To get Indian small and medium businesses online, Google and partner HostGator.com will pay for one year for the domain name registration and website hosting of 500,000 Indian businesses.
While India has an estimated 8 million SMBs, only about 400,000 have a website, Google said. The company's India Get Your Business Online programme aims to change that.
Google is investing in the three year project by paying for the .in domain registry of SMBs for 12 months, and creating an India Get Your Business Online website where SMBs can apply for their new sites. HostGator, a privately held web hosting company is providing hosting, site building tools and support.
Only organisations in India will qualify, Google said.
After the 12 months are up, businesses will have the option to renew their services with HostGator at a discounted fee. If the business chooses not to renew its domain with HostGator at the end of 12 months, it will be released and can be registered by anyone. Before the end of that year, the business can transfer the domain away from HostGator for free.
Currently many SMBs, including exporters do business online through eBay or through classified listings like Craigslist and its many local versions, but don't have websites.
If you are not targeting a mass audience with out-of-the-box services and offer only customised offerings, you need person-to-person interaction and not a website, said K. Purushottam, a business consultant in Bangalore. Purushottam said he uses social networks to get people aware of his business, without the "hassle of running my own website".
A dealer in antiques in Bangalore, who did not want to be named, said that only rarely do customers shop for antiques online. A furniture maker we spoke to, S. Ramesh, said that he was not computer literate, and having a website would require him to either hire a tech savvy employee or hire a web design firm, both of which add cost to his business. Customers either know him already, or find him through Craigslist and related services, he added.
Google said consumers will benefit from having access to better information of local businesses, while business owners will benefit as their customers will be able to find them easily.
Down the line the company will also expect a net-savvy generation of SMBs to advertise their products and services through Google, analysts said. As part of its package, Google is offering SMBs a 2500 rupees (£30) free advertising trial on Google AdWords to help promote their sites.
While the freebies from Google tempted Ramesh, the prospect of having to set up and manage the website did not.