Google, Intuit push small business owners to create web presence


(FILES)A Google+ logo is seen at Google's annual developer conference, Google I/O, at Moscone Center in San Francisco on June 28, 2012. (KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Harold Goffney has owned A & A Athletic Sporting Goods, his Capitol Hill sports store, since 1973.

For the past 40 years, the Washington, D.C. native has relied mostly on his personal connections for business leads. He attended Dunbar High School in Northwest D.C. and Morgan State University after that, where he established connections with the public school coaches and athletic directors who comprise the bulk of his customers today.

But Goffney wants to expand the scope of his business. When he recently applied to be on Baltimore County’s vendor’s list, county officials suggested he get a Website.“They tell me I’m missing the boat,” Goffney said.

Goffney was one of hundreds of small business owners hoping to build a Website at Google’s “Get Your Business Online” initiative this week, providing owners with free sites, Google AdWords credit, and tutorials. Goffney was concerned the sessions might be too technical — one class described Google’s AdWord’s program and how to construct search-engine driven ads — so he brought Karl Caton, a younger, more tech-savvy helper with him.

The initiative, driven by Google and a few other partners including Mountain View, Calif.-based software company Intuit, allows D.C. area businesses to secure a free Website, Google business listing, and free Web-hosting for the next one year at gybo.com/washington-dc/. Google also gave out $75 AdWords coupons. The company has offered similar seminars around the country for the past couple of years, including in D.C. last year.

Getting small business owners online is in Google’s best interest, said Google director of small business engagement Scott Levitan. More than half of small business owners don’t have a Website, meaning all their information is invisible from Google’s search capability, he explained.

For the 42 percent of small businesses who do have Websites, only a small minority have sites specifically designed for mobile access, Levitan added. Google partnered with DudaMobile, a Palo Alto-based software company helping desktop sites transition to mobile-friendly versions. The service normally costs $9 a month, but DudaMobile staff helped business owners transition for free during Google’s event.

Business owners from across the country attended the event’s “Digital Bootcamp”, a more intensive set of sessions held in D.C. helping them fine-tune sites they’d already built.

Detroit, Mich.-resident Christine Fitzpatrick, a freelance makeup artist specializing in bridal, film and television makeup, was discovered by several reality shows once she set up her site independently a year and a half ago. Before she did, “I wasn’t getting the work I wanted. I was applying for major network jobs, but they couldn’t view my portfolio and past clients,” she said. “Nobody would respond to me.”

Within a couple months of creating her site, she started receiving calls from networks like TLC — she currently travels with bridal show “Randy to the Rescue” and Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue”.

She set up the site through Intuit, and pays $12.99 a month for the Web-hosting.

Fitzpatrick is closely monitoring information about her viewers — through Intuit’s statistics and Google Analytics. So far, she’s learned that about 10 people come to her site a day, and usually one contacts her through her site a day. Most visitors are interested in her portfolio and her biographical information, based on the number of clicks.

Though she said she’s seen a significant increase in business after setting up her site, she’s still making adjustments. She recently realized page visitors might be downloading pictures of her work and claiming it was theirs — at this week’s seminar, she learned how to prevent users from “right-clicking” her portfolio photos to make copies.

For some, transitioning their business online hasn’t been quite so easy. Marilyn Caskey, who runs a San Antonio, Texas-based consignment store, set up her site two years ago but has been struggling to adapt to e-commerce. She’s been selling her inventory on eBay for a few years, but wants to integrate an online store feature directly into her site.

She’s currently using Intuit’s “Simple Store” feature, which she thinks is “too simple” because it only allows her to upload one picture of each item and a basic description. She’s hoping when she upgrades to a more advanced store feature — bringing her total Web hosting fee to about $50 a month — her site will look more professional.

“I’m not going to quit my day job and become a Website designer,” she told an Intuit support specialist as she adjusted her site.

The biggest challenge, she said, has been learning about keywords and search engine optimization to make sure her site appears in Google searches.

“The basic set up is really easy,” she said. “The hard part is when you have to learn about ‘meta-tags’ like keywords,” she said.

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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