I knew little about sailing other than I loved it–a fact I wished to remedy this Summer. But where to begin? For as little as I knew about sailing, I knew even less about sailing schools. I started my search with a close friend, having known that her brother went to a maritime college and her mother was a highly skilled sailor, I hoped she might have a recommendation for a reputable school in my area. My friend was at a loss. Her family lives in Japan and though her mother was American born, even she had no suggestions regarding schools in NJ. So I did what anyone my age would do, I googled.
I typed “nj sailing school” into the search engine and found four schools which popped up on the first page of results. From there I made my initial impressions based on their websites and pricing, but ultimately I decided I would have to visit each one in person before I made my final decision. Even the cheapest one seemed expensive to me, so I wanted to make sure I would be getting my money’s worth.
I made the day trip and visited each school. I was able to meet with the staff and instructors as well as get a feeling for their rental availability. After all, what’s the point of learning to sail if I don’t have a boat to sail with after the course? Ultimately, I chose Nelson Sailing Center and went on to become ASA certified in Basic Keelboat Sailing.
The contrast between their site and their actual facilities justifies my instinct to visit all the locations in person. What I had initially written off as a questionable business turned out to be the most well run and professional (CSS abilities aside) of the four options. Moreover, they were the only school to mandate that I read through 180 pages of text and watch a one hour instructional DVD before I could even meet my instructor on the water. They took my education seriously and that’s how they won my business.
What interests me most are my hindsight observations as a consumer entering this market for the first time. My initial instinct was word-of-mouth because I knew someone who might be able to help and I valued their opinion over anything else. When that hit a dead end, and, with no prior brand awareness to direct my search, Google became my only option. This speaks to a long-understood importance of SEO. For all I know there is a better school out there that would have been cheaper or had more renowned staff, but, the fact is I’ll never know if they never ranked high enough in Google to become part of my consideration set. Simply put, a brand must exist in Google’s top 10 in order to exist at all.