For one year, Google will foot the bill for a small business Web site

Google offers to buy Canadian small firms a Web site

Google Canada announced it is offering one year of free Web site hosting and construction tools for small businesses March 29, including registration of a dot-ca domain name.

Partnering with Yola Inc., a Web hosting company co-headquartered in San Francisco and Cape Town that offers Web-based templates and construction tools, Google aims to get more small firms online. Half of the 2 million small businesses in Canada don’t have a Web site, according to Google’s promotions surrounding its new Canada Get Your Business Online initiative.

More than a modern-day version of Geocities or Angelfire, Google and Yola’s offering comes complete with Web-based tools that allow businesses with no technical knowledge to construct a professional-looking site from templates. The free offering directly competes with a slew of Web hosting businesses offering similar capability.

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Google isn’t looking to put those companies out of business, says Chris O’Neill, managing director of Google Canada. It just wants to make it easier for small businesses to get online. Web hosting joins other free services Google offers to businesses, such as Analytics and Insights for search.

“It’s about making businesses smarter about their online presence,” he says. “We’re always looking for businesses to understand more about their business.”

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For Google, having more businesses with Web sites means more potential customers for its AdWords service. The sponsored search listings that appear alongside organic search results generate a lion’s share of the Internet giant’s revenue – $22.9 billion and 97 per cent of Google’s total revenue in 2009.

“The Internet has revolutionized marketing,” O’Neill says. “Small businesses can actively fund consumers that are looking for the products and services they sell.”

Partners on the initiative include RBC Royal Bank, Rogers Communications, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), and Toronto-based Silver Lining Ltd.

CIRA is the non-profit authority governing dot-ca domain names in Canada. It has a mandate to make Canadians aware of the domain and encourage them to get registered, says Byron Holland, president and CEO of CIRA. Plus, it’s not costing the authority a dime.

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“We’re not giving away any domains,” he says. “Google is buying them, so Google is paying the price to do this thing.”

The response to Google’s initiative launch was noticed immediately by CIRA’s IT department. As Kevin O’Leary, the chairman of O’Leary Funds, hosted the launch event in downtown Toronto, Canadians were checking to see if they could nab a well-named dot-ca address. And Holland was getting text messages about the activity.

“I’ve already seen the activity on our server as a result of this, and we got hit hard with people trying to find names right away,” he says. There are currently about 1.6 million dot-ca domains registered with CIRA, and Holland says hitting 2 million within a year’s time is likely. By comparison, there are 94 million registered dot-com addresses, according to DomainTools LLC.

Other discounted Web and business services are being tossed into Google’s initiatives by partners. Silver Lining is offering its business planning software up for a free month, and then a discounted price of $365 for a year – the software typically costs $1,000 per year.

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The software guides businesses through an action plan that is designed to help them succeed in the first year of doing business, explains founder and CEO Carissa Reiniger. It’s been used by over 10,000 small businesses in North America and helps entrepreneurs to clarify business goals and analyze their business model.

“Having a Web site is one thing, having an action plan to grow is something else,” Reiniger says. “We’re Weight Watchers for small business – we’ll give you the tools and the support, and make you weigh in, to help you hit the goal.”

A new Web-based version of Silver Lining’s software will launch May 1. It will feature an avatar that guides users through constructing a business framework.

Google launched a similar initiative in February 2010, called Getting British Business Online. It partnered with Britain’s national domain authority there as well, as well as BT and Enterprise UK. It offers British small firms a free Web site, a customized Web site, and free online marketing. The stated goal is to get 100,000 businesses online.

Now Google is importing that program to Canada.

“We saw an enormous gap in Canada between where consumers are and where businesses are in Canada,” he says. “If you don’t have a Web site today, it’s like not having a phone number 10 to 15 years ago.”

Yola’s free domain offering doesn’t include e-mail accounts under the custom dot-ca domain. It’s not clear how much storage space or bandwidth in included in the hosting package. Free account users will also have Yola branding placed on their pages.

Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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