Google MENA has been hard at work in the Middle Eastern region, hosting?several events in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with an upcoming event in the UAE. In addition, Google is bringing its Ambassador Programme to the Middle East, and also launching an initiative focusing on small businesses, starting in Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand it throughout the region.
According to Google, only 15% of businesses in the Gulf region have an online presence, and the newest programme plans to do something about it. The initiative offers to develop free websites for Saudi Arabia?s SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), as well as offering one-on-one mentoring ?in how to turn that online presence into profit.
The “Getting Saudi Businesses Online” initiative will launch later this year, and is expected to be rolled out to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It will be similar to Google schemes elsewhere in the world, such as “Getting British Business Online”. The scheme in the UK promises to “create a website for your business in 15 minutes, for free”. It offers free domains, website templates and email addresses.
Google is homing in on smaller companies, which are perhaps the most reluctant to go online because of the associated costs and technological requirements.
The programme is expected to be launched later this year and will be rolled out to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The details of the Saudi Arabian programme are still being finalised with emphasis on giving financial benefits to businesses,” Ari Kesisoglu, Google’s regional manager for the MENA, said while talking to journalists.
“It’s online presence 101,” Kesisoglu added. “We want to help businesses get online. It’s to make it extremely easy, and to give them some financial benefits so that it’s cheaper than doing it the normal way.”
While many larger companies in Saudi Arabia have websites, smaller operators have been reluctant to venture into cyberspace.
“There is a big corpus of businesses that have nothing to do with online. And we want to help change that,” Kesisoglu reiterated.
The initiative will start in Saudi Arabia in December, before being rolled out elsewhere in the region.
“Getting Saudi Businesses Online is obviously for Saudi, but we’ll do it for other countries,” the Google official pledged.
Kesisoglu said Google’s initiative would be a precursor to more Saudi Arabian companies starting to transact online.
“We don’t want to run before we can walk,” he said. “Businesses need to be online, before they do online business.”
He acknowledged that the e-commerce industry in the MENA region was still in its “infancy”.
“When I look at e-commerce, there are only a handful of players in the market,” Kesisoglu opined, adding: “This is not really discouraging, because every single country goes through the same phase.”
INTERNET IN THE REGION
The search giant is increasingly targeting the Middle East, a region that has become one of Google?s fastest growing markets.
In February, the company said that Internet usage in the Middle East grew 39 percent in 2010, to 86 million people, up from 64 million the previous year.
The Internet also gained popularity amid the recent anti-government protests in the Arab world.
In February, Google, siding with anti-Mubarak protesters, launched a service that allowed people in Egypt to send Twitter messages through a phone line, an effort to ?help people on the ground,? a corporate blog statement read.
Google has also announced a contest in Egypt that will award $200,000 in seed capital to the best tech start-up, an award that will also offer mentoring, training and coaching.
Encouraging more Middle East businesses to venture online would benefit Google financially, because the US web-search giant makes most of its revenues from online advertising.
Kesisoglu insisted that monetisation was “not the only motivation” behind the Saudi initiative.?But he acknowledged that the growing use of the Internet in the MENA region was boosting Google’s coffers.
“The revenues that we make are very parallel to the user growth. So it’s a very fast-growing market,” he said. “There are a lot more businesses to come online. So not only are the users clicking more on the existing ads, we are going to have more businesses in advertising. So we have a double growth path ahead of us.”
According to JPMorgan, global e-commerce revenues are forecast to grow to US$680 billion (Dh2.49 trillion) this year, up by 18.9 per cent from last year.
WHY SAUDI ARABIA?
Saudi Arabia?s Internet penetration is over 40%, which translates into over 11 million people online in the kingdom. As e-commerce, e-payment and other online activities continue to grow in the region, Saudi Arabia is certainly lagging in comparison to its neighbours throughout the Middle East.
UAE has the highest percentage of population using the Internet with 60.9%, followed by Bahrain 55.3%? and Qatar 52.2%. and Saudi Arabia is in the 6th.
Source: Al Arabiya, Arabian Business, AME Info