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.