It’s a tall order — get thousands of small businesses online and help them all succeed.

Today, hundreds of small business owners and representatives from across New York are getting together for the first of two trainings in the state aimed at helping them break into the online world.

Almost all Americans search for local products and services online, but more than half of small businesses in New York don’t have a website, according to Google.

The company is teaming up with Intuit Websites and a couple dozen business development groups from around the state to offer companies a three-page website, domain name and website hosting free for a year (along with free email support for 30 days).

Companies will also get a walk-through for claiming their Google Places listing as part of New York Get Your Business Online.

If it’s free, how do you calculate ROI?

Here at IntelliSites, we think this a great idea. But if you attended this event (or even if you missed it) there are some things you might want to think about down the road, if not much sooner, for improving your “free” Google website.

Unlike a brochure that’s printed and can’t change, the best part about a website is that it can. Most of the people who set up their site through this Google program will never touch it again once it’s live. Just like having a store, no one will come back if things don’t change from time to time. Additional products and improvements incentivize people to return to your site.

You need a plan for your site and beyond.

Here at IntelliSites, a division of Burst Marketing, we have created a unique Blueprint process that allows us to know the client and brainstorm the best ways to cultivate leads and bring in business.

Your site needs to have a clear strategy so someone coming to your site knows exactly what to do when they get there.

Speaking of getting there, how will anyone know you exist on the web? Google is not promising to highly rank your site just for using their service. Just ask our search engine marketing clients about our proven results.

Taking the free route

If you do decide to take the free route, even for now, here is some advice: Think about your audience.

The typical business does not spend enough time thinking from the perspective of their customers. You start this process by asking who your customers are. How does your website (and other marketing materials while you’re at it) help turn members of those specific groups into leads and sales?

If you’re not sure, perhaps you’d like to have a conversation?

Sure, template sites allow you to claim real estate on the web, but when it comes to return on your investment, remember you usually get what you pay for.

The program’s advice that “getting online is now easy, free, and fast” is great for now, but when you’re ready to step up your online presence with proven results, let the experts at IntelliSites and Burst Marketing help.