Google plans to develop free websites for small-to-medium-sized firms (SMEs) in Saudi Arabia in an effort to get more Gulf firms online, its regional managing director said.
The world’s largest and most lucrative search engine will also offer advice to Saudi SMEs on how to monetize their digital presence, Ari Kesisoglu told Arabian Business.
“The idea is that we want to help businesses get online. [We want to] make it extremely easy for businesses,” he said. “E-commerce is just in its infancy [in the GCC] ... Businesses need to be online before they can do any online business.”
Google hopes to attract Saudi companies through the program, which is named “Getting Saudi Businesses Online.” The details of the Saudi offering are still under wraps, but the program is believed to be similar to a Google initiative in the UK that 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.
Only 41 per cent of the population use the internet in Saudi Arabia, according to the International Telecommunication Union. The percentage of small businesses online is believed to be even lower.
The Google program is expected to be launched later this year and will be rolled out to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
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 has 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 toi the best tecj start-up, an award that will also offer mentoring, training and coaching.