Should your venue list with wedding directories? Kelly Chandler and Emma Hla explain the why and the how for the best return on investment.
You already have the message that your online presence is vital if you are a venue and looking to appeal to the 30 something bridal customer of 2019.
You are likely to have considered or invested in listing with established online platforms, be they third party specialist wedding directories, blogs or resources that have more presence and strength online than your own venue and can get you in front of the right eyeballs.
Listing alone isn’t the route to all success but it is incredibly valuable and there are some strategies you need to know to make the very best of your investment.
I’m delighted to be presenting this feature very much in partnership with Emma Hla of Coco Wedding Venues, the UK’s original style focused directory and a highly popular ‘wedding directory’ that a number of my niche-market rural and open air venues are part of.
Why should you list?
If you’ve got your Google ducks in a row, then getting yourself on directories is another valuable layer of marketing – and layering your marketing is super important. Here’s why…
It’s thought to take around six to eight touch points (and rising) before a couple will buy into what you’re selling. A touch point can be any encounter where a prospective buyer engages with your business. So, this could be an ad, a post on social media, a Facebook review, an email, a brochure or indeed a venue listing on a third-party website. All of these touch points add up to a story and will ultimately give the buyer confidence in your ‘product’, leading to a conversation and hopefully a booking.
As mentioned above, they’re a great layer in your sales process and will ultimately refer couples to your venue. Many platforms and blogs will have thousands of visitors per day, and if it’s a wedding venue focused website then a high percentage of these visitors will be in venue ‘buying’ mode.
Established directories will also have a high domain authority, meaning they’re considered a good source of information by Google and will appear high on Google searches. This is especially great for venues just starting out.
Some directories and blogs are very savvy when it comes to upcoming trends and changes in the industry, so being affiliated with the right platform will mean that your venue will reap the benefits of this insight.
Online platforms will also have a larger reach than most print publications, so an advert on a digital publication will have a higher ROI and most importantly you can track your success easily through Google Analytics or a unique tracking link.
Know your client
This is a subject close to my heart and one that Emma and I couldn’t agree more on. Modern business success stories are usually those who really ‘niche down’ into their ideal client and set the rest to one side. The same can be said of online directory presence as Emma explains here…
There are many types of wedding venue directories out there, in fact it seems like there’s a new platform launching each week, so how do you know which one suits you and your venue?
There are some obvious choices when it comes to platforms, but my advice is to also consider the smaller niche platforms too. The larger, well-established directories will absolutely send you traffic and referrals but sometimes the smaller, focused directories will have a specific audience which you can tap into to tailor the referrals you’re receiving. If you feel aligned with that directory then you will probably attract their fabulous like-minded couples that will truly understand your venue and your ethos.
But here’s the key – who are you selling to? What do they do? What are their interests? What type of wedding will they be having? What’s their budget? All platforms should feel aligned with your venue, your brand and ultimately the couples you want to talk to.
Share the love
Once you’ve chosen the directories you wish to advertise on, don’t favour one over the other.
Think you’re getting more from one platform? It might be because you’re only communicating to that one person/directory or perhaps you’re spending more money on boosts and additional marketing with them. Ensure the same updates and information is given to all directories and plan out additional marketing activities with each one.
Understand what you get for your membership with each platform and make sure you take full advantage of it – for example, if they have an affiliated blog then submit real weddings, advice pieces or styled editorials. If they have an event diary then get your open days and fairs listed. If you have a special offer then make sure this is visible on all listings, however you might want to consider tailoring offers as a form of tracking referrals.
Check in and ‘do the work’
The days of ‘list and run’ are over to be blunt, so in order to reap the rewards from a relationship with a third party directory you need to nurture and feed your investment.
Always check in with your listing and review the information you’re presenting; it’s so important your listing is up to date. It’s quite surprising how many venues will change their email or telephone number but not update third-party websites!
Keeping your listings up to date will not only ensure couples can reach you, but the information you share will also help qualify your referrals.
I would advise checking in at least once every quarter to ensure information is still correct. Your galleries and images should also be updated twice a year – before your peak summer season and again in December, ready for the big engagement season.
After each season, review the images from your recent weddings and pick out your ‘hero’ shots. Updating your listing twice a year will keep things fresh, provide new content for social use and of course add new Google juice!
The nature of venue hunting means that you’ll have a constant stream of new eyes on your listings, so it’s not about content being seen before, but rather about staying ahead of the industry. Fashions and trends move at an alarming rate and by renewing your images after each season you’ll be speaking to current couples looking for a venue that reflects them.
Referrals – the bigger picture
When you join a directory, referrals will come to you in two ways – direct and indirect. It’s very easy to focus on the direct referrals and yes, they’re absolutely a simple way to track your success on that platform, but do they tell the whole story?
An indirect referral can be just as important but this will show up in your analytics as a direct referral or an organic search referral, rather than from your affiliated marketing platforms. For example; a couple could be browsing Coco Wedding Venues, see your venue and then open a new tab to Google search it. This will be viewed by your own analytics as a Google click-through rather than affiliated to the Coco platform. This is where looking at referrals and statistics in a more holistic way can benefit you and your marketing approach.
