Well, strictly speaking CapeMay.com is over 13. I acquired the domain in 1995 when I was in charge of a “new media” company called North Park Studios, a spin-off of Digital Color Image, a printing company. That first www.capemay.com on the world wide web was just a single page, a photo-collage of Cape May. It was seen in 1996 by some 21,000 people. That number tripled in 1997, an indication that the name itself was drawing a good deal of attention; it was time for a real website.
In September 1998, coincidentally the same month that Google was created, CapeMay.combecame a website. At the time, Cape May had a plethora of printed pieces produced by non-profits and service organizations to promote tourism to Cape May. While some were surely effective, most came across as wordy sales literature. To us this was not truly Cape May. So we designed CapeMay.com to show Cape May through photography first and words second, emphasizing the beauty and the complexity of life here, the things that set Cape May apart from every other Jersey shore town.
To this day the opening picture on the home page says “This is Cape May”
In our first full month the website had 3,780 visits. Today, CapeMay.com is visited by nearly that many people on a single day in the spring and fall, and far more in the summer. Over a million visits have been logged on CapeMay.com each year for the past three years.
As the internet has evolved, so has CapeMay.com. People who found it 10 years ago may remember that it was primarily a pretty directory site for tourists, listing most of Cape May’s hospitality resources, with website links to those who were willing to pay for the traffic. (A tip of our caps here to our first real customers, Angel of the Sea and the Southern Mansion).
We learned quickly that on the internet “content is king.” It stimulates curiosity, triggers inter-activity and encourages return visits. So we introduced a Cape May quiz in our second year. Soon afterwards we included brief but substantive articles about Cape May. By 2000,CapeMay.com became “an internet magazine” with new features every month. Since then we have published scores of stories about life in Cape May. We’ve profiled buildings and people, reviewed restaurants, chased ghosts, explored nature, flown in a banner plane, taken the tours, posted reader memories, promoted events and always asked for readers’ feedback.
In 2003, we launched the “Picture of the Day” as a summer project. This was before we were equipped with digital cameras so we had to shoot film, get prints done overnight at Eckerds or Rite-Aid and scan them. Ugh! Then we invested nearly $2,000 in an early Nikon Cool-Pix and expanded the “Picture of the Day” to year-round. It’s now our most popular featurette, visited more than 205,000 times last year.
In 2004, we introduced a new accommodations section for posting privately advertised summer rentals. The section has since been spun off as CapeMayRentals.com, although there is direct access to it through CapeMay.com.
The next year we expanded our local coverage to include news and photo essays relevant to the residents of greater Cape May. We called it “Around Our Island.” It has since evolved into the larger “Cape Island News” section on the site.
Also in 2005, we launched our first “Best of Cape May” survey to get visitor feedback about who in Cape May is doing well at pleasing the visitors who come here. This year we’ve expanded the survey and received lots more responses. The list of 2008 winners appears here.
Two-thousand six was our “year of living dangerously.” That was when we reached beyond the “cozy confines” of the internet and launched Cape May Magazine. It came into being largely on the talents of our staff, and on the archive of articles written for CapeMay.com.We took a leap of faith that the many people who say they love Cape May would actually buy a top quality magazine written about Cape May in the style that makes for an enjoyable read. In order to overcome the paradigm of “free” (every current periodical about Cape May except the Star and Wave is free for the taking) we had to design the magazine with the kind of beauty and print reproduction that would set it apart. The magazine has readers in 43 states, all of whom now have a tangible way of staying in touch with their home away from home, Cape May.
Last year, CapeMay.com underwent some basic structural changes, making it even more useful to the visitor. We added a search feature for the site itself and started an email contact list. CapeMay.com has been at the top of Google and other search engines under the search term “Cape May” almost since the beginning. And we’re doing all we can to be sure it stays there.
Over the past ten years CapeMay.com has been buoyed by many talented contributors, both on-staff and free lance. Some of the early contributors included Judy Haas (writer), Jennifer Brownstone Kopp (editor, writer), Stephanie Madsen (artist, designer), Eric Avidessian (writer), Laura Albert (writer), Hal Robeteille (writer), Lisa Bernstein (writer) and Kelley Helbig (writer). More recently,CapeMay.com is the work of Susan Tischler (editor, writer), Lorraine Kiefer (writer, gardener), Jon Davies (writer, chef) and Jessica Leeburg (writer, current webmaster). Along the way, the site has benefited from the photographic talents of M. P. Myers, Erin Kirk, Sara Kornacki, and Macy Zhelyazkova.
One thing we have stressed over the last 10 years and the concept that remains today is this: Since the time it was inhabited by native Americans, Cape May has always been a special place, full of beauty and fun. It is regarded that way today by most visitors and residents and should be portrayed that way through the media, especially the website that bears the name, CapeMay.com.
So what’s next? Lots of changes – all good! If you make CapeMay.com your browser’s default home page you can be sure to keep up.
-Bernie Haas, founder
Bernie acquires the domain www.capemay.com and creates a simple photo collage of Cape May. Over the next year, over 21,000 people visit the website.
From our tiny office at 600 Park Boulevard (according to Fred Kuhner when he leased it to us it had been Bruce Minnex’s broom closet), CapeMay.com launches as a “real” website in September.
CapeMay.com becomes an internet magazine with new features every month on everything from history to ghosts, from tours to birds and fishing.
We move from our closet office to the ground floor of the Hotel Macomber, and we hire our first art director. Bernie gets his own desk!
We move offices again, this time to 1382 Lafayette Street above the office of Century21/Gilmartin
Our most popular feature, Picture of the Day, launches as a summer project. We shoot the pictures on actual film, develop them overnight at Eckerd, and scan them the next day. We later invest in an early digital camera and expand Picture of the Day to year-round.
Editor Susan Tischler joins the staff.
Private rental ads join the accommodations section. This section soon spins off as CapeMayRentals.com.
In December, we begin our Love Cape May campaign, sending thousands of our heart stickers to Cape May fans all over the country.
We tighten up local news coverage with Around Our Island, now Cape Island News.
The Best of Cape May survey launches.
CapeMay.com’s sister project, Cape May Magazine, launches in April.
Oops. we’re getting ahead of ourselves…