By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Niagara County officials and business promoters are teaming up with Google to get more small businesses online.
Representatives from the city, the USA Niagara Chamber, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. and the Niagara County Community College Small Business Development Center held an informational meeting Thursday at the Conference and Events Center Niagara Falls to explain ways small businesses can benefit from a well-planned web presence as part of Google's "Get Your Business Online" week.
Mayor Paul Dyster, who gave the opening remarks for the session, had just come from a talk with second-graders at the Henry J. Kalfas Magnet School.
During his chat with the grade-schoolers, Dyster said he learned that most of them knew what Google is and how to use the search engine, highlighting the importance for any company trying to draw more business.
"A website is where small businesses make or fail to make a strong first impression," Dyster said.
Dyster said more than half of New York state businesses operate without a website, despite the many advantages the Internet can offer.
"Businesses with an online presence grow twice as fast as those without a website," Dyster said. "That means more revenue, more jobs, more commerce."
Kory Schuler, the director of government affairs for Niagara USA Chamber, said that an online presence is particularly important in a tourism town like Niagara Falls, as many visitors rely on search engines to find goods and services during their trips.
"If you don't have an online presence, it's very hard for people outside of the community to reach you," Schuler said. "We all know that these businesses and these mom-and-pop sole proprietorships exist, but we need to bring those dollars in from outside the region."
Google is offering free guidance on setting up a website, a template for creating a professional website and free web hosting for one year to anyone willing to sign up for a gmail and Google+ account, the company's email and social media platforms respectively.
Seth Piccirillo, the city's director of community development, demonstrated the site and showed several videos produced by Google explaining the advantages of a well-designed site and the importance of search engine optimization and search engine marketing.
While the event comes during "Get Your Business Online" week, the services will continue to be available and can be accessed at www.gybo.com.
Jeff Flach, owner of the Gorge View hostel on Third Street, already has a website for his business, but attended the session to learn more about search engine optimization.
"It's one thing to have a website," Flach said. "It's another to have a good one and another thing to have a good one that gets found."
Flach said he was hoping the presentation might go more in-depth on search engine optimization, methods of organization that make a website more likely to come up as a result in a search, but that he might visit the website to dig deeper on his own.
"That's very complicated stuff that a small business man, no matter how smart or how dedicated or how focused they are, can't ever learn enough of," Flach said.Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257