Businesses can have free websites

November 14, 2011
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Almost every small business in the region can soon have an online presence to tell the planet what it does and to search for new customers.

The second-best part about this opportunity is it comes with the necessary tools and professional training to accomplish that. The first-best part is that it’s free.

The offer is being led by the search giant Google and is supported by a host of Michigan-based sponsors through the Michigan Get Your Business Online program that held a kickoff event a few weeks ago in Kalamazoo.

“It’s a free program designed to increase the number of small businesses in the state with websites. It is led by Google, with numerous business groups as partners,” said State Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, who is promoting the virtual opportunity locally. “I encourage all Grand Rapids-area job providers to take advantage of this excellent free opportunity to reach out to new customers by getting your business online.”

The Michigan Economic Development Corp., the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center, the Small Business Association of Michigan, Southwest Michigan First and Lakeshore Michigan are just a handful of the state partners. The Association of Small Business Development Centers and Intuit, which builds websites for small businesses, are two of the national partners participating in the statewide program.

Associate SBTDC State Director Jennifer Deamund told the Business Journal that businesses with 500 or fewer employees can take advantage of the online program. Deamund said her organization and Google will hold at least six free workshops beginning next year to explain the opportunity to interested firms and to assist those companies in getting started.

But Deamund added that businesses can actually put their online effort in motion right now by going to michigangetonline.com and claiming their free website.

“They do not have to wait for the workshops. The workshops will, of course, hold their hands through the process. The reasons 59 percent of the businesses in Michigan do not have a website is because many of these businesses don’t have the time to create one, but they also may not be tech savvy and launching a website may be a bit frightful for them,” she said. “So the workshops allow the opportunity for them to have someone right there by their side in developing that website.”

Business owners who want to get going now should go to the website and click on the “get a website today” button on the left side of the FAQ section. The FAQ section explains many aspects of the offer, along with what Google and Intuit are offering; for instance, there are online templates available for 40 different business sectors. Business owners with more than one business can create a separate site for each. Each website, which can be produced in roughly an hour, will have a three-page capacity and owners will be advised as to how to fill those pages.

“I sat in on one of those sessions, and they strongly recommend 250 words for the home page and about 200 words for the other two pages. They strongly recommend that you are consistent with the content and be short with what your services or products are. So they do provide guidance when going through the workshop on what your website needs to look like — what’s going to create the most impact,” said Deamund.

Deamund emphasized that a website doesn’t have to be perfect before it is launched.

“Even at the workshop, Google recommended that they get started on that content — the 250 words on the home page and the 200 on the other two pages. As Google pointed out, you don’t want to wait until it’s absolutely perfect until you hit launch because Google and other search engines look for how often you’re updating that website. So if you launch your website — even if it is a little rough — then if you’re back updating it four weeks later, that’s only going to help with the search-engine optimization,” she added.

Deamund said she is putting together the schedule for next year’s regional workshops and will have it finalized after Google announces its dates for the next two states in which it plans to introduce the get-online programs. She hopes to have the state’s dates set immediately after the Christmas and New Year’s holiday break.

“Grand Rapids is absolutely a target location for the workshops,” she said.

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