MENA region map

Econsultancy published its first Search Engine Optimisation Best Practice Guide for the Middle East in July, authored by digital marketing consultant Husam Jandal. I spoke to Husam about his thoughts regarding SEO in the region.

The guide focused on country-specific search engine marketing strategies, and stressed the importance of understanding your audience and producing locally relevant content for both the English and Arabic-speaking population.

Below, Husam discusses the SEO trends specific to the MENA area, and some of the differences in SEO best practice between the Middle East and other regions.

Why have you chosen to write this report and why do you think there needs to be a separate SEO guide specifically for the Middle East?

Like any marketing channel, search engines have their own unique rules and strategies for reaping the benefits from any optimisation work. For the Middle East region, the rules are simply different. Therefore, I wanted to help marketers to understand these differences and keep some important points in mind while embarking on search optimisation for this region.

What are some of the major differences in SEO in the Middle East, compared to say, the UK or US?

Language is the main difference. 54% of all search queries done in the region are in Arabic, therefore SEO has to be done in a way that understands the language properly, and keeps in mind that a standard translation will not work for SEO purposes.

Another two important differences are user behaviour and online environment in the region. SEO cannot run in isolation of the users and the major authority websites that they visit. For example, online forums and YouTube are the top destinations of internet users in the region, and this therefore needs to be considered as part of a local SEO strategy.

What trends in search are you seeing across the Middle East region?

It is interesting that the top search queries in the region are for news, images, music, and videos. SEO work should take advantage of this insight. In addition, more than 50% of smartphone users in the Middle East have performed a general search via their mobiles, showing the proliferation in smartphone usage and its impact on the way SEO is performed.

More details about trends in the Middle East can be found on the latest Econsultancy Middle East trends report.

Are many internet users across the Middle East searching in Arabic, and how can websites target these users?

Yes, the majority of internet users are searching in Arabic. Sometimes English and French are used as well, but Arabic queries have the biggest share. In order to target these users, local keyword research and analysis has to be done from scratch. I shared a complete process of how to do this in the report.

How is search converging with social in this part of the world?

Social media is exploding in the region, and that’s why I am working with Econsultancy on publishing a new Facebook Guide for Businesses in the Middle East. I expect this to be launched in October 2012.

In short, social media is booming and for SEO purposes, we need to find where the users are spending their time online in the region, and integrate that with SEO strategy.

How reliant are companies on paid search in the Middle East?

Not overly, and there is a huge potential there. The average cost-per-click in the region is low in general, and for Arabic keywords it is very cheap. I highly recommend combining paid search with organic search for maximum results.

Do you think a focus on SEO should be used to reduce the dependence on paid search, or should companies pursue a more holistic SEM strategy?

The latter; they should be using both paid search and organic search. For example, if you are marketing a hotel (see the report for a hotel case study) you will need to work on both. It is nearly impossible to rank on a generic keyword organically, and that’s where paid search complements SEO efforts.

Finally, for marketers who are yet to focus on SEO within their organisation, are there any ‘quick wins’? Do you have any tips to get started?

SEO is like going to the gym. You need to do it constantly to lose weight or build muscle, and it takes a long time to see results. There are no shortcuts. SEO works in the same way, however, if the steps I provide in the report are followed then your chances of success are higher, and, to use the gym analogy, you will not waste time exercising the wrong muscle!

Find out about SEO best practice in the Middle East in our 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.