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Web-hosting giant GoDaddy is trying to grow into a products company to help its small business customers move into the modern computing era rather than just hosting their websites. A conversion to mobile websites is first, but cloud services are on the horizon.

GoDaddy, the web-hosting and domain-name giant — and erstwhile cloud computing provider — has a plan to bring both itself and millions of its small-business customers into the 21st century. News on Thursday that the company is getting into the mobile website space is just the beginning of the company’s plan to become a product company — something like Intuit for the front office. But GoDaddy will be leaving the desktop behind.

New head of products and technology Jason Rosenthal told me GoDaddy is trying to evolve from being just a marketing and support company. It wants to grow a third leg focused on products and technology, and it thinks mobile is the perfect delivery vehicle for those aspirations. Rosenthal has spearheaded major strategic efforts before, including at his previous gig as Ning.com CEO, where he got rid of the social-network-creation company’s freemium business just a month into his tenure.

It’s mobile-first for GoDaddy

Whatever the rationale behind that decision, though, it’s difficult to argue with his focus on mobile at GoDaddy. Mobile device shipments have surpassed PC shipments, and even small businesses can no longer afford to ignore that reality. Consumers increasingly want to surf the web and do business on tablets and smartphones, and if it takes too long for a big clunky site to load, or if it’s too difficult to navigate a poorly designed site best viewed on a 27-inch screen, they’ll go elsewhere.

So, on Thursday, GoDaddy announced its new program for letting customers easily create their own mobile websites or convert their existing sites into mobile one (in fact, the conversion is free for the company’s approximately 700,000 premium Website Builder customers). Customers can customize their new mobile sites if they wish, but thanks to a partnership with mobile-conversion specialist DudaMobile, the idea is that GoDaddy’s customer base of landscapers, shop owners and others can make the transition with a click of the mouse.

However, Rosenthal said, “It’s really the first step down the road of what you’re going to see from GoDaddy in the future … This is going to be a year of mobile for GoDaddy.”

Up next: applications

In fact, the real first step in GoDaddy’s planned evolution might have occurred in July when the company bought Outright, creator of a Software-as-a-Service application for financial management. That helped the company establish a presence in Silicon Valley and also gave it the first in what sounds like a series of SaaS applications designed to make life easier all around for GoDaddy small-business customers, not just when it comes to hosting websites.

The accounting app will be first, Rosenthal said, and we should expect to see a big product announcement every couple of months through 2013. And they’ll have a largely mobile-first bent. He thinks a comparison to Intuit’s suite of cloud-based applications is fair, only he noted that GoDaddy’s offerings will be built from the ground up for mobile devices (running to the desktop to change a website or do simple accounting will soon start to feel “clunky,” he said) and will be less focused on the back office and more focused on helping manage users’ web presences.

About that Cloud Servers issue …

Lest anyone get suspicious of GoDaddy’s ability to follow through on its SaaS transition after the company delivered a swift death to its cloud computing infrastructure business in October, Rosenthal said they can rest easy. The company realized after launching the cloud computing offering that most customers really didn’t get it, which is a problem for a company that is, as Rosenthal described it, trying to take the complexity out of technology. Applications and services, not infrastructure, are the way to achieve that goal.

But, he added, the whole of GoDaddy is built upon the same cloud architecture that had been externalized as the Cloud Servers offering. And the company has completely separated the web experience from the mobile one, open access to its various services via API and is constantly testing backend configurations to find out what will work best for its mobile customers. If GoDaddy is going to deliver on its mission of giving customers websites and tools that work so their businesses don’t suffer (save for the occasional outage, presumably, which can happen to anyone), Rosenthal said, it all starts with the platform.

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