Get Your Canadian Business Online: Google Gives Small Businesses in Canada Free .ca Domain, Website
By Julie King | April 1, 2011
At first glance, it seems like an offer that is too good to be true: a free website, compliments of Google and its associated partners, that even includes the free registration of a .ca domain that will be good for one year.
To help Canadian small business owners understand whether or not this service is something they should use, CanadaOne has done a step-by-step evaluation of the Get Your Canadian Business Online (GYBO) initiative. We've identified the pros and cons as well as questions you will want to ask before making a final decision. Here is what we found.
Free domain offers greatest value
There is nothing new about the idea of a free website-building tool for small businesses. A search for "free websites" returns over 50 million results.
What is unique about the GYBO initiative is Google's offer to pay for the registration of a .ca domain name for the first year. If businesses are worried about having a .ca as opposed to a .com domain, they shouldn't be.
"It's fantastic to see an increasing number of .ca domains registered for use by Canadian businesses," says Bill Sweetman, general manager of YummyNames. "More and more, Canadian consumers expect a Canadian business to have a .ca web address versus a .com. That wasn't the case a decade ago."
Another benefit of using a .ca, says Sweetman, "is that it automatically indicates to search engines like Google that the content of the site is Canadian. If a Canadian company wants to promote itself online as Canadian to Canadians, owning and using a .ca domain name is an important piece of the marketing puzzle, eh."
Pros, cons and limitations of free .ca domains
The question to ask is this: Is there such a thing as a "free lunch" or, in this case, a free .ca domain?
The answer is yes, but you may want to switch registrars before it's time to renew. Here are the key points:
- Ownership: Domains are registered to the person who signs up for the service, presumably the business owner. (Businesses take note: Use the name of the business owner, not an employee.)
- Costs: The cost of the .ca domain registration is paid by Google for a one-year term. Yola.com is the initial registrar and businesses will need to pay renewal costs for subsequent years. (If you don't like Yola's renewal pricing, which starts at $38.95 per year, you can switch to a more competitive registrar like www.domainsatcost.ca, which currently charges $12.95 for .ca domain registration and renewals.)
- Email restrictions: One of the main reasons to register a domain name for your business is to get email at that address. It's more professional, but you may need to pay extra for the email service if you opt for a free website. You can pay $9.96 per year to use Yola mail or you can use either gmail or Hotmail if you can configure the email account yourself. Compared to other hosting services, your email choices are limited.
- Portability: When you register your free .ca domain, you will need to wait 60 days before you can transfer or point it to a different service, due to restrictions imposed by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). After that, you are free to transfer the domain to another host or registrar. (The terms on Yola are being updated to reflect this.)
- Limitations: Businesses can register one domain name for each unique emaill address they have. There are differences in the wording and restrictions of the terms of service on Yola and those on the GYBO.ca website. We asked a spokesperson at Google to clarify and were told that Yola's terms apply to the domain and website, which means that if you have multiple unique email addresses, you can register mulitple domains through this offering. As with all Canadian (.ca) domains, you must be a resident of Canada to register a name.
- Credit card requirements: Some businesses will be reluctant to use their credit card to complete the acquisition of the .ca domain, with good reason. We checked with Google and were assured that this information is only requested because it is required by CIRA to authenticate that the name is being registered to someone who lives in Canada. Google's online FAQ notes: "The full set of restrictions is quite complicated, but we found the most effective way to support these restrictions is to ensure that people claiming their free domains had a credit card with a Canadian billing address. This is all this information is being used for right now. We will never auto-renew domains without an explicit request from you.".
Signing up: tricks and tips
What about the service itself? Strategy and organizational goals should drive all marketing and sales efforts. However, if you are one of the one million-plus businesses in Canada that currently does not have a website, this may be a starting point. Here is an overview of what to watch for in the sign-up process.
- Who: Google teamed up with several partners in this initiative. The company with the free website offering is San Francisco-based Yola.
- How: After arriving at www.gybo.ca, visitors see a short blurb about what is being offered and are encouraged to click on a large "Get your free website" button. This button takes you to Yola.com, where you get started by entering your name, email address and a password. (It is interesting that there is no email verification with this service. You can register for and go live with a website without ever confirming that you do, in fact, have control over the email address you entered.)
- Free or Premium? In the next step you are asked to choose between a free package or an upgrade to a "silver" package, which costs $7.99 per year. The value of the upgrade is not obvious, as there is no comparison chart for what you get with the free version and what you get with the upgrade. It is also a bit confusing because one of the selling features of the $7.99 package is a custom domain name, but this feature is already included in Google's free offer to Canadian businesses.
- Upgrade advantages: You will have several opportunities to upgrade to the silver package, so there is no need to do so at this time. There are three key advantages to the upgrade. First, you will be able to select from premium templates, which have slightly improved designs. Second, there is additional hosting space (the free version is limited to 1 Gb for your account and individual files cannot be larger than 15 Mb). And third, you get an advertising credit.
The biggest weakness in this offering are the design choices, as the best premium templates on Yola do not compare to the high-quality templates you can get for free or for a small fee ($20 to$70) elsewhere.
Nonetheless, if you are a Canadian small business and currently do not have a website, this offering is a good starting point. In this case, we recommend you:
- Find a .ca domain. Do searches for a .ca domain that would be good for your business. When you have found some suitable options, check the Canadian Intellectual Property Office's (CIPO) trademark database to confirm that your name choice will not conflict with a registered trademark.
- Take advantage of Google's offer to register a free .ca domain for your business, as long as you are able to move it. However, schedule a date in your calendar before the first year is up to review, and possibly move to, a new domain registrar, as Yola's renewal fees are triple what others charge.
- Browse through the available templates. Experiment with a couple of free design styles (after you create your initial website you can try out different design styles that determine how your web pages look). If necessary, pay the $7.99 upgrade to switch to a premium template.
- Keep things simple at first. Build out and publish your basic website as a starting point. Get a small group of trusted contacts to review your site and give you feedback. Do your best to remove your personal feelings and biases from the process—what really counts is how your customers will view your website.
- Evolve. Investigate the cost and complexity of moving to a service that offers more attractive, professional designs after your initial website is up and running. (You can move the domain from Yola to another service from the My Yola interface.)