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Econsultancy has published its first Search Engine Optimisation Best Practice Guide for the Middle East, authored by experienced digital marketing consultant, Husam Jandal.

Focused on country-specific search engine marketing strategies, the report stresses the importance of understanding your audience and producing locally relevant content for both the English and Arabic-speaking population. 

This blog post touches on just some of the issues that marketers need to take into account when optimising web pages in the Middle East. 

This MENA-focused SEO guide is a first for the region, and is timely, given how rapidly digital marketing and internet usage is growing in the Middle East. Mani Karthik, Search Marketing Manager, said: 

Econsultancy's SEO Guide for MENA is an eye opener for SEOs in the region. It graciously reminds you that SEO is no longer about following a set of global rules in bullet points. It addresses one of the important yet often missed points in SEO - that regions have their own rules and flavours when it comes to optimising for the web. It dives deep into how the web sphere in the Middle East is different and even touches upon the influencing factors and metrics specific to the region.

The difference between Arabic and English language for search 

The report looks in detail at how to optimise Arabic language websites for search. E-commerce is booming in the region, but many websites are still targeting users in English. It's worth considering the fact that there are 340m Arabic speakers world-wide, yet less than 2% of the content on the internet is currently in Arabic, according to the Arab Network for Media Support. 

However, optimising your website for Arabic is a major opportunity for marketers in this region. The amount of Arabic content available on the internet is still relatively limited, which means optimising for Arabic is a less competitive way of dominating the search results in the Middle East. 

There is also evidence to suggest that Arab users prefer to use Arabic keywords to find relevant search results when looking for local products and services, indicating there is a clear business case for investing time and effort to optimise search campaigns for regional internet users.

Localisation goes beyond Google Translate 

The report makes clear that tailoring content for the Middle East is not simply a case of running your web page or key words through Google Translate. Rather, it is fundamentally about understanding the local audience and how culture impacts on search behaviour. In addition, online or software-based translation programmes rarely give 100% accurate results 

One complication that arises is the different types of Arabic content within the Middle East. It is essential to understand the differences between local dialects and variations of Arabic across the region. For example, marketers must consider that the Arabic of an Egyptian speaker will be very different to an Arabic speaker in the Gulf. 

Understanding the nuances of the language, and in particular, the difference between English and Arabic search results is important.

For example, in English, Google has learned that it is common for internet users to misspell words or forget to include spaces between words. However, this behaviour is far more common in certain languages, including Arabic.

Additionally, in Arabic, two words that are spelt differently or are written in different formats may have the same meaning. All of this means that Google has had to change its algorithms to accommodate Arabic keywords. 

Understanding the local culture and its impact on business

Beyond the complications of language alone, doing business in the MENA region is different for many reasons. Local customs can strongly impact the way you do internet marketing.

For example, at a basic level, sending out a piece of content on a Friday may offer limited results, given that this is the start of the weekend across the region, and that Sunday marks the beginning of the working week. 

Other points to note include the following: 

  • Doing business in the Middle East is strongly based on personal relationships, which is why it's essential for website copy to be highly personal and engaging. 
  • People are often less formal in business, which may mean they will address you by your first name. This may impact your communication and your email marketing, for example.
  • Religion is a way of life in the Middle East and has a profound impact in a cultural sense. Islam penetrates all levels of society and behaviour, and will impact how people will interact online. Timing marketing campaigns around the five daily prayers or around festivals, such as Eid or Ramadan is crucially important. 

There's plenty more detail in our newly published MENA SEO Best Practice Guide. The 38-page guide is available as part of a report bundle, which also includes Econsultancy's 300-page global Search Engine Optimisation Best Practice Guide.

Econsultancy subscribers (Silver and above) can download both reports as part of their membership, or on a pay-per-view basis. 

Aliya Zaidi

Published 11 July, 2012 by Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi is Research Manager at Econsultancy. Follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn or Google+.

