Personalisation and localisation of content are considered key trends in the Middle East – but it goes so much further than just language...

Here are some of the key take-outs from the Content Strategy roundtables at Econsultancy's Digital Cream Dubai 2012, which I moderated.

  • Arabic is the de facto language for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even other GCC countries such as Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.
  • UAE-based companies are experimenting with languages like Hindi, Bengali, Tagalog, Chinese and Russian – both on-site and in their social media – to cater to the diverse audiences  living in,  travelling to or doing business with the region.
  • One tourism group employed a former waitress to run a foreign-language Twitter feed; she is so engaged with it that it has become their number one feed. The table agreed that you need someone who has a passion for social media and has a deep understanding of both your brand and the language and culture to create an engaging presence.
  • But English is still considered the common language of the UAE. One attendee said: “There is too much cultural diversity across the GCC and the language barriers can be too much - English caters to the masses.”
  • That seems to be key with B2B sites, as opposed to consumer – particularly retail and tourism sites.
  • Plain English tends to be best when catering to many users who speak English as a second language, but one attendee pointed out that smaller, local firms like N_K_D Pizza, Wild Peeta and Cobone still managed to bring personality and character to their brands with their tone, being fun, friendly and interactive.
  • When catering to multiple languages, one UAE company found it better to bring the content, in all languages, into one central hub rather than their previous practice of developing “multiple personalities across multiple sites”.
  • Companies with a mix of B2B and consumer sites also need different voices and tones for different parts of the business.
  • But… the same content does not necessarily work in different languages. The tables all agreed that you need different content in English and Arabic – “the smallest word, mis-translated, can change the whole meaning of a sentence”, one participant said.
  • Arabic-language content is important but hard to find -  especially video.
  • But then again - SEO opportunities are easier to come by in Arabic, as the user base is smaller.

‘One size fits all’ does not work in the Middle East, where content needs to be both niche and local. And that means understanding the best-fit languages for your site and tailoring content to suit different cultures in different languages. It is indeed a multi-tasking region when it comes to making content work.

Image credit: lowjumpingfrog on Flickr

Suzanne Locke

Published 29 February, 2012 by Suzanne Locke

Suzanne Locke is Editor-in-chief at Yahoo! Middle East and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (4)

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

Thanks for that Suzanne - and thanks for moderating ;)

All I'd add (I moderated the search roundtable) is the following:
1. Arabic, whilst standardised in written form, is (I learned) very different in each country/region. So actually 'doing something in Arabic' isn't nearly as simple as it might sound to do properly.
2. As a result quite a few brands are relying on local affiliates to do some of this localisation/tweaking which is, perhaps, a sensible, low risk, low cost, short term approach.
3. Several people I talked said the smartest such affiliates were all based in Egypt.

over 6 years ago


William Kinzel, Chief Catalyst at E-Catalyst Consultants

We help create content in Arabic and English for the region and sometimes face the challenging decision of weather or not to translate the content to have it duplicated in both languages. It seems easiest to just create two different posts so that the themes sound original and not translated. We did this in a recent set of videos we made for a client. Although production costs were higher, in the end we had double the unique content to feed to two completely different audiences!

over 6 years ago


Anton Koekemoer

Great Comment by Ashley Friedlein - I totally agree!

over 6 years ago

Daniel Rajkumar

Daniel Rajkumar, MD at Web-Translations Limited

Good post, it’s worth mentioning that if you intend to sell within Israel then Hebrew is a useful language to include. There are many successful Internet companies that operate out of Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel which has a wealthy middle class with an appetite for western products.

Any companies that want to test the potential of their website in the middle east should speak to my team at Web-Translations.

over 6 years ago

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