Here are three simple tips when it comes to referrals:
• First of all, treat all referrals in the same way by having a slick and super-fast response process. This can be templated, but always ensure you’ve made it feel personal and it’s written in a tone that reflects you and your venue’s vibe
• Don’t focus on just one metric when you’re analysing the success of your listing – instead, alongside key metrics, understand your finder views, page views and shortlist adds from the platform. This will help to complete that bigger picture
• Have a section on your contact form asking where the couple found you, similarly ask a couple in email or in person on a show round. The default answer may be ‘Google’ purely because they are absorbing so much information when venue searching, but you might also start to see a pattern if couples mention specific websites.
What’s the average?
Understand the average number of click throughs and direct messages per directory. Don’t compare one with the other, but instead compare directly with platforms’ own stats – how is your venue performing against this? If it’s below average then what can be done? This doesn’t just fall onto the platform, but it’s rather a two-way conversation.
What can the platform do for you and how can you improve your listing/engagement with it?
This could be solved by:
• Updating your listing imagery
• Utilising all tools available – testimonials, late availability and special offers or a film
• Asking about additional paid boosts.
If your venue is underperforming across all platforms against the previous year, then consider other factors that can influence this – the number of engagements that year, trends such as couples wanting to marry in 2020 rather than 2019, and of course the current political climate, are all huge factors.
What does ROI mean to you?
When you join multiple directories, return on investment (ROI) will have a slightly different meaning for each. So, decide what that ROI looks like and then measure.
For some directories, it might mean that you need to book five weddings to justify the price. For others, it might be just one booking. For some platforms, it might be a brand alignment exercise, so how will you manage your ROI expectations here? Each directory will have its own unique selling point, so understand what the ROI is per platform instead of applying a generic calculation across all.
Understand the seasons
If you’ve been working in the wedding industry for a while, then you’ll know all about the engagement seasons. However, if you’re new to a role or are about to launch your venue then this one is for you.
Directories have two peak seasons and they fall in late December through to early March and again from July to the end of October. These are key times for couples to get engaged and start the venue searching. Outside of these periods you can expect traffic and referrals to fall a little.
If you’re concerned that your referrals have fallen during the months of May or November then this could just be the natural seasonal dip, so instead of comparing month to month, look at your analytics and compare year to year so that you can see if your referrals are growing or falling versus the same year to date (YTD) period. This is also a good exercise for your own website traffic.
Understanding the engagement seasons will also allow you to plan your marketing and hit those key engagement times with additional marketing activities.
Have a press folder
Listing a venue should be super simple… Whether it’s being done for you, or you’re completing a profile yourself. The best way to always be prepared is to have a press folder which is kept up to date throughout the year. This should contain:
• Your ‘need to know’ details at a glance such as capacity for ceremony/reception, marriage license and accommodation information
• Your blurb about the venue – a short summary alongside a more detailed ‘story-telling’ version, covering all aspects of your venue
• A file of professional high resolution images (minimum 10, maximum 100)
• Photography credits for all images (preferably in the image file name).
If you look after this press folder then it will make joining blogs and directories super easy and they will love you even more in return.
Once you’re listed with a directory it’s not a done deal that the enquiries will roll in and you’ll instantly (and magically) convert them to bookings. When you list with a directory, it’s just part of the sales process, not the whole shebang. It’s now that you should look at your own processes to see how they play their part in the sale.
Review your in-house collateral, review how you respond to enquiries, what does your show round process look like and, if we roll it all the way back to the beginning, when a couple clicks through to your website from a third-party platform what are they seeing? All of the above is something that I absolutely love exploring and refining with my one to one consulting clients, achieving those ‘ah ha’ moments and setting steps to improve conversion of those valued enquiries.
Listing your venue on a directory isn’t the end of the story… it’s just the beginning.
About the Authors
Kelly Chandler is a long term preferred service provider for exclusive venues such as Syon Park, Highclere Castle, Spencer House and Stoke Park Club. Kelly’s consulting services to wedding venues draw to prior experience in international conference and event planning, over 15 years of business management, and working directly with discerning couples planning their weddings in diverse locations and forging successful relationships with all components of the wedding industry. A former director of the trade body The Alliance of Wedding Planners, Kelly is a well-regarded innovator, mentor, trainer and industry spokesperson on and in the wedding business.
Emma founded award-winning website Coco Wedding Venues which currently showcases 550+ wedding venues across the UK, with more being added weekly. Split into eight categories (Bohemian Beats, Coastal Cool, City Chic, Classic Elegance, Rustic Romance, Modern Vintage, Luxe Edit and Delicious Destinations), it’s simple for the site’s visitors to quickly find the perfect location to suit their style. Emma personally selects each featured venue and also provides plenty of inspiration on the Coco Wedding Venues blog. www.cocoweddingvenues.co.uk