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The Middle East or MENA region is seen as a potentially very lucrative SEO area for early adopting businesses. Thanks to a mixture of changing consumer habits, more investment in mobile infrastructure and better Internet speed and access in homes, search in the region offers notable opportunities. Simply put, a well thought out, quality search engine optimisation strategy that takes the local area into account provides plenty of budding prospects.

However, there are local nuances and businesses hoping to begin a comprehensive SEO project in the region need to be aware of the prospects and the challenges of SEO in the region. So, let’s take a closer look at these, as well as the similarities and opportunities.

Differences

One of the main differences between SEO in the Middle East and that of Western nations such as the US or UK is that a large number of the queries are performed in Arabic. According to a Q&A in 2012 with Husam Jandal for eConsultancy.com 54% of search queries in the region are performed in Arabic. The remaining search queries tend to be either in English or French.

It’s worth understanding that keyword research must be performed in a manner that uses the language in the same way users would. Arabic and its colloquialisms mean queries are very different to English versions and because of this SEO have to be performed in a way that takes this into account.

It’s quite common for marketers from non-Arabic countries to use an online translator to directly translate keywords into Arabic.

Ironically, another thing marketers need to understand is that some Arabs who use Google regularly tend to translate an Arabic search term into English and then use this term to search Google. Middle Eastern searchers do this as they feel they get better results with an English search query rather than an Arabic one.

This is in part due to the amount of poor quality websites and spammy content produced by some SEO companies in the region. For example, very few Arabic sites are dynamic and include regularly updated blogs.

Mediums

In addition, it’s also worth mentioning TV is still considered the medium of choice for advertisement in the Middle East. High rates of house wives and children, as well as low home internet penetration rates in many areas mean that television is seen as the best place for many marketing budgets.

In turn, this results in a lot of large e-commerce stores advertising on TV, print and social media, with the aim of getting customers through direct clicks rather than through organic search. The result of this fewer searches and less overall onus on SEO is that smaller businesses who don’t have the budget for TV adverts don’t tend to invest in large SEO campaigns either. Low levels of competition means that SEO in the area is potentially very lucrative if done correctly.

The aforementioned is just one example of how user intent and the way users search in the MENA region is different to the way they do so in English speaking ones.

Similarities

As with all SEO, a campaign cannot be performed without utilising other marketing factors and SEO must work alongside these to create a holistic strategy. Most, if not all of the changes we see in other parts of the world are also very prevalent in the Middle East.

So, for example more and more users utilise social media accounts, consume video content, use mobile search and PPC is also quite common, though not overly relied upon. These marketing trends are reflected throughout the UK, USA and most other parts of the world and just like European areas, the same opportunities and threats are ubiquitous.

Social

As with a lot of the rest of the world, Facebook and Twitter are the most prominent social media sites in the MENA area and users are very active on social media. In fact, according to Go-Gulf.com 88% of the Middle East’s online population use social media on a daily basis and Dubai is the 20th leading city for Facebook penetration in the world.

Throughout the region, it seems a lot of the same challenges for social media apply as they do for SEO. The diversity and size of the region means that marketers have to listen closely to consumers to understand where people are talking online and what they are talking about. Understanding the diversity of the region is also very important for marketers hoping to make informed decisions.

Social Fresh created a very interesting blog piece on social media in the MENA area that’s certainly worth reading as it showcases the similarities, challenges and the differences between marketing there and elsewhere in the world.

So, we’ve established that people in the MENA region search in vast numbers, albeit in a slightly different manner to those in Western areas. However, the potential for growth for companies is significant, especially if quality SEO techniques are used to deliver longlasting results.

Search Optimisation in MENA

According to ShopGo, who monitored a range of SEO data for ecommerce stores in the region 53% of stores in the region ignore keywords, while 27% ignored the need to create a general description for the store. Almost 19% ignored descriptions and keywords.

The report by ShopGo found a number of other problems and areas of confusion for those that focused on SEO within the region. For example 16.5% of those who created descriptions, confused them with keywords. You can read a blog that summarises a lot of the issues with the implementation of SEO here.

Because of the lower levels of competition and the emerging state of SEO as a force in the MENA region, smart forward thinking companies have a lot of leeway to work with.

Though traditionally there have been factors that have limited search engine optimisation as an opportunity, this is no longer the case. The MENA region is seeing notably improved Internet access, a number of changes in traditional mindsets and is a very promising area for Internet business. This alongside a high quality SEO strategy make for a lot of potential for companies hoping to make the most of the web.

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