x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

UAE internet users prefer global Google

Web surfers here are twice as likely to use the international search engine than its local version.

Almost six out of 10 internet users in the UAE are more likely to turn to Google's global search portal rather than the national version, a survey released yesterday found. The preference for the google.com version of the search portal of 58 per cent of the 1,410 online users in the country surveyed by Google, against the 38 per cent who preferred google.ae, was evidence for the shortage of local content that plagues the Arab world, said Husni Khuffash, Google's business development manager in the UAE. "It's a big sign that we need more content over here," he said. Mr Khuffash was speaking on the second day of a two-day conference in Dubai aimed at educating advertising agencies about the possibility of search advertising and search engine optimisation to increase business in the region. He said he believed education was the key to breaking the Arab world out of its current pattern of having 5 per cent of the world's population but only 1 per cent of its online content. Much of the work that needed to be done had nothing to do with Google's revenue streams, at least directly, he said. Companies in the UAE could improve the country's local content with simple actions such as making functional websites that explained what they did and where they were located. "Companies are not taking the right tools to be online and to show that you are there," he said. "If you are not there, I cannot help you." Some UAE companies, particularly in the technology and travel sectors, had been using search advertising in a sophisticated way, he said. "I would say that Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Nokia and Jumeirah, they do understand this," he said. "They really take the search and online business so seriously that they have a dedicated online team. They give a very hard time to us and the [advertising] agency to make sure that we deliver." Google's survey found that search engines are used most for research into technology, with 67 per cent of users making technology-related searches, and travel, with 48 per cent of users making travel-related searches. Dimitri Metaxas, the regional executive director of digital for Omnicom, one of the world's largest advertising groups, said that the downturn had helped push the region's advertisers toward online advertising in general, and search advertising in particular. "The downturn was probably the needed ignition that was a long time coming that would get so many of our clients and advertisers in the market to fully take the internet or new media seriously," he said. "Out of that, I think the one that stands to gain the most is search." His company was seeing "triple-digit growth" in spending on digital advertising, Mr Metaxas said, with many clients now allocating a double-digit percentage of their total advertising budget toward the web. However, he said, the baseline for search advertising in the region was low compared with more developed markets. "At the moment, we're roughly 20 per cent search," he said. "I think our counterparts in London probably see 55 to 60 per cent. So it shows you where you are vis a vis a more mature market. But we see this recession as a real catalyst for [growth]. We see a lot more migration to search channels." khagey@thenational.ae