Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Employment today announced that it will be giving small businesses in Israel free websites, including domain name, use of an easy website builder tool, and free web hosting for a year.
The initiative, entitled “Asakim Online” (Businesses Online), has the mission “to grant 20,000 small businesses like yours the necessary tools to create a web presence, for free.” It also promises to teach them to market their new websites and attract traffic and new customers.
This is the site that I just built for myself using the system:
The project sounds very exciting and I took a quick look around. At a very first glance, here are the pros and cons of the program:
- The system is very easy to use. Pretty much anyone will be able to create and update their own website
- The website designs look great and colors, logo, images, text, are very easy to customize
- Basic search engine optimization is offered and encouraged on every page
- You can get a nice looking, totally function website in a few hours (most of that time will be spent writing the content for the pages)
- Social media buttons, contact form, etc. are built-in
- It’s FREE!
Here’s the website I just created using the system. It wanted to me to choose my custom domain but I opted to use this temporary sub-domain. I have a bit of a hard time taking a $10 domain from the government when I really don’t need any more domains (but thanks for offering). Check out my website!
- The interface is entirely in Hebrew and all the templates are Right-to-Left, though it’s possible to enter content in English. This is only good if your primary target market are Hebrew speakers
- The SEO is basic
- The templates all scream “I am a cookie-cutter template that was used by someone to create a website themselves because they didn’t want to hire a pro!” They have that look. But maybe I’m too sensitive.
- The system is free but your template-based website is created using the Webydo platform. That means that when your one year of free hosting ends, you will presumably be offered a monthly hosting plan by Webydo. Unless you accept it, it’s not clear that your website can continue to exist
It’s interesting that the program promises to help you with your web marketing because the way I first heard about it was through an email I received today from Google Engage. (Google Engage is a program for professional web developers and marketers that encourages them to use Google products in their work with clients.) The email proudly announced the program, noting that Google is a major partner in it, and assured us Google Engagers that it was going to be of great benefit to us. It did not provide any further details on exactly how a program to give free websites and marketing to small businesses was going to excite web professionals who like to charge money for these services!
If you read the fine print of the terms of service, it implies that program participants will be offered Google Adwords vouchers and assistance.
Naomi’s Cynical Analysis of the Program
Let’s start with a story…
Way back when I was still a translator and entirely clueless about web marketing (which was actually not that long ago), I went for a business consultation with a large non-profit business development organization. This organization offered me a limited-time deal to have my website built for a low price by a well-known web development company. If it wasn’t for the truly awful customer service of that company, there is a good chance that I would have accepted.
Thank God, I didn’t.
As I became more savvy about the web I learned what a bad deal they were offering me. Their website designs were cookie-cutter and dated, they had terrible SEO, they wanted to lock me into an overpriced hosting plan, and, worst of all, the supposedly discount price was no great deal for what they were offering.
Ever since then, I’ve been very wary of these kinds of offers. Every web marketer knows that the best product to sell as an affiliate is web hosting. For example, if you buy a web hosting account from my recommended host, Hostgator, using my link, then I will earn a $100 commission. Because they are paying me so much, Hostgator will not be making any money off of you for up to eight months. If you cancel after four months, they will lose money on the deal. So why are web hosts willing to take this risk and pay their affiliates so much?
Because once a host has you, it is most likely that you will stay with them for years. And since it costs them almost nothing to host your sites, they will basically be earning free money for years and years. Therefore, hosting companies take a gamble to get as many new customers as possible.
It can’t be forgotten that Webydo is basically a hosting company that is taking a gamble here, and for some reason the government has agreed to give them an insane amount of free advertising for their campaign.
But enough cynical analysis!
Let’s cleanse our minds momentarily from all that cynicism by looking at this picture of a wildflower. I took it near my house last week. Israel is so amazingly beautiful in springtime!
And now that we are refreshed… back to the subject at hand.
I actually think this program is quite good for any existing small business that primarily targets Hebrew speakers, which wants to get a website up fast and free, but plans to explore and expand their web strategy over the next year. In such a case, when your free year is up, you will either be happy with Webya or be ready to move on to a professional site hosted elsewhere.
Either way, do your homework!
In my opinion, the best thing about this program is that is will protect clueless small businesses from paying big bucks to web development companies for mediocre websites (like the one I was offered). Instead they can get a mediocre website for free, and get their feet wet in the world of web marketing without taking any financial risks.
What do you think of the Asakim Online program?
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