November 9, 2011

For anyone who’s ever tried to look up the menu of a restaurant in India to see if they offer a particular type of chicken kebab and had to sort through blurry, user-scanned copies uploaded onto sites like or, Google’s latest initiative will come as a welcome fillip.

On Wednesday, Google India began offering free websites, hosting, maintenance and training to SMEs in an effort to get more of the 8m small businesses in India online. But there is, of course, something of a catch.
After the first free year, SMEs must pay Google’s partner in the initiative, hostgator, for the domain name and hosting. Call it the credit card model of web hosting. Or, if you’re feeling sinister, the drug dealer version.

Of course, Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil” – not “don’t make a profit”. For companies to get their website on the internet radar, Google is also offering a Rs2500 voucher for AdWords, revenues from which form the vast majority of Google’s $28.2bn in total advertising revenues.
A Google spokesperson told beyondbrics that just 5 per cent of the 8m SMEs in India operate online, and the company is hoping to entice more of those businesses – they’re hoping to add 500,000 – into “the internet ecosystem”.
“There is a huge gap of information, the number of internet users continues to grow rapidly – it’s at around 100m now – but if you look at the local businesses, they don’t see the relevance of the internet in their daily lives,” he said. “The idea was to bridge that gap, and get that whole internet ecosystem going.”
India had only 5.3 internet users for every 100 people in 2009, compared with 39.2 for Brazil and 28.8 for China, according to the World Bank.
The initiative began one year ago in the UK, with the goal of getting 1m SMEs online. Google has so far signed up one third of that amount, and India is the 19th country it has targeted.
Google has been offering the voucher for AdWords – the sponsored links that show up on the right side of your screen when you search – for two years, having realised upon their launch in India that local SMEs were quite wary of the internet.
“When we started doing our sales operations in India three years back, while there was adoption from the more internet savvy businesses for AdWords, there were not many SMEs doing it,” the spokesperson said.
While he could not put a number to how many SMEs use AdWords in India, the spokesperson did say the number had doubled in the last year, making India the fastest growing SME market for the service after Russia.
Which is a good thing. So long as it helps users find their chicken kali mirch kebab.

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