For SEO to succeed in the United Arab Emirates, you need to speak the right language – and that’s not always Arabic. Learn which language you should use to reach your target audience.

There are more than twice as many Indians in the United Arab Emirates than Emirati.

It’s true  – just 11.3% of the population are citizens. The rest are expats, with the largest demographic groups being Indian (27.2%), Pakistani (12.5%) and Bangladeshi (7.31%). In Dubai especially, it’s not uncommon to hear English, Arabic, Hindi and Farsi spoken on the same street.

So how do you optimize your site for such a diverse, international population?

In short, you don’t.

Instead, you need to carefully analyze the market to identify your target audience, then cater specifically to them. This isn’t just limited to content. Depending on who you want to engage, you’ll need to vary the language, web design and perhaps even the search engine you use.

Here are the key things to consider when optimizing your SEO for the UAE.

WHICH SEARCH ENGINE SHOULD I USE?

Google reigns supreme in the UAE, with a 96.37% market share. So you don’t need to learn a new search engine to do well in the market.

However, depending on your specific target audience, you might also want to consider some other local search engines.

For example, Yahoo’s Middle East branch, Maktoob, is popular because it also serves as a webportal, email and auction site. And search engines like Yamli, Eiktub and Yoolki could be a good choice if you’re targeting Arabic speakers.

Generally though, sticking to Google will be the most effective – and efficient – approach.

WHICH LANGUAGE SHOULD I SPEAK?

Because the region has a diverse population, choosing the right language is crucial to the success of your SEO strategy in the UAE. There are five main languages to choose from:

  • Arabic

Localizing your website into Arabic is an obvious solution. Not only will it appeal to Emirati citizens, but also to the many Arabic tourists who regularly visit the UAE.

  • English

English is the most widely spoken language in Dubai. Many expats speak it fluently, and it’s generally used for business and trade. So for B2B purposes, an English site is valuable.

  • Hindi

Because of the large Indian population in the UAE, Hindi could be a good choice for your website if you’re targeting this demographic. But the Indian population itself is also diverse, so make sure you know your audience well – it may be better to optimize your site in English or Urdu.

  • Urdu

Urdu is the mother tongue of many Indian and Pakistani expats. And many Urdu speakers are Muslim. So if you’re targeting them, you’ll need to think about how to position your brand for these customers.

  • Farsi

Dubai sits just across the Persian Gulf from Iran, so it