LOCAL small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are expected to enjoy more support from professionals who provide them with web-based services after Google launched its Engage project on Tuesday.
The search engine giant said the new initiative is a partner project aimed at any expert that helps SMEs with their online advertising and marketing strategy.
These service providers include advertising agencies, webmasters, search engine marketers and any other specialities in between.
About 500 people from all over South Africa, ranging from web designers to search engine optimisation experts and consultants, were present to learn more about the initiative.
Luke Mckend, the country manager of Google South Africa, said he hoped this venture would encourage entrepreneurs to make the web part of their businesses.
"Engage is Google's way of reaching out to these agencies and providing them with the training and support they need to attract more small business clients and become more valuable to their existing ones," said Mckend.
“There are many small companies in South Africa that would benefit from greater visibility on the internet, and we recognise that many of them call on freelancers and agencies to create and manage their online presence," he said.
Engage members will receive free access to educational resources, online training material and promotional vouchers to help SME customers get started with online advertising.
About 250 members will be accepted into Engage per year and the programme will continue to run for an unlimited period.
The criteria that each service provider must meet include being part of a business that is involved in helping SMEs grow their online presence.
You can either be a webmaster who builds websites for SMEs, or an interactive agency that manages its marketing and advertising. Information technology consultants who help entrepreneurs learn about online strategy are also encouraged to apply.
However, Google acknowledges there are still challenges when it comes to SMEs optimising their internet access.
"When it comes to digital marketing, South Africa still has a way to go to catch up to other parts of the world such as Europe and the US, but this is changing fast and Google would like to support SMEs to get connected."
Mckend said Engage was another leap towards getting local SMEs onto the platform.
"Google is committed to the success of South Africa's digital economy and we believe that assisting small businesses in getting online and thriving is fundamental to that success," says Mckend.
To join Google Engage, visit www.google.co.za/adwords/engage. Early application is encouraged.