Smart companies flourish online

There is so much written about the future of internet marketing, when the fact is that web marketing is the present. The opportunities available, both for net users and businesses are so vast, that growth can be experienced in almost on daily basis. There may be economic challenges globally, but the internet has made it possible for smart businesses to flourish. Moreover, compared to the previous years, 2009-2010 looks quite promising for online marketers when we look at the statistics of internet users.

Two major trends being embraced by savvy businesses are search engine marketing and online social media and networking, as they give them a great leverage in terms of communication, interacting with customers, collaborating with peers and above all, achieving a massive reach, in a most cost-effective manner. After all, future business is the main aim for any viable company and what better way to reach that goal than by capitalising on all the opportunities that the internet has to offer?

If we look at internet usage statistics in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia alone has experienced a usage leap from just 200,000 users in 2000 to 6,380,000 users in 2008. Viewing the Middle East as a whole, Saudi Arabia ranks at number two, with Iran leading the way. No wonder major businesses are targeting Riyadh and Saudi markets via search engines and social networking sites like the popular Facebook so that they can get together with other local groups and introduce unique marketing strategies that will help them enter the market and gain visibility.

There is barely any business that does not have at least a token online presence. And those that are active, are very much aware of the benefits of search engine marketing and social networking.

There are, of course, some barriers that will crop up, especially for businesses with an eye on the global market. Of these, the language barrier is perhaps the toughest to conquer when entering overseas markets. Europe, for example, has a variety of languages while the UAE and the rest of Arab countries share a common language, namely Arabic.

The Middle East and North Africa is cash-rich and growing at an amazing rate. A large population and a high per capita income make this market a gold mine for businesses to exploit. Qatar has the third highest per capita income in the world at $84,833 (Dh311,591). Obviously, this region is highly feasible for online marketers. The Mena countries have an online presence of about 18.3 million, which is a 1044 per cent growth in the past seven years. Saudi Arabia and Egypt may have 80 per cent of the internet users, but the balance 20 per cent are the ones with the money, and likely to have the most prominent online presence. So internet marketing experts and businesses would do well to focus on this region with their marketing strategies.

The most popular search engines in the Mena are Yahoo, Google and MSN, which implies that businesses that are looking to spread their presence online in these countries must design their marketing strategies around these top three search engine giants. Being a rapidly growing market, now is the time for businesses to penetrate this market.

By 2010, Qatar's second telecom operator Vodafone will have its suite of web services in place, allowing its users to interact online over the internet through their mobile phones or PC. With the outlook so bright, bridging the gap between the user and the business is just a matter of smart planning and strategy.

However, a real issue in the GCC is that some of the most established businesses have no website, or just a static one resulting in a lack of visibility on the search engines. Consequently, users looking for firms in this region online never find them. Those who do have an online presence, have poor quality websites. According to a recent report, European corporate websites scored an average performance of 50.3 points, while those of their Gulf counterparts scored just 18.5. Because of this, users including customers, shareholders and investors get completely turned off by these companies. As a result of this, GCC firms end up losing out on potential customers.

Will these firms wake up and bridge this gap between their users and themselves through better websites, increasing their visibility on search engines?

The writer is an internet marketing consultant at WSI Internet Consulting


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