Google, Intuit Offer Not What It Seems

Texas Get Online Campaign

All is fair in love and war, or so they say. But the same does not hold true for advertising. The latest campaign by Google and Intuit may turn out to be less fair then it seems.

First some background.

According to statistics quoted by Google, about 51% of small and medium size businesses in the state of Texas still do not have a website. This is in line with general statistics on the number of small bussiness that still do not have a website. To help these businesses get online, Google launched its Texas Get Online Campaign about a week ago.

The campaign offers a free domain for one year, free website building and hosting tools, and a host of other goodies.

The first thing to note is that Google opted not to use its own website builder tool — Google Sites — but to partner with Intuit, owners of Homestead (see our review of the older Homestead tool here). Participants in the campaign get to use the new Intuit sitebuilder tool, which has been three years in the making and is intended to eventually replace the aging Homestead tool.

Potentially Misleading

The Texas Get Online campaign features a number of local small businesses and their website success stories.

Based on these stories, small business owners are encouraged to sign up and start building their own website using the Intuit website builder.

What these businesses are not told, is that none of these success stories appears to have been built using the Intuit tool!

The easiest way to spot if and what website builder tool has been used to built a particular website is to simply look at the HTML source code. Each tool has its own ‘fingerprint’ — a specific way of structuring the site layout, of naming variables and so on, that gives away what tool has been used. It is in most cases not hard to tell what tool has been used, but by looking at a website’s HTML source code.

This is what the source code of a website built with the Intuit tool looks like:

Intuit Homestead Generated HTML Code

And this is what the HTML code of the campaign Success Story website of Birds Barbershop looks like:

Birds Barbershop HTML Code

A missing generator meta-tag, different naming of variables in both the CSS stylesheet and the HTML code, as well as missing inline styling, make it unlikely that the Birds Barbershop website was created using the same tool that Google and Intuit give to campaign participants.

The clean, optimized HTML code of the Success Story site suggests that this has been a costly, custom-design website.

While it is true that no where in the campaign does it explicitly say that these sites have been created using the Intuit tool, it is also true that the campaign does reasonably raise this expectation and nowhere does it say that these are custom designed websites.

Few small business-owners (and certainly not those that are not online yet) will be able to do the kind of research we did and draw these conclusions by themselves. In our opinion, because the suggestion is left open that these sites have been produced using the Intuit tools, this amounts to unfair advertisment as defined by the FCC.

We have reached out to Google, Intuit and their communication partner on this project, Monument Group, for comments. We will update this article as that comes in.

UPDATE We received the following clarification from Google:

Sorry for the misunderstanding – the ‘success story’ videos and collateral pre-date the campaign (and the Intuit offer) and aren’t intended to promote those particular Intuit templates. They’re just examples of businesses talking about the value of having a website and getting online – they don’t mention any particular templates or website designs. They’re meant to show the benefits of being online to businesses who are considering taking the leap themselves.

What do you think? Should Google (and Intuit) have made this clearer ? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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