I was getting a review ready to publish for another of the popular business website builders when the Optus MyBizOnline offer popped into my attention.

OK, so this is not really a review, as I haven’t tried one of these websites, but the FAQ is enough to give me cause for alarm (or laughter). (Warning – sarcasm follows.)

Q. I don’t have a lot of time. How much time will it take to get it up and running? – No, just one 15-minute phone call is all it takes – because we can really find out everything we need to know about your business and what makes you different in that time.

Q. Can I choose my own images? – No, we will give you the same generic images that we give to every other business in your industry.

Q. Can I write my own copy? – No, we know so much about your business from our 15 minute phone conversation with you that we write it for you (or, more likely, we give you the same text as every other business in your industry, ensuring that Google’s duplicate content penalties keep you well out of the search engine results).

Also of note is that:

  • No ongoing search engine optimization services are offered, because the site is optimised “during build” – Search engine optimization is not a one-time thing, it is an ongoing process. Generic SEO is just not going to do it for you, especially when it’s done in a cookie-cutter fashion (see above).
  • You have to set up a brand new phone number just for the website, for which Optus will charge you $1.50 every time someone calls it – even if the same person calls you endlessly and never buys anything.

Their site shows a testimonial from a happy Woollahra hairdresser. Here’s the scintillating text from her home page:

A hairdresser is a person trained to trim and style hair into different looks depending what the customer is trying to find and the type of hair and scalp that they have. On top of that, a number of hairdressers are trained in other areas like hair colouring, hair removal, straightening, perming and much more.

Wow, doesn’t that just make you want to run down there for your haircut?

Maybe, if you happen to find the website. I did eventually find their site by searching on “hairdresser Woollahra”, but not until I got down to page 4. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often get that far in the results, especially if there’s plenty of candidates on page 1 that have what I want.

Interestingly, it turns out this hairdresser has another website, which is a single page containing nothing but an image and an email link – and even this search-engine-unfriendly page gets itself into the search results higher than their Optus website.

Much as these kind of offers make me laugh, they also sadden me. I hate to see a good businesses undermined by a substandard web presence, and I hate seeing people sucked into these things through lack of knowledge of what’s really required to succeed online. But then, if you really think that a 15 minute conversation is enough to build a full picture of your business and what makes you stand out from your competitors, then maybe you get the website you deserve.

And to any web developers feeling nervous about the impact of these schemes on their business, I say, don’t be. If your business is threatened by a 15-minute cookie-cutter website, then you’re doing it wrong. My experience with these schemes is that they bring me a better educated client, ones who have tried the alternative and understand why it’s worth paying for the services of a skilled professional.