Was it only a matter of time before Google realized that there is money in building websites for the unsuspecting small business owner, or is there more to the recent mammoth campaign the Internet giant has rolled out to entice small business owners into having a website. Google first teamed up with Intuit in 2006 in the sales of Quick Books accounting systems, especially used in online commerce, and is now doing an all out campaign to sign up every small business in America with the promise of a free website.
With 63% of small business owners in the US still not having a website, while 97% of consumers look online for local products and services, a major technology and marketing disconnect looms on the horizon.
Google is saying small business owners you NEED a WEBSITE or else….the learning curve from zero to advanced becomes too tasking and will take your company out of the loop in less than half a decade.
Of course at Searchamelia we have been singing that song for the better part of a decade now, so I cannot say: don’t do it. As a business you need a website because that’s where your customers are!
However there are many different conditions for a website to be viable and viability does not come for free. No Sir. Especially not if you have been sitting on your hands for years where it involves online commerce.
A couple of day ago I got a postcard in the mail from websitebychuck.com. Chuck claims he’s the best in the business in North Florida and his overhead is the lowest around by far. So for $495 Chuck builds you not just a website, but the best one in North Florida. I have tested Chuck’s websites to be exactly what you paid for: a Business card on the Internet or about exactly what we did for early online customers about 18 years ago when the worldwide web came out of the starting blocks.
Chuck sent his invitation to Amelia Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast with an old fashioned but time-tested postcard mailer. It could have saved him a postcard and a stamp if he had googled “amelia oceanfront bed and breakfast”, because it would have shown him a website that cost way more than his offer but actually books more than 90% of the Inn’s guests and saves tens of thousands a year on third party commissions.
I wonder what Chuck is going to do now that Google is going to throw its 800 pounds into the ring and offer websites for “free”.
Admittedly, free is always a debatable word since we all know that nothing in life is free, except maybe beautiful sunrises and sunsets. But to be fair, the Google deal is not all bad since the first year of hosting and the domain name purchase are free. How special is that? Not that much actually. First time website owners get special deals from many different hosting companies for the first year. Our hosting company Siteground.com gives specials that sell the same package for as low as $24.95 for the first year. GoDaddy, HostMonster, HostGator and other ones hover in the same price range for start ups.
So what makes the Google-Intuit Alliance different?
Nothing earth shattering here either. Many hosting companies offer web templates and tutorials that can teach anyone to build a website in a couple of hours. I can actually build a simple navigation website in about 40 minutes, but that website’s configuration has about the same chance of being found on the worldwide web as a snowflake in the midday sun. What’s more, Intuit’s templates, just as www.wix.com and a whole range of other webdesign farms, offer free website builders with the promise of being simple to build, drag and drop, no programming skills needed and all are so called “searchengine friendly”.
But there are a bunch of catches they won’t tell you; catches that will make visitor visibility impossible.
Let’s take the example of www.wix.com which operates in Canada and the US with the proud homepage statement that 14,514,978 sites were created with Wix’s free website builder. Now that’s an impressive lot of websites.
I recently was approached by a Canadian couple that owns a prominent fashion establishment on Lake Huron, to build an online presence that can sell product globally. Their current website is www.sistersonhuron.com and is a product of wix.com‘s ‘generosity’ to help small businesses build free seo friendly websites.
However, their website does not score any ranking or attract visitor numbers of any significance, since all the attention from the searchengine spiders and robots go to wix.com.
To understand how this works, look at the bottom left of this Searchamelia page. Depending on the status it will either say “Transferring data from searchamelia.com” or “reading searchamelia.com”.
Now click on this link www.sistersonhuron.com and see what it reads in the bottom left. That’s right, it reads “transferring date from static.wix.com“. No mention of the sistersonhuron domain
My Canadian friends’ website does not get any respect, with a nod to Rodney Dangerfield. All recognition goes to www.wix.com and in the Google/Intuit Alliance all the recognition will go to Intuit. The free part of the offer is a calculated loss leader to corral customers for their financial services.
The End of the Website as we know Era
Old friends of mine, Keith and Sharon Jardine, from my days in St.Martin are currently staying with us. Sharon was my chief creative designer in the early 90s. She and Keith were born in South Africa and on a circumnavigation on their ferro cement sailboat. After we parted ways in 1994 they sailed to Fiji, got married, sailed to Bora Bora and the rest of the South Pacific and from there to Australia and finally back to Durban SA from where they moved to London and later to the States. Keith became an IT guru/speaker/lecturer in the trenches of the world wide web and he has probably forgotten more about building websites, then I’ll ever learn.
He works with the big boys in IT; the Fortune 500 members. He told me last night that insiders into new technologies give websites as we know them another 4 years, before they become the victim of mobile App technology. Look around you and see the speed that i-Pads and Smartphones are making the internet mobile and you cannot deny the observation.
Google went into this latest alliance for two reasons:
1. to attract the massive amount of small business without online presence in a last ditch effort before the Internet moves on and looks back at a “lost generation”.
2. to sell them all the small business Google services available in QuickBooks (especially the financial transactions services) to promote themselves online.
What Google/Intuit offers is a “free, easy to build Intuit website; free customized domain name; free web hosting for one year; and free online tools and training.” After the first year, it is $4.99 a month and your domain name is $2 a month — which adds up to $84 a year. Now this is shared hosting, meaning your website shares the server with many other websites. It’s not like Searchamelia which uses dedicated hosting on a dedicated cloud server at a cost of $1,500 per year, because the reality is, the more visitors you attract, the more you get charged for bandwith usage and the more you need stability and customer support.
Also interesting is that the Google service was initially also promoting a website search engine boost for $4.99 a month, which promises to submit content for constant updating and improved search ranking. Interestingly, this offer vanished when I checked on the site before publishing this article, but it was prominently displayed last Sunday. The service is clearly set to boost SMB penetration, and will not only help SMBs get online, but also help Google and Intuit sell a lot of services once the SMBs are locked in.
Advice is don’t jump on the bandwagon too fast and realize that a free website does not mean you don’t have to work it daily with new content and lots of SEO. You are now a webmaster!!! It also means that if you don’t, no potential customer is going to see your site, unless by an accident surf or search. And last but not least, realize that it is only a temporary solution as the world wide web moves into the next phase of mobile in the next 3-4 years.
According to the Bell Curve of Adoption big money can be made when the curve crests and that is why Google and Intuit started offering “free” websites.