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‘Knotties’ still flock to popular wedding site but no longer in record numbers

At first glance, TheKnot.com appears to be enjoying a well-frosted slice of the $70 billion wedding industry.

Hands down, it is the most popular wedding-planning site, claiming 8.4 million members of a coveted demographic: women planning The Biggest Day of Their Lives, who have accepted that it will also be The Most Expensive Day of Their Lives.

The Knot knows this, and it capitalizes on it at every click, embedding high-dollar sponsors such as favorite gowns, recommended photographers and suggested bands. It even provides The Knot Credit Card from American Express, which awards 10,000 bonus points to anyone who makes more than $15,000 in purchases in a year, which is “easy with the cost of weddings these days,” the site says. “Simply put: The more you use the Card, the nicer the honeymoon you can go on!”

Brides-to-be network on plans for the Big Day
Brides-to-be don’t feel exploited by these tactics. Rather, they say they feel aided and indebted to The Knot. Every day, about 3,000 people become members. They create bios, blogs and friendships with other “Knotties.” It is a glittery swath of social networking, tightly knit by the singular intensity of wedding planning.

Danielle Frazier, 25, a Wells Fargo personal banker from Rosemount, leaves The Knot up all day and is active on it an hour or two daily — up to six hours some Saturdays. “I don’t necessarily want to hound all my friends and relatives about wedding planning, and my fiance gets sick of it, so this is my outlet,” she said.

The site has been instrumental in Frazier’s wedding planning, providing guidelines on invitations suited to her casual, backyard ceremony and a tip from a fellow “Knottie” that led her to her dress. She’s even soliciting votes for her first-dance song, having posted four options on her bio page. Frazier’s favorite feature is the Twin Cities message board, where women have been discussing centerpieces, chair covers, mothers-in-law and Sunday’s Wedding Fair in Minneapolis.

An end to the honeymoon?
It appears to be a match made in heaven: bonded members and a rich company — $441 million rich, that is. The Knot Inc. has expanded its media offerings, adding national and local magazines, books and TV programming. It also has expanded its scope, acquiring the sites PartySpot.com, PromSpot.com, GreatBoyfriends.com and TheNest.com to keep couples engaged long before and after the wedding.

And yet, there is a storm cloud looming over this paradise: The Knot’s 2007 web traffic plunged, according to independent web tracker Compete.com. It reports that The Knot attracted 692,943 unique visitors last month, a 17 percent drop from December 2006, when 831,046 people logged on. The decline was even more dramatic last June — peak wedding season — when the number of unique visitors fell 23 percent from June 2006.

What gives? It’s hard to say with much certainty. The online wedding industry is growing more crowded, making each site’s slice of the wedding cake thinner. And though The Knot remains the dominant leader, competitors appear to be chipping away at its customer base. The visitors drawn to seven similar sites last month — weddingbee.com, indiebride.com, a-weddingday.com, herecomestheguide.com, modernbride.com, diybride.com and marthastewartweddings.com — totaled 105,524. That comes pretty close to the number of visitors The Knot lost from December 2006 to December 2007: 138,103.

When I asked The Knot’s spokeswoman, Melissa Bauer, how the site’s traffic had been faring, she said, “I think it’s been up,” then stopped herself and said she didn’t know.

After a chat with The Knot’s CEO, she reported back: “Those third-party sources like Compete.com use a panel measurement, which means they only use a sample of users. We use Google Analytics, which is a little more precise and tracks every single user.”

But even if Google Analytics is “a little more precise,” how could the numbers diverge so widely? The Knot boldly proclaims it has 3.2 million unique visitors a month. (Bauer actually told me the site gets “over 3.4 million unique visitors rolling on a 12-month schedule.”) And yet, Compete’s general manager, Gregg Poulin, informed me that The Knot’s all-time high for unique monthly visitors was 1.54 million, back in February 2004. So its best month ever, according to Poulin, is less than half its current claim.

These findings are not definitive, and I won’t pretend they are. I may be missing something here, and if I am, please point it out. Ultimately, this case illustrates the various web trackers and web metrics available today, and the puzzling ways they can differ. To put it less diplomatically, I think it illustrates some monkey math.

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