Last evening, Google, together with its project partners RBC, Rogers, The Globe and Mail, Yola, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, made a BIG announcement. In an attempt to get more of Canada's 2.2 million small businesses online with a web presence, it would offer free websites, hosting, and a custom domain through an innovative program called "Canada Get Your Business Online".

Obviously there are disclaimers, but there are also some additional perks. Google for example, will offer $100 worth of AdWords advertising free of charge.

In true SEP fashion, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the offer, to see if the perceived value is as great as it seems at first glance. Below, follow some of the questions we wanted answered:


How Simple Is The Process?

I went through the process myself of securing a domain, building a website, and making it live, and WOW … it is simple and painless! Cudos to all involved.

How Search Engine Friendly is the FREE Website?
To be honest, its quite search engine friendly. Not perfect, but what can you expect for free. My initial expectations were in fact that the FREE sites would be unfriendly, as Google has incentive to drive businesses towards its AdWords product. True to Google's "Don't Be Evil" philosophy however, the sites are relatively search engine friendly. At the same time, Google provides some great tips and advice for making the new website as Search Engine Friendly as possible. Great move Google!

What Happens After Year 1?
The FREE aspect to this offer, ends after 1 year, at which point companies can either choose to stay with Yola.com, or can switch to a different web host. A number of points worth mentioning:

    1. the cost of the domain will be $34.95 US in the 2nd year, though discounts will be offered for multi-year renewals.
    2. The domain can be transferred at any time after a 60 day waiting period required by ICANN.
    3. The individual who registers the domain … owns it. Yola does not own the domain!
    4. If a domain/site is transferred, any tranfer fees would be charged by the registrar and not by Yola.
    5. Registrants can renew through a different registrar after transferring their domain away from Yola.
    6. Businesses can also transfer the site content if they choose to, though Yola will make no promises that it will work in all hosting environments.

* many thanks to Laura at Yola for these responses!

How Flexible is the Solution?
Quite flexible! I was again surprised to learn that businesses that choose to participate in this offer, can also load Google Analytics (another great FREE Google initiative). At the same time, businesses can add a limited number of pages at will, can change many elements within pages, and can even sign up easily for Google Places. All very convenient and flexible.

Who's Impacted?
This announcement has to be a tremendous blow to the Yellow Pages Group who have recently made paid websites a key component of their 360 Web Solutions, and invested heavily in an ad campaign to support it..

Bell's Small Business Group is also likely to be impacted, though perhaps less so than Yellow Pages Group.

Lastly, the myriad of small local web designers who might have otherwise got the business.

Summary:
Google et al … great work! You've exceeded my expectations. If you're a business in Canada and DO NOT currently have an online presence, then you'd do well by participating in this innovative program. As a Vision Critical/Angus Reid Public Opinion study found … 55% of SMEs that currently have a website attribute between 6% and 30% of their revenues to their online presence!

Now with a free website for the first year, what are you waiting for? Go ahead … get online!

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6 Responses to “Google Offers Free Websites to Canadian SMEs – Quick Evaluation”

  1. Sid Yellan says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Great review/summary of new Yola/Google/Partners offering. I had actually signed up to attend the announcement but wasn't able to make it.

    I took advantage of the premium offer at $7.99 for the year! Can't believe the number of templates offered and the power of the website development tool. I hope to have yellan.ca up and running next week.

    Regards,
    Sid

    • Jeff Quipp says:

      Thanks for the comment Sid! I have to admit … I'm very impressed with Yola. The process to set up a site was easy, and they responded to my questions within a couple hours!

  2. Jim Rudnick says:

    Thanks Jeff…for the updates too! I've asked CIRA for their own take on this and will publish their answer when I receive same…but I'd have to say that this does not appear to be true, ie the "locking in" of the free domain to Yola…

    Blogged about it too at my own site here — http://www.canuckseo.com/index.php/2011/04/google-cira-free-websites-for-canucks/

    :-)

    Jim

  3. Otto Kadd says:

    Hi Jeff,

    The more I check things out on the web, it seems everyone just stopped posting their comments about this early in April. Doesn't anyone have further information for us doubting-thomas's?

    Jeff, you had made a couple of posts to another blog where I was hoping to see further responses from Laura Thomas from YOLA.com but nothing…

    There was a good post there which is http://sebprovencher.com/2011/03/31/google-canadas-free-website-and-domain-name-read-the-fine-print/#comment-9404 and nobody replied to this very concerned individual whom I happen to think is right on the mark with his thoughts. Can you folks have a look at his post and maybe leave a comment with your thoughts….I am real curious what everyone thinks….

    Thanks

    OK

    • Jeff Quipp says:

      Thanks for the comment Otto. Unfortunately, I'm not up to speed with the specifics of the deal in terms of impacting Canadian jobs. I believe this is more for Google and its partners to answer than us. I can only report on the announcement as it applies specifically to the internet marketing industry. I think you've raised some valid points though.

  4. Jim Rudnick says:

    @Otto…while I've no idea as to why your comment over at Seb's blog has gone unanswered as yet by Laura over at Yola…

    I can say that I did update the GYBO program itself here on my own blog with the then current numbers which shows that at that time (May 13th), there were 4000 brand new .ca domains created….not a lot that's true, but it's a start, eh!

    If Laura does update, then I'd get that feed from Google itself…so if I do hear back from her, then I'll update my program posting then!
    :-)
    Jim