ix-million hits on any Web site is a pretty strong showing, but for those numbers to be tallied by a yacht club is astounding, let alone a yacht club with under 250 members. However, that’s the number of hits New Orleans Yacht Club’s Web site, www.NOYC.org, struck in late March cementing its de facto claim as the mouthpiece for members of the Gulf Yachting Association—an unrivaled success story that can be easily modeled by any club willing to put in the effort. Dave Erwin, a New Orleans CIO (chief information officer), who has helmed the Web site to its current level explains, “We’ve been very fortunate to have a bunch of good writers in the club, but along with that we’ve had some great stories to tell.” A yacht club’s Web site has the capability of enhancing the community aspect that the club was originally designed to promote as well as being a channel for disseminating information to members and nonmembers. Erwin continues, “All the way around it’s about communication. The site truly can become the glue for the club and the broader sailing community, when they’re not on the water or hanging around the club. It can become an off-the-water yacht club. Our biggest asset has been our message board. It’s an incredible way of bouncing information and ideas, or to just talk smack before a regatta.” NOYC.org averages nearly 1,800 unique visitors and 23,000 page views every day with the vast majority coming from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. However, there are large pockets of visitors who come from traditional sailing meccas around the country, including Annapolis, San Diego and Rhode Island. According to Erwin, “There are also some weird demographics coming in from France, Spain, Portugal and New Zealand. I don’t really know how to explain those.” NOYC.org’s successful model is based primarily on content. “It doesn’t matter what the site really looks like, but unless there is new content, no one will really go back.” Erwin continues, “Some Webmasters get too focused on the technology or appearance of the site, when their
70 April 2007
The Virtual Yacht Club By Troy Gilbert
time would be much better spent on generating content. People need to be interested in order to come back. Web sites shouldn’t be simply there for directions and phone numbers.” Nearly every yacht club has skilled members who would be willing to volunteer their time working on the Web site, writing and editing. Erwin adds, “Clubs need to engage their members to write content along with someone to proof. Obviously, the higher the quality, the better the product. It’s also about ease of use. Visitors should be able to find what they’re looking for within two clicks.” A club’s Web site doesn’t have to be expensive to operate in order to be successful. Domain names can now be purchased for under $15,
and in the least, sites can be set up and maintained for free by using simple resources such as Web blogs like Blogger. While NOYC.org has gotten fairly sophisticated over the years, the club’s expenses are completely offset by local marine advertisers. Erwin explains, “We don’t actually view our Web site as a moneymaking venture for the club. It is an enhancing service that we provide to our members. We have it set up so that the revenue that the site generates equals exactly what our costs are. It’s not a profit center, though it probably could be, but our goal is to provide the service at zero cost to our membership.” A club’s Web site can also come in handy during extraordinary times. After Hurricane Katrina, the value of NOYC.org exploded into focus. The local community used the resource as a means to track down missing individuals and post photos of flooded or undamaged homes along with damaged, destroyed or miraculously untouched sail and powerboats. During the storm, the club’s Web site was hosted by a server in downtown New Orleans and went off-line almost immediately. Fortunately the club kept a mirror or back-up site, which was hosted on a server in Hong Kong. Within two days after the storm, CNN, Yahoo, MSNBC, Sailing Anarchy and others had linked up to the site for news as well as member photos, which were trickling in. Erwin was amazed at the site’s usefulness, “NOYC.org became a set of eyes into the harbor and the nearby neighborhoods. On September 2, I received a call from our provider stating that we had already exceeded our monthly bandwidth and we had to move up into a more expensive hosting plan. As you’d suspect, it only took me a minute to explain what was happening before they waived all fees and restrictions. It was incredibly generous of them.” Today, NOYC.org has primarily returned to its traditional focus on sailing and racing, but it still remains a valuable resource as a means of disseminating information on the recovery for the region. The Web site has truly become an integral asset for the club.