How many U.S. small businesses have websites? Is it 30%, 40%, 50%? Answering that question gets quickly into debates over the definition of a “website.” For example, is a “landing page” or a “profile page” a website? Do the small business data provided by InfoUSA, Axciom, Localeze, TruelLocal (and now iBegin Source) constitute being online? Does being on Citysearch or InsiderPages or Kudzu or Yelp effectively substitute for a website?
In a way it doesn’t matter. The practical question is: can the business be found online and is that online presence enough to drive a call, a lead or a sale?
The historical discussion over the efficacy of being online is over. Small businesses that don’t have websites know they must get them; those that have mediocre sites know they need to upgrade. But believe it or not, from the point of view of most small businesses, it’s still not easy to get a site built quickly and cost-effectively.
But there’s now an emerging range of self-service online website building tools (not to mention blogs) in the market. Among the majors, Google offers Page Creator and landing pages for AdWords campaigns if you don’t already have a site. Microsoft’s Office Live is a suite of solid website creation tools that lead ultimately to AdCenter signup.
And Yahoo just greatly simplified website creation for its small business customers. Yahoo is one of the largest small business webhosts in the market. But its “site builder” product is really too complex and demanding – offering too many choices – for an entry level self-service product.
So Yahoo has now created a “starter” tool that is extremely simple to use (template driven) and offers enough design choices to make it viable and interesting to those who want some customization but not the complexity of site builder, which now becomes a more advanced self-service product.
The starter product is very similar to a blog creation tool with various design templates, although it offers more flexibility in terms of page layout. I created this site in about 40 minutes, cutting and pasting copy from my blog. (The URL looks this way because I haven’t fully activated hosting.) Here’s the full library of templates.
Walking through the process I was impressed by the balance of simplicity/ease-of-use and the fact that you could actually create something that would work as a viable site with the tool. Right now there’s no simplified integration with Yahoo Search Marketing, but that will come.