Google helps launch 2,300 free Web sites for Canadian SMBs

Less than one month into its “Get Your Business Online” initiative, Google Canada is already claiming promising results.

Within the first week, more than 1,500 new Web sites were created, and 2,300 dot-ca domain names were registered, according Google. More than 120 businesses have also signed on as “official supporters” of the initiative, meaning they are endorsing the program. 

Google launched the initiative to help the 1 million small businesses in Canada that don’t have Web sites. A similar initiative was launched in Britain, where Google reports it did well, though it couldn’t provide any statistics. The company has also launched a program in Australia.The GYBO program uses hosting and templates from Yola Inc., one of Google’s partners in the initiative. 

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“The initial results from the GYBO program have far exceeded our expectations,” says Chris O’Neill, Google’s director of Canadian operations in a written statement. “We are thrilled that so many entrepreneurs and Canadian businesses have already taken advantage of this great opportunity to get started online and engage in the digital economy,” he says.

Bicycle importer Vince Valeriote heard about the program through a local radio station. Google’s announcement coincided with the launch of his company. Soon after he heard the news, he and his wife Hanna registered a domain for their Toronto-based start-up Cali Cruisers, which brings different styles of bicycles from California to Canada.

So far, their site is basic and includes photos of inventory, contact information and tells visitors how to buy. The Web site is already at 20 hits per day, but Valeriote says he has no idea how. His company hasn’t yet invested in any advertising, so he credits hits through search engines—likely Google itself— as the main traffic driver. He has been tracking his Web site’s success using Yola’s analytics. The free version allows users to track their hits over the past seven days.  

The Valeriotes decided not to go with a professional Web designer because the cost was just too extensive for their start-up, he says. But they also didn’t look into other similar Web hosting  and designing options, he says. “Once I reviewed what was being offered, I decided that that was exactly what we needed,” he says.

It took Valeriote about 40 minutes to set up his site using Yola, but he says he has had experience with widgets before. “Overall, I found it very easy,” he says, though he was disappointed that he couldn’t customize his Web site’s header.

Related story: Microsoft offered free Web sites 3 years before Google

Critics have already picked up on similar limitations with Google’s offer. Brad Leclerc, who runs an independent tech support and consulting business in Ottawa, is one such critic. He signed up for the program but he has suggested alternatives for his clients. He wouldn’t recommend the GYBO program to any business owner, let alone a tech savvy one, he says. Unfortunately, the less tech savvy people are the target market, he adds.

Sites like WordPress typically have a large choice of templates and a registered domain for about $17 per year, Leclerc pointed out on his blog post following Google’s announcement. He also pointed out that users can receive much cheaper hosting through other providers after the free year is up. In the long run, it’s not the best deal, he concluded.

Despite the criticisms, Valeriote says he would definitely recommend GYBO to other start-ups and Cali Cruisers will stay with Yola after the free year is up, he says.

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