Google MENA has been hard at work in the Middle Eastern region, hosting several events in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, with one upcoming event in the UAE. In addition, Google brought its Ambassador Program to the Middle East, and finally, has also launched an initiative focusing on small businesses, starting in Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand it throughout the region.

According to Google, only 15% of businesses in the Middle Eastern Gulf region have an online presence, and the newest program plans to do something about it. The initiative offers to develop websites for free for Saudi Arabia’s SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), as well as offering one-on-one mentoring  in how to turn that online presence into a profit.

While large corporations and businesses throughout the Middle East have a strong online presence, smaller businesses have shown a reluctance to follow in their footsteps, and Saudi Arabia has been no exception.

Ari Kesisoglu, Google MENA’s Regional Manager describes the program as Online Presence 101, adding, “We want to help businesses get online. It’s to make it extremely easy, and to give them some financial benefits so that it’s cheaper than doing it in the normal way.” He goes on to say, “The idea is that we want to help businesses get online. We want to make it extremely easy for businesses. E-commerce is just in its infancy in the GCC.” Kesisoglu doesn’t see this as a drawback, adding, “”This is not really discouraging, because every single country goes through the same phase.”

The initiative comes hot on the heels of a similar project that has just launched in the UK. Google UK launched Getting British Business Online just a few days earlier starting in Liverpool, where the company aims to help 1,500 UK businesses, using the same tools and methods.

Saudi Arabia’s Internet penetration is over 40%, which translates into over 11 million people online in the kingdom. As ecommerce, epayment and other online activities continue to grow in the region, Saudi Arabia is certainly lagging in comparison to its neighbours throughout the Middle East.

The region as a whole is a fast-growing market, and has attracted the attention of established businesses aiming to gain a foothold. LivingSocial entered the Middle Eastern market when it bought the UAE-based group buying site, GoNabit for an undisclosed amount.

With this initiative Google could potentially shine the light on a country in the Middle East, and a completely untapped market, which has yet to receive any attention from the international, and to a huge extent, regional market.