own a business that has an online presence, that should be part of your strategy. I know, that takes aim at a heck of a lot of companies, not just wedding photographers.
What this means for you as a potential advertiser
I feel like I somehow just gave away a big secret – like revealing how a master magician performs his tricks!
In reality, what I just wrote is not a revelation at all. There are nuances and a level of complexity involved in writing outstanding content that gets to #1 on Google.
In fact, I probably read some variation of the same prophetic message on a random blog many years ago myself. That message managed to seep its way into my psyche, and in turn into my writing for Love & Lavender.
I am proud to say that we hold top organic search engine rankings for a host of topics and articles beyond ‘addressing save the dates’ or ‘things to buy for your wedding’.
Both Meredith and I see that it has taken a long time, much longer than either of us expected, to make it to this level of blogging proficiency. I don’t know if we’ll ever be finished learning, growing, and improving our craft.
I don’t think I would want to. I enjoy the ride too much.
Wedding Photographer Advertising Options
What is the best way to gain clients as a wedding photographer?
Well, not doing much of anything and just having clients beating down your door sounds pretty good to me. Wishful thinking for many. For the rest, here are a few ideas:
Word of Mouth
As in any field, the best photographers usually don’t need to do much in the way of advertising. They have built a name and reputation for themselves from years of hard work and grinding it out. Word of mouth reaches far and wide to form a strong sales pipeline and funnel.
This form of advertising is great because there is no outlay of money involved. When you are just starting out in an endeavor though, gaining referral clients can be elusive.
Going to bridal shows is certainly one option for a wedding photographer. I have been to a few myself and talked to the photographers who’ve setup booths showcasing their talents.
Exhibiting at the right bridal show can provide bookings for a wedding photographer. Perhaps only a few, an entire years worth … or none at all.
Bridal show entry fees are an expensive up front cash outlay. Some cost thousands of dollars for a few square meters to show off your work. In addition, you will likely want a professional to design and make your booth.
A range of other traditional offline options exist. Local classified ads, billboards, or providing a stack of business cards to a local wedding hotel venue to name a few. The list is long and only limited by creativity, time, and a small marketing budget.
However, I will end with the advertising option that I believe is most potent: online sponsored posts.
Sponsored Post on a Wedding Blog
At long last – the pitch for why wedding photographers should think about a sponsored post.
If you’ve read all of the above, my hope is that the answer is self evident. Here’s a handy summary just in case you are the type of person who starts at the bottom first!
- Sponsored posts tend to convert better than featured real weddings (buyer intent)
- Measurable ROI of a sponsored post vs other paid advertising
- Search engine ranking benefits & advantages
- Long term value of a well written article to land clients
I would love to continue talking about this subject, but this post is already nearing 3,000 words! I think there is huge potential for wedding vendors of all types to create revenue through marketing their services via blogs like L&L.
Part II – Coming Soon
I will write a followup post that talks about two things:
- Why L&L is able to rank articles on page one of search engines (hint: domain authority); and
- Further discussing how to help wedding vendors maximize online marketing ROI
On that latter note I am thinking specifically about targeting long tail keywords like ‘vintage San Francisco wedding photographer’ for example.
That’s all for today. Please continue the conversation below, or get in touch if you would like more information on working with Love & Lavender!