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Comments (11)

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Faseeh Shams

Faseeh Shams, Marketing Manager at Adthena

A very interesting report. Its even more interesting to see the rise of the use of internet as well as the influence of digital content in Middle Eastern countries specially after the FB revolutions.

I think this influence and power will spread like wild fire in Asia and there soon will be a time when China and India will top the digital spend list.

In terms of Google it would be interesting to know if a key term searched in the local language is as accurate as the results in Google English SERPs!.

about 4 years ago

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Harvey

let me start with praise for the doc. There are not enough informed sources publishing search best practices or in fact digital best practices in the region which leads to real problems with misinformation. I Hope this post does the rounds and the guide is downloaded and read many times.

Some things to consider though; across the clients I work with we see that users with language set to Arabic are 58% more likely to bounce than the site average. The conversion rates and ROI on Arabic content are much lower than English too. This is because (as mentioned) business is personal here and Arabic speakers like to see, touch and speak face to face with the vendor, often to barter. Always include a unique number where available so you can track and attribute those leads or sales back to your digital media activity.

Also, Arabic speaking Facebook users are more likely to engage with your brand then English speakers are. Depending on your social strategy consider targeting Arabic differently instead of just translating content.

Great job, keep it up.

about 4 years ago

Faseeh Shams

Faseeh Shams, Marketing Manager at Adthena

Spam at Econsultancy blog? Thats a first.

about 4 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Thanks for pointing out Faseeh. Now dealt with :)

about 4 years ago

harvey bennett

harvey bennett, Co founder at RBBI Performance

I was quite surprised to see that the comments section wasn't rel=nofollow...

about 4 years ago

harvey bennett

harvey bennett, Co founder at RBBI Performance

Hi, interestingly my team actually manage the client you cited in the case study paid search activity and have been for 13 months...where did you get that data from because it doesn't match up...? there are no where near 2k keywords and the most profitable keywords are brand terms (naturally).

thanks

about 4 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Hi Harvey,

Thanks for your message. The report has been written by digital marketing consultant, Husam Jandal, for Econsultancy, based on publicly available information. The case study is an analysis from an outsider perspective.

If you drop me an email with the details, (aliya.zaidi AT econsultancy DOT com) I can look into this for you and provide more details.

Thanks,
Aliya

about 4 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Hi again Harvey,

Just one other thing - the comments on our blog are actually rel=nofollow. Though we still get the occasional spam comment showing up on the blog :)

about 4 years ago

Husam Jandal

Husam Jandal, Speaker - Author - Consultant - Trainer at WSI

Hi Faseeh,

"In terms of Google it would be interesting to know if a key term searched in the local language is as accurate as the results in Google English SERPs!."

The result is as accurate as in English, but the keywords are different. For example, if you translate an English keyword literally into Arabic and search for it, you may not get the best results. But, if you first understand the language and how people would craft a search query in a specific country, then you will be able to paraphrase and come up with a more targeted keyword. Of course, all need to be validate by using keyword research tools. I would also suggest an A-B testing on many keywords with similar meaning, and keep the ones that get better conversions.

about 4 years ago

Husam Jandal

Husam Jandal, Speaker - Author - Consultant - Trainer at WSI

Hi Harvey,

Your best bet in getting maximum conversions would be to structure your web properties and content based on your understanding of the target audience... i.e. considering their language, demographics, psychographics, their online behavior, etc. For the example of a multilingual website, I would recommend different architecture, content, call-to-actions, etc, for each language (and even for each country to match the local dialect and user behavior there).

With regards to source of paid search data, this was taken from third party tool which I wouldn't promote, but they usually provide the best data available today. Here is a screenshot: http://screencast.com/t/QfkxDEOHmNlV

about 4 years ago

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fanstap

i live in egypt and my site has an arabic section as well as an English section

here is my experience

1) yes you can optimize pages for Arabic queries 10 times easier than english ones

2) arabic ads don't bring much money and most arab people don't use credit cards online!

almost 4 years ago

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