There are a lot of online companies out there that are soliciting beauty professionals with promises of increasing their businesses by referring local clients to them. One such example is www.wedding.com. For a fee, they promise to give you a “listing” on their website and market you to their users. The more money you spend on a membership, the more visible your listing is. The purpose of these sites is simple: they connect their customers (generally brides) with free tools to organize their events (like an RSVP manager) and easily accessible database of vendors (like hairdressers, DJs, venues, etc.). These vendors pay a fee to be listed and typically offer discounts to customers that are referred through the website. Customers can rate these vendors on the site as well.
For vendors, these sites typically have multiple membership levels. Many of them (MyWedding.com is one) offer free “basic” listings that include things like the salon name, a short intro, and the contact information. These “basic” listings show up below the “premium” and “preferred” listings in search results and aren’t promoted. The “premium” listings enjoy benefits that might include a free website with expanded information, better exposure in search results, and the ability to solicit brides directly through their profiles. The “preferred” listings enjoy all of the “basic” and “premium” benefits, but are also promised by the company to be aggressively marketed (even outside their target area) on social media platforms and through ads on the site itself.
On the surface, these programs seem excellent, but are they worth investing in? I was contacted by MyWedding years ago when they first launched. The sales rep told me they were getting 50,000 views a day and that the amount of business we would get from the site would be outstanding. Before you let those numbers guide your hand to your checkbook, you need to ask these questions:
1.) What is the bounce rate? The “bounce rate” represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and “bounce” (leave the site) rather than continue viewing other pages within the same site. If they’re getting 50,000 views a day, but 35,000 of those are bouncing out, they’re not really getting 50,000 views a day. Well, they’re getting them, but they’re not retaining that traffic, which means that either the viewers are accidentally clicking ads that lead to their site and promptly exiting or aren’t really interested in what they’re offering. Regardless, it means nothing good.
2.) How many hits are unique vs returning? A unique user is a user whose machine has never accessed the site before. Companies like to tout their “unique guests” or “unique user” statistics, as it is a common way of measuring the popularity of a website. The unique users are generally tracked over the period of a month, so you can expect to hear a representative say, “We see XX thousand unique hits a month.” This number can be misleading and is almost ALWAYS overstated. It is an identifier of a machine, not an individual person. So, a person may access the site from their home computer, then again later from their phone, then again that afternoon from work. If their browser automatically clears their cookies (like I have Chrome set to do every time I close it out), it may register a unique hit every time they access the page. If the user utilizes multiple browsers (say they use Chrome most of the time but occasionally use Firefox or IE), the site will register their hits as unique. So you can see how easy it would be for the site analytics to overstate the number of different people visiting by factors of 5 or 6. The reported number of sessions or visits and pageviews are more accurate, so that smaller group of people visits much more often and looks at more pages than the raw numbers would suggest. You want to know about the returning users. Remember, this is an internet based company. They live and die by their analytics. If they can’t tell you how often their registered users visit the site, how long they spend on the site, and how many pages they visit in a session…they’re either lying or their not good at their business.
3.) How many people search for vendors in your specific profession, in your specific area each day? You want to know how many people search for “nail technician” in “Your Town, USA.” The site may have amazing stats: a low bounce rate, a high number of registered users that are actively involved and engaging with the vendors, and tons of amazing features…but if only one or two brides are searching for services in your town per month, chances are that the investment isn’t going to pay off. Know your demographic. If you are in a moderately large city with a large percentage of unmarried professionals (take Tampa, for example, which is full of successful adults in their mid 20s-40s and situated near popular wedding destinations, beaches, and resorts), you will have much more success than if you were in some backwoods community where the average age is 75. These sites pay off for people in areas where the users are more technologically inclined (and are therefore more likely to find and utilize these websites).
4.) How many competing vendors appear in the user’s search results and what are they offering? Remember, this company makes its money in vendor memberships. They aren’t offering this special deal just to you as some kind of favor…they’re offering those memberships to anyone and everyone that is willing to pay. You want to make sure that you have an edge on the competition, so do some searching and scope out what they’re offering the users so you know what you’re up against.
5.) Can they guarantee you will gain clients? Some services do put their money where their mouth is and will tell you, “If you don’t get enough business to pay off the membership fee, we’ll refund you.” Figure out what the details and restrictions are for these guarantees before agreeing to a membership. They’re offering you this membership with promises of marketing you to their customer base. If they can’t guarantee that they can deliver on those promises by offering you your money back if they fail, chances are that they aren’t as great as they claim.
6.) If they are offering to market you via social media (such as Twitter or Facebook) find out if their followers are legitimate followers or paid followers. Yes, you can buy Twitter followers. Such is the state of our sad, sad virtual world. Companies do this to spread their reach or to make it seem like they are more renowned than they actually are. People do it to make it look like they actually have people that care enough about their pathetic lives to follow their ridiculous posts. Look into their accounts and see how often they post on behalf of the other businesses they represent, what those posts look like, and whether people retweet or favorite them. If their company has 2 million followers but none of their posts are favorited, retweeted, or commented on…chances are that their following is a lie. Remember also that these “follower counts” are unreliable since there are a lot of people out there like me. Do I have Twitter? Yes. Do I use it? Never.
7.) Does the company advertise itself well? Have you ever heard of the company and what they offer their users? If not, flip open a well-known bridal publication and search for an ad. Are there any commercials on TV for it? Chances are, if you can’t find them neither can anyone else. If they can’t even advertise their own brand, how are they going to advertise yours?
If you have any questions regarding these services, let me know. Personally, I don’t mess with them. There are too many “if” factors for me. “IF” the client finds the site. “IF” the client registers an account. “IF” the client chooses to use the site for her event planning. “IF” the client finds my business in the search results. “IF” the competing businesses aren’t offering more for less. Honestly, you’d be better off attending local wedding expos and investing the $100 or so in a small booth so you can actually meet with brides, bring models, and distribute gifts and samples.
I have a Premium listing on StyleSeat and I’m part of SpaWeek’s network. Both of those send me plenty of business and cost me virtually nothing. I pay for StyleSeat because I need the ability to book recurring appointments (and they’re awesome) and SpaWeek takes a super small fee for each gift card of theirs I redeem. The clients I get from both always (and I mean always) become regulars of mine, so it is well worth it. I recommend both of them highly.