Regional Manager Gulf, Google: “Mobile search is becoming increasingly crucial”

Mohamad Mourad, Regional Manager Gulf, Google is delivering a keynote of the opening day of the Broadband MEA conference, taking place on the 19th-20th March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE. Ahead of the show we speak to him about his role and what opportunities he sees for Google in the region.

What excites you most in your role as Regional Manager Gulf, Google?

For me, Google is all about doing cool things that matter, about thinking big, then thinking bigger. We are lucky in the Gulf to get to work with some of the most powerful brands and teams. I am always inspired by the people I meet with – from entrepreneurs and developers to content creators and everyday users.

How important is online video for the Middle East region?

The Middle East region is a global leader on YouTube with 285 million views a day, putting the region in the second place globally behind the U.S. and ahead of Brazil. In addition to that, more than two hours of content are uploaded onto the platform every single minute.

Naturally, much of the content coming in from and being consumed by the Middle East is in Arabic, which is why providing locally relevant content was a priority. We developed local domains in eight countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. By localising the YouTube experience, we made it easier for people to find popular videos in their country along with those that are rising in popularity which were locally relevant to their language and interests.

In the Middle East alone, YouTube playbacks grew by more than 28 per cent between October 2011 and October 2012; demonstrating the impact that video content has in the region and how important it is to make it accessible.

Saudi Arabia also leads the world in the number of daily video views conducted on mobile devices with mobile views making up 25 per cent of total YouTube views around the world. In fact, YouTube traffic through mobile devices has more than tripled since 2011.

The internet was lauded for the effect it had in supporting the Arab spring over the last two years. However, in the face of censorship from governments, can technology continue to have the same impact?

Free expression is a core Google value and critical to our mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. At Google we have a bias in favour of people’s right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. But we also recognise that freedom of expression can’t be — and shouldn’t be — without some limits. The difficulty is in deciding where those boundaries are drawn. For a company like Google, with services in more than 100 countries – all with different national laws and cultural norms – it’s a challenge we face many times every day.

For all our various products, services and platforms, we work hard to create a community which everyone can enjoy and can enable people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what is OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere.

It is important to note that Google is not, and should not become, the arbiter of what does and does not appear on the web.

How important is the creation of local content for the Middle East region?

Local content creation is on the top of our priorities in the MENA region. Creating a web that is relevant to the average Arabic speaking internet user is vital, particularly when you consider that the total Arabic content on the web represents just three per cent of the total digital content online— while Arabic speakers make up more than five per cent of the global population. We have launched initiatives aimed at just that, with last year’s “Arabic Web Days” – a month long series of online and offline events dedicated to boosting the amount of Arabic content on the web, in collaboration with several international, regional and local partners.

With video being a huge star in MENA, eight different countries in the region have their own local YouTube domain where locally relevant content, including top videos and top channels for each country can be viewed.

Numerous businesses and other entities have channels that act as a tool for education and news. In the UAE, important figures such as Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum communicate via video about their initiatives. Competitions such as YouTube’s Your Film Festival enable talented directors from the region to submit their short films for voting and a chance to develop them into a feature-length movie. Media entities such as The Dubai Press Club upload videos of important discussions that highlight current issues in the media, which help garner awareness for local issues, and much more.

As the world goes mobile, what opportunities do the wide-scale global LTE rollouts offer for the Google?

2012 was a great year for mobile search. As consumers continued to turn to their mobile devices, we also saw marketers embrace mobile in a big way. Marketers have moved beyond asking why they should be on mobile, and are now talking about how they can maximize their mobile efforts. We fully expect that this will continue in 2013, and that mobile search will continue to play a key role in every advertiser’s marketing mix.

We live in a multi-screen world now where people are constantly connected, moving back and forth between different devices throughout the day. Search plays a key role in helping people pick up where they left off between devices, with 63 per cent searching again on the second device when they continue an online activity. As this cross-device behaviour continues to grow, there’s also an important opportunity for marketers to reach customers on search as a way of bridging experiences across devices, particularly on mobile.

Because the mobile device arena has evolved so much, even within the last year, we expect that in 2013 we’ll continue to see devices change and proliferate at breakneck speed. The lines between devices are quickly blurring, particularly between laptops and tablets with the introduction of hybrids like ultrabooks and convertible tablets. In the near future, we think we’ll see all devices have capabilities like touchscreens and GPS, with lines between device form factors continuing to blur. As that happens, mobile search will need to get smarter to better understand user context beyond devices – such as whether someone on the go is looking for a nearby restaurant for lunch – so that we can deliver the best, most relevant ads. We think the industry will make big strides in the next few years to better understand user context based on signals such as location and time of day so that we can help advertisers reach the right person with the right message.

What’s your prediction for the most exciting development of 2013?

Mobile, mobile, mobile! For those marketers who have yet to fully dive into mobile, I would say that it’s not too late. Mobile search is becoming increasingly crucial to the way your customers interact with you, so the first thing I’d recommend is that marketers make sure they’re present on mobile search and provide customers with a good mobile experience with things like click-to-call and mobile-optimised websites. We also see the trend of watching video on mobile growing exponentially – so it’s important that desktop or laptop video experiences are adapted or created on mobile.

What piece of tech could you not leave the house without?

That has to be my Nexus phone of course!


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