Yahoo Offers Free Business Web Sites

NEW YORK Yahoo said it would offer small businesses free Web sites in an effort to nudge more of them online.

Yahoo said it would offer the simple five-page sites as a test service through its Yahoo Local program, which aims to spread search marketing to the estimated 20 million U.S. small businesses, about half of which do not have Web sites, according to Kelsey Group figures cited by Yahoo executives.

“Our role is being advocates of small businesses,” said Paul Levine, Yahoo Local’s general manager. “We think this is a great opportunity for small businesses to come online.”

The Yahoo Web site service offers templates, and an automated program walks small businesses through the set-up process. Levine said the Web sites would come with no strings attached, although Yahoo sees the opportunity to sell services and advertising to those businesses in the future.

Yahoo and Google executives have said they see a big opportunity to take a chunk of the $26 billion spent on Yellow Pages advertising worldwide. Both search engines have local versions for consumers and ad programs geared toward local advertisers.

Yahoo Local’s advertising program does not require advertisers to have a Web site, instead linking all ads to a business-locator page that carries business details like hours of operation and address. Advertisers can link to their Web sites from the business-locator page. Yahoo lets businesses add photos and other more detailed business information for $9.95 per month.