A startling fact is that there are 340m Arabic speakers world-wide, yet less than 2% of the content on the internet is currently in Arabic. E-commerce is booming in the region, but many websites are still targeting users in English. As the amount of Arabic content available on the internet is still relatively limited, it means optimizing for Arabic is a less competitive way of dominating the search results in the Middle East.
Optimizing your website for Arabic is a major opportunity for marketers in this region. There is some 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.
A report by Econsultancy looks in detail at how to optimise Arabic language websites for search. According to the report tailoring content for the Middle East is not simply a case of running your web page or key words through Google Translate. It is about understanding the local audience and how culture impacts on search behaviour.
Furthermore online translation tools rarely give completely accurate results, say the authors of the report. Another issue Econsultancy flags up is the different types of Arabic content within the Middle East. They say one needs 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 and needs to be kept in mind when optimising Arabic sites for search, according to the authors of the report.
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. Beyond the complications of language alone, doing business in the MENA region is different for many reasons.
Local culture may strongly impact the way you do internet marketing. For example, 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 pointers from the report include the fact that 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 can also be less formal in business in the region, 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. Timing marketing campaigns around festivals, such as Eid or Ramadan is crucially important.