As a professional photographer I am very clear about the value of the services I provide. It is wonderfully simple when people take the time to follow up a word of mouth reference or look for me online.
There are just too many websites offering to find me for people, and can charge both the client and me for the privilege. They very rarely do any real checking on the quality of my services, provide no real way of comparing photographers and the services they provide, do little to facilitate communication after the first contact, and provide no insurance or support if things should go wrong. Fortunately that has never been an issue for my clients because I make the effort to talk, discuss, clarify and resolve questions before contracts and money change hands.
Clients would always be wise to read references and reviews and then to make a shortlist of the photographers they think will meet their needs. When people consider how much they are going to spend on the wedding photographer, they would be very unwise to leave it all to an agency.
Word of mouth recommendation is the best way, and thanks to the internet every photographer should have their best work online for clients to see, having heard of them from a family or friend.
Google and other search engines are also good especially if people use the map tab to find local photographers. Having specific location or quality key word searches will also help to bring up the kind of photographer people are looking for. With the map tab they will also get easy access to google reviews which are another good place to start. Yes, this does take a little thought and time, but it is more likely to provide people with a personal contact and the beginning of a quality relationship between client and photographer.
It is also more fun to do the research and to meet people in the process of making a choice of photographer. Again, after the venue the cost of a photographer may be the second most expensive thing purchased, so surely it is worth spending time getting a photographer who is artistic, technically accurate and with the personality to not only produce beautiful images but also to get on with family and friends.
So by looking personally for their photographer people would not only save money, but the fun of investing time and energy would result in a deeper and more significantly committed relationship with the photographer without the need for a third party. This is bound to lead to better photographs.