In January of 2012, Google launched a free website service for South Africa, in partnership with the DTI, Vodacom and the HRDC.  Since its inception, Google estimates that around 40,000 small businesses have used the service, but they’ve now decided to close it down, taking all those sites offline.

Similar services in Kenya and Nigeria (which suffered under some controversy) were also recently closed down, and it seems that the Woza service itself has not been without it’s own problems.

Fraudulent Free Websites

A year into the life of the service, popular technology site My Broadband reported on the free platform being used as a base to scam people from, by impersonating legitimate retailers and sellers on sites like Bidorbuy.  (Bidorbuy even issued a warning to users about the free Woza Online sites.)

Although the actions of these scammers are not necessarily the reason for closing down the service, there is no doubt that they have reflected poorly on Google, perhaps particularly in light of the controversy that affected their Kenyan and Nigerian versions of the service.

Alternative Options

In an email to Fin24, Google said “Closing offerings always involve tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users, and we want to ensure that businesses in South Africa get the best of the web, which is why we’re introducing new options.”

These options are to let Google help site owners transfer their sites to a paid hosting service, or to use Google My Business to create a business listing page.

Existing Woza Online sites will be available to owners in order to make copies of all text and images until 1st May 2015.