Free! Easy! Limited! (Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love/Hate Google’s Business Website Builder)

Google’s website builder is easy, free… and limited. We go through the Google free website builder and talk about its strengths and limitations...

Free! Easy! Limited! (Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love/Hate Google’s Website Builder)

Here’s the big disclaimer: I work for a company that makes small business websites. And I’m writing a review about Google’s free website builder service for small businesses. You may think that I’m a little biased. I probably am. But this is my attempt at an honest take on my experience with Google’s new tool. Take it with as many grains of salt as you find necessary.

There are a ton of small businesses out there with no website at all. This is a shame. According to a survey by the Time Warner Cable Business Class, 36% of potential customers wouldn’t consider shopping at a business that didn’t have a website. That’s 36% of your potential business… gone.

Google recognizes that, so they wanted to do something about it. They’ve already had Google Business Listings going for a while, and they decided to add a new service this past year: free websites for any business that wanted them.

They added a build-your-own website tool for those companies that, as of yet, have yet to invest in a website of their own. I was curious about this website tool. But, being that I work for a company who builds websites, we were already covered on the website front.

So I figured that I’d start a new business, specifically to try out the Google free website builder tool. I decided to take you through my journey, step by step, and proudly show off the final product. (And, preferably, not write my way out of a job in the process.)

Step 1: Start A Business.

Thankfully, most small business owners have already moved past this step.

I had not. And while it would be easy to just make a fake business specifically for this article, (I was leaning toward Wily Willy’s Wacky Widget Emporium,) I wanted to have a little more skin in the game. I wanted this business to be real, to give me some motivation to make the website the best it could possibly be.

Since the one skill I really have to offer this world is my ability to string a few words together, I decided to combine that skill with my interest in science fiction. From there, it was time to release my new business into the world:

I know. I’m surprised at my own business acumen sometimes. What more marketable product could there be than poems about aliens and/or stuff? Hopefully, I still have time to write about small business website development after this company takes off.

Okay, so, now that I was armed with my new entrepreneurial venture, it was time to move to the next step:

Step 2: Create a Google Business Listing

In order to take advantage of Google’s new website builder, you first need to sign up for a Google My Business listing.

Google My Business isn’t a website. It isn’t even really a social media page, though it can sometimes act like one. Think of it as an interactive Yellow Pages listing.

Remember phone books? When’s the last time you used one? Exactly. Google has filled that niche, so they have specialized local listings that pop up when you’re looking for stuff locally. What’s that look like?

Well, it looks like that little box on the right. Some basic info like your business’ location, hours of operation, and contact info.

Of course, that’s not all it’s good for: Google My Business listings also have spots to include common customer questions, reviews, and even a section for posts and coupons. It’s a pretty sweet tool, far more interactive than a yellow pages ad. I’ll be taking full advantage of it once ‘I Will Write Poems About Aliens And Stuff’ takes off and I’m overwhelmed with customers and positive reviews.

In order to get a Google My Business listing, you’ll go through a relatively quick and easy sign-up process. Have all of your business info handy. Be able to articulate whether you have a physical storefront, (I don’t,) a delivery area, (I will hand-deliver alien poems within a 25-mile radius of my locale,) and some photos of your business to make your listing feel useful and complete.

Step 3: Verify Your Business Listing

There’s one thing to keep in mind: you will need to verify your connection to your business. Google doesn’t want just anyone to go around saying that they run your local business… you don’t want your competitor to have access to your online presence! So you’ll need to verify your identity.

They’ll send you a verification code to do so. Now, they’re supposed to give you a few options for how to do this, and the quickest and easiest one is to verify over the phone. However, for some reason, I didn’t get that option. The only one available to me was to receive a postcard. This took a week to arrive to my “I Will Write Poems About Aliens And Stuff” home office.

Once I verified and filled out my listing, my business listing was online!

Step 4: Build Your Website

However, I wasn’t done here. I had recently attended a local “Get My Business Online” event sponsored by Google. The speaker, Jessie, was asked whether a My Business Listing replaced the need for a business website. Her response was unequivocal: No!

See, a My Business listing is great for helping people find your local business. But it’s purpose is to direct them to something. A physical location, a phone number… or a website! A website is a digital storefront, and no matter how cool Google’s local listings are, there’s still a need for a web presence when you’re running a business.

Which is why they started offering their new website builder in the first place!

I’ll say this about Google, they know how to make this process pretty simple.

Pick Your Website’s Theme

Google has a few “themes” to choose from when you’re building your site. I use the handy sarcasm quotes because the themes are pretty much identical. Though you do get to pick your font, which is better than nothing I suppose.

Edit Your Website’s Text

This is the flavor of your business. Where you describe who you are and what you do. You don’t have a ton of room to write here, so don’t start writing a novel. You’ll want to distill your business into a headline, description, and a summary. Keep the content focused on how you meet the needs of your potential customers.

Upload Photos To Your Site

You’ll want to choose a good cover photo for your banner and upload your business’ logo. But also consider some photos of your location, your team, possibly some of your work. People want to get to know you as a business… and let’s face it, a picture is worth 1000 words. (Unless those words happen to be poems about aliens, of course.)

Double-Check Your Site’s Info

And for the most part, that’s the end of the build process. Yep. That’s it. You may want to go back into the ‘more’ settings and make sure it’s pulling the correct info off of your business listing.

Step 5: Check Out Your New Business Website

Once you’ve got yourself through the build, you’ll publish the site and determine a domain name. I chose because I don’t care for brevity. (If you want a .com or .net address as opposed to the one, you’ll have to pony up a little cash to register your domain.)

So here it is, in all its glory:

That’s what you get. A very basic homepage to tell people what you do, post a selection of photos and display your location, hours, and contact information.

Step 6: Wish There Was A Step 6

Here’s the thing: for a completely free tool, Google’s website builder is great. If your business doesn’t have a website at all, it’s a great tool to get yourself out there and have some sort of mobile-friendly presence to anchor a Google My Business local listing to.

That said, this tool provides you with a single web page, not necessarily a site. I would have loved a place to feature a portfolio of my previously published poems about aliens and/or stuff. Or an e-commerce section for people to order a poem straight from the website. A place for offers so I can deliver value to my potential customers. A section for testimonials, even.

But as easy and as free as this tool is, it’s extremely limiting. If you have needs for your website that extend beyond a simple page with your location and hours on it, you may need to look elsewhere to find a site that really showcases your company and helps you boost your bottom line… which is sort of the reason you get a website to begin with.

Here’s where that disclaimer comes in:

If you want to take your website from placeholder to performer, check out SuperWebPros. We build, maintain, optimize and accelerate small business websites to drive real, meaningful traffic to your business. We’d love to hear about you and how we can help you achieve your online goals.

And if you need poems about aliens and/or stuff… let’s just say we know a guy. Free is good. But do you get what you pay for?

We hope you enjoyed our experience with Google’s free website builder.

Duke Kimball

Duke writes words, good. When he's not crafting content for The Pros, he's crafting stories, enjoying craft beer, or gourmet coffee. He is Portlandia.
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