Getting British Business Online offers free websites

Getting British Business Online (GBBO) offers free websites and domain names for businesses in the UK – but are they any good?

I remember when I first discovered the possibility of owning a website. It was, I believe, back in 1997 and someone at university suggested that I should get a website for a film that I was working on. His idea intrigued me, as I would be able to create a ‘website’ for this film, showing photographs and screening dates, and host it on the World Wide Web for anyone to see.

However, my initial excitement was tempered when I realised that I would have to pay for this new privilege. I would have to pay for a domain name (which back then was a lot of money for a student), I would have to pay for a hosting account and I would have to, most likely, pay one of the interactive arts students to show me how to use a web authoring program – and who knows what it would have been back then, probably MS FrontPage or some equally tripe rubbish.

So the idea sort of died a death, which was a shame. I eventually did create the website for the film, but it was about a year or so later – too late for the film’s big screening. Now, if I’d had the opportunity that the GBBO offers now I would have snapped their hand off, as a free domain name and free website would have gone down a treat for me back then.

The trouble is of course – the type of websites offered by the ‘Getting British Business Online’ initiative are actually circa 1997 anyway, if the designs I’ve seen are anything to go by. You see, while getting a free website back in 1997 would have been a big boost to my then business efforts, the web has evolved a long way since then. Now, in 2010, you need more than a basic template with some free images to make a website successful – and I’m not talking about a professional design here either.

No, for a website to be successful these days you need a sterling SEO campaign, one utilising the latest techniques in terms of link building and content – and the sorts of websites offered by the GBBO simply don’t allow for that level of on-page SEO work. Plus, when you consider the sorts of prices you can pay for hosting these days, the ‘offer’ of a free domain and free website isn’t exactly the huge boost it would have been 13 years ago.

With a registrar such as 123-Reg (who I would in no way recommend using by the way) you can pay around £5 for a .co.uk domain name for two years. That’s peanuts in the grand scheme of things. Then there are hosting companies offering hosting for just a few quid each month. That is again nothing, comparatively speaking.

Of course creating the website could be tricky – but when you consider the fact that CMS systems (content management system – systems) such as WordPress and Drupal are free, and each has thousands upon thousands of free templates, you can easily create your own website, without any knowledge of coding, in a few minutes – a website with cleaner code, and a far better starting point from an SEO point of view, than anything offered by the GBBO.

The worst part is perhaps the fact that when people register their ‘free’ domain name with GBBO, and decide that the website they’ve been given isn’t suitable, they then can’t transfer the domain away from GBBO for at least 60 days!

Getting British Business Online is a good idea, but one that is probably a decade too late and one that has been implemented very poorly. Any business that relies on one of their free websites for its business site is going to find it very hard to compete in the marketplace – especially as that marketplace gets even more crowded as a result of new business start-ups brought about by the recession.

Darren Jamieson, aka MrDaz, is the Technical Director and co-founder of Engage Web and has been working online in a career spanning two decades. His first website was built in 1998 and is still live today.

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