Yahoo is to tailor core features of its websites to Arab internet surfers as it builds on last year's acquisition of the Maktoob online portal. The Silicon Valley-based online giant will make versions of its most popular Web properties such as finance, mail, messenger and sports available in Arabic later this year with a full localisation scheme to be completed by the following year, said Rich Riley, the senior vice president of Yahoo's European, Middle East and African regions.
Yahoo purchased the Maktoob portal in November in a landmark deal worth US$164 million (Dh602m). It was the first Arab company to be acquired by a major internet player and has generally been accepted by industry observers as being at the forefront of a new era of internet entrepreneurship in the Middle East. "Clearly, we're very serious about the Middle East and having a real presence here that we're proud of," Mr Riley said. "We're continuing to hire here and invest in our presence here."
Mr Riley also called the region's online advertising market "very attractive" and is providing the company with plenty of room to expand its business in the Middle East. "The great thing about this region is the potential for new users," Mr Riley said. "We want more users spending more time globally, and the Middle East region presents an opportunity for tens of millions of more users in the next few years."
Yahoo Middle East has about 30 million unique visitors each month. Mr Riley said he expects traffic to the website to double over the next year as it makes more of its content relevant to the Arab world. "When you add the strengths of the Yahoo audience to the strengths of the Maktoob audience, there is not a lot of overlap," said Mr Riley. "When you add the two together, you're very much at a [market leader] place."
Online advertising is expected to more than triple its share of the ad sector from 4 per cent last year to 13.4 per cent by 2014, according to recent research by the consultancy Booz and Company. According to recent estimates, the sector was worth approximately $90m last year from $65m in 2008. Mr Riley declined to specify how much of the market Yahoo Maktoob controls, but he described it as having a "leading position".
According to a source at Yahoo Middle East who declined to be named, the company has about 40 per cent of the region's online advertising market. "We are very happy with the market share we have here and we think we can really grow that market share over the next three to five years," Mr Riley said. "This region is very attractive financially and we'll have a very strong position about the advertiser and consumer side, which are the core parts of our business."
Yahoo Middle East recently announced it would shut down and consolidate 27 of its websites in an effort to simplify its offerings to its users. Several of the websites that will be shut down performed similar tasks, such as gaming that will now be condensed into one website, said Ahmed Nassef, the vice president and managing director at Yahoo Middle East. firstname.lastname@example.org