OCEAN CITY – Only a week since it was launched into cyberspace, Ocean City’s much anticipated and heavily debated new website has received early praise and a surprising number of “unique” users.
The new and improved www.ococean.com was officially launched on Monday to coincide with the commencement of the town’s new advertising campaign, and as television viewers in metropolitan areas were being introduced to Rodney the Lifeguard for the first time, everyone from potential visitors to Ocean City to the site’s harshest of critics from Ocean City were finding the resort’s new web presence to be a vast improvement from its previous one.
“It’s an amazing site and I am so impressed and excited for it to finally be out there for people to see,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight. “I really think it’s going to help take Ocean City to the next level in the way we market ourselves to the masses.”
Knight was one of four council members (Joe Mitrecic, Doug Cymek, and Lloyd Martin were the others) who voted in favor of the motion to allow MGH Advertising to design the town’s new website without going through the usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process in late October to the tune of $178,000.
The three council members in opposition, Jim Hall, Margaret Pillas, and Joe Hall, were adamant in their desire to bid the website out to other companies as they felt the price-tag was highly exaggerated.
Research done by numerous town officials showed that the “bells and whistles” that the town wanted to have on the new site would actually cost more than the $178,000 that MGH was proposing, according to then-Tourism Director Mike Noah, who has since resigned.
“It’s much better than what we had, and I think that it’s a good site, but if we want to attract New York tourists, then our website needs to be New York City-good, and I don’t think we are there yet,” said Pillas.
Although Pillas conceded she has moved somewhere toward the middle of the argument, she said concrete numbers are what she’s looking for to move her from the proverbial fence.
“The proof is in the pudding, as they say, so let’s wait and see what kind of numbers come back on this website, as it’s very much in its infancy,” she said.
According to Ocean City Assistant Tourism Director Debbie Travers, who has been working with MGH during the website design process, the first week statistics are impressive.
“People are loving the site, and they are spending a lot of time on it, especially learning about Rodney,” said Travers. “People are visiting at least five pages on average, which tells us that they are navigating around the site fairly easily and we’ve had over 25,000 unique users since Monday.”
The term “unique user” is used to gauge actual visitors to the site, rather than merely clicks on the site itself. In addition to that, the built-in search engine has been heavily used in the first week, counting over 28,000 specified searches, which Travers said is a “very good sign.”
The site as it looks currently is only in its first stage, as streaming video and more savvy items of aesthetics will be added in June, according to Travers, who said that the website will be an ever changing entity for the town of Ocean City.
“Websites are very fluid and we can change them and we will be changing them all the time,” said Travers. “There’s always something that needs to be tweaked or massaged a little bit to get the right information to the right people.”
Those people seem to be finding what they are looking for, at least in the first week of the website’s existence, as almost 170 people have booked their trips to Ocean City using the website’s travel planner feature.
“The travel planner is great because it will allow them to not only book their trip, but it also enables them to find places and plan destinations to go to while they are in Ocean City, which we’ve never had before,” said Travers.
What’s impressive about the site is the fact that seemingly every bit of information is cross-referenced and even for the novice Internet user, the site is fairly easy to find your way around. The one flaw it seems, however, is only a fraction of the town’s 2,800 licensed businesses are listed on the site currently.
“We put every member of the Convention and Visitors Bureau into the database, and that’s about 300 businesses,” said Travers, “but we are developing, along with the HMRA and the Chamber of Commerce a very affordable package for businesses that may not have needed to be a member before to take advantage of the exposure on the new website. We want to get everyone on there, as it helps everyone and shows just how much there is to do here.”
The site also monitors zip codes and other tracking data, which will maximize who is using the site, and show which markets are booking trips to the resort via the Internet. So far, Pennsylvania and New York have been the two top states that are booking vacations to Ocean City.
Joe Hall, who was one of many people who thought that the website should be sent to an RFP and who still thinks the town could have gotten the current product at a cheaper price, said he’s finally willing to let go of the argument now that the site is up and running.
“The main goal has been accomplished and that was to get a much better website,” said Hall. “I still think we could have gotten it for less, and I’m displeased with the process of how we got a new website, but I guess we can’t talk about the price anymore because the money has already been spent.”