Canadian small and medium sized businesses appear to be an enticing target for firms offering Web hosting services, even those based in the U.S.
On March 29, Google Canada launched its “Canada Get Your Business Online” initiative, offering one year of free Web site hosting and design tools for small businesses. The service also includes registration of a dot-ca domain name.
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But apart from Google’s new service, there are still a slew of competitors providing similar services at low costs, as SMBs are becoming increasingly aware that being found online is crucial to their growth.
This month, U.S.-based company 1and1 Internet Inc. officially launched its MyBusiness Site which aims to service Canadian firms.1and 1 Internet Inc. is offering three packages designed to help SMBs build up their Web presence.
“It’s an intelligent platform but it’s easy to understand and it gives usersthe essentials,” says Lauren Whitson, a spokesperson for 1and1. “We know that SMBs don’t always have the best comfort level,” she says.
Indeed, the interface is very straightforward, allowing users to makeinstant updates to their site while seeing the design of the page as a whole,rather than lots of code or text boxes.
The company’s MyBusiness Site’s packages are madeto grow with your business, Whitson says. The basic package costs $9.99 per month.Each package includes one free domain, 200 e-mail accounts, unlimited Web spaceand data traffic, a visitor counter and guestbook.
For $19.99 per month, users can have the MyBusinessSite Plus package, which includes an image library, RSS News Feeds, anewsletter tool, a product catalogue and product search function.
MyBusiness Site offers more than 100 templates forbuilding your business’ Web site. But as with other similar services, thiscould lead to several other businesses sharing your site’s look and feel, whichcan present a problem for branding.
Good searchengine optimization (SEO) can help your company get noticed though, Whitsonsays. The MyBusiness Site Premium package, priced at$29.99 per month offers businesses SEO help from a 1and1 team.
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It’s an aggressive market for these kinds of services, withcompetitively-priced hosting Web sites popping up all the time.
The Yellow Pages Group, for example, recently launched its 360 Degree Solution for SMBs. Theservice includes a team that will help businesses create a Web site from one ofmany templates that YPG has. Marketing services are also included in the deal.
A simple Google search will yield an overwhelming amount of options, ranging from the popular GoDaddy.com to more obscure hosting sites offering servicesfor only a few dollars per month.
So how does an SMB choose a service?
“You need to have flexibility in your hosting provider,” says Stuart Crawford, president and chief marketing officer for Ulistic Inc. “Customer service isessential. Are you able to speak to a live person if something goes wrong?” hesays.
Flexibility is a key goal of 1and1’s services. “Each package builds uponanother,” Whitson of MyBusinessSite says. “Everythingis easy to follow,” she says. “It’s click and build.”
“One of the best things you can dofor branding is keep your Web site updated,” Whitson says. SMBsmay not have the time or resources to wait for someone to make updates to theirpages, she points out. Being able to do it yourself is much easier.
But many SMBs don’t understand the complexities ofSEO and linking, Crawford says. Added SEO services from Web hosting providersmay only optimize your company’s name, which isn’t as useful, she says.
SEO can be a complicated and long process, so he suggests that SMBs still look into outside firms who specialize in thistype of work. “I always recommend consulting a professional,” he says.
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“Find out who the top three or four people in your industry are and look atwhat they’re doing,” Crawford recommends when determining how SMBs can implement Web optimization.
One advantage of these do-it-yourself Web sites is the learning process forbusiness owners. “You’re more in control with this kind of SEO than with anoutside marketing firm,” Whitson says. 1and1’s team is there to help, but itsservices are also designed to allow business owners to manage their ownmarketing, she says.
MyBusiness Site also allows businesses to viewtheir sites’ traffic and effectiveness. The company’s program indicates wherehomepage visitors originate and what content they are viewing with data that isupdated daily. Business owners can also see the pages where viewers most oftenleave their website from, and with which tags the website was found from searchengines.
When choosing a hosting provider, security is also crucial to consider andquality e-mail service is vital, Crawford says. SMBsneed to consider the security of their information when choosing a hostingservice that also offers e-mails (which most do).
All of 1and1’s services go through a data centre in Lenexa, Kansas, which Whitson says is highlysecure.
Not all companies have that though, so Crawford says it’s important toresearch who would have access to your hosting provider’s server, where itsdata centre is physically located and whether the information is encrypted.
It’s also important to have a reliable service, since having outages on youre-mail service can be a major annoyance, he says. Crawford often recommends Siteground.com for thisreason. “I’ve been on it for five years and I could count on one hand theoutages,” he says. And those few outages were extremely short, he says.
Whatever services they require, Crawford recommends businesses do theirhomework and are very careful when choosing a provider.