What makes a successful wedding site in the MENA?

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There is no doubt that planning a wedding requires a lot of time: from setting the wedding date, to inviting guests, and picking the wedding venue, photographer, hairdresser, jewelry, honeymoon destinations, and many other things. While time consuming and tedious, they’re essential details in the most important day in the life of any bride and groom. In an attempt to bring newlyweds one step closer to their dreams, the Arab world has seen a boom in wedding planning websites all trying to meet the increasing demand.

Among these websites is Hatgawez (an Egyptian all-things-marriage listings site), the Emirati Zafafi magazine, iWedPress.com, which allows couples to create their own wedding website (Lebanon), Yebab.com for wedding-related services in the Arab region, ArabiaWeddings.com (Jordan), My Farah (UAE), WeddingsInEgypt.com (Egypt), BrideClubEMe.com (UAE), and others.

Despite the large number of these websites, there is still a place for new players. That’s why we met with two wedding website founders to ask them about the foundations for creating a similar website in the MENA region.

We talked with Joseph Milad, founder of WeddingsEgypt.com, which was launched about a year ago and set out to be an online listings website and a free source of information for every bride and groom in Egypt. They seem to have succeeded: the website gets more than 150,000 visitors per month. We also met with Sarah Farah who launched White Almonds in December 2013 from Dubai, a space that helps couples and guests alike pick the perfect gift with a wedding registry. They both had some thoughts as to what makes a successful wedding site, and a successful wedding site administrator:

  • Familiarity with the field. Milad believes that when you want to launch a website specialized in weddings you have to have the know-how and skills of a wedding planner. He goes on to explain that WeddingsEgypt.com was more like a software solution for couples in the beginning. “However, we had to take the role of a wedding planner to truly understand everything related to this field and to experience the real thing, which helps, when you create your website, to put a specific strategy and offer information in a way that speaks to the bride and understands her.”

  • Offer accurate information. When you want to have a wedding listings website, you have to be able to provide necessary information on supplier services and all things weddings. Milad tells us that his website follows international standards, taking sites like TheKnot.com and WeddingWire.com as its sources of inspiration. Milad and his team worked hard to talk to suppliers and wedding specialists to gather information and data and to put them in a free, interactive, and selective online guide. “We only choose professionals. [This is difficult because] the Egyptian market is very big and you’ll find in it many ‘jacks-of-all trades.’ We cleaned the database to offer the best and most reliable information on our website,” explains Milad who believes that this scrutiny and dedicated work is what has brought the website to rank so high in terms of SEO when users search for wedding-related topics in Egypt.

  • Offer services that respect traditions. There is no doubt that the services offered are the essence of the website. Farah says that when she wanted to launch White Almonds, she knew that it was necessary to provide her customers with her services round the clock and to have a physical presence as well. It’s important for a wedding site to be “a space where customers can visit her to see the various gift options or to inquire about how the marriage gift list actually works for instance,” she says, stressing the importance of respecting different traditions and cultures in every country. That’s especially important since in some places people may think of the registry as something rude in itself even if they expect to receive gifts. “In Gulf countries, gifts vary from one family to another, as well as in terms of the relation between the guest and the couple. Gifts are often material, such as jewelry, cash, or other gifts for the groom,” she explains, adding that the registry is more acceptable among Western, Lebanese, and Syrian customers who constitute her main target audience. However, she believes that traditions are changing and that once she has succeeded in attracting one Gulf customer, this will have a domino effect.

  • Go local, not regional. “A local [wedding] website has a better chance at succeeding than a regional one,” according to Milad who sees that customs and traditions vary from one country to another, even within the MENA region. “In the Arab world, we follow the US model and add a local character to the ideas,” he adds.

  • Find a niche. For her part, Farah sees that what’s important is to find a niche market and to distinguish yourself from others, one way or another. “Our niche market was there, especially that wedding gift list websites either did not exist or existed but in a different way, since we don’t charge extra fees on financial transactions and have an online presence,” she says.

  • Have absolute faith in what you do. Farah tells us that many of her friends and acquaintances told her that her project wouldn’t work because registries contradict customs and traditions. However, she adds, “I believe in myself and I know what I’m building very well. Let’s wait and see. Every time we fail or stumble, we learn and get back on our feet,” adding: “Keep growing, especially because a website needs continuous effort. Don’t forget that doing business is difficult these days and marketing is crucial. So find the best ways to market your project.”

  • Know your competitors… without focusing too much on them. Farah asserts that it is essential to know what’s happening around you, but not to let that affect your work. “Competition is good because it keeps you going forward. However, don’t forget that the market is big and that there are many things you can do and many opportunities you can take,” says Farah, who believes that the wedding gift list service is just the beginning and that it might evolve and turn into something much bigger.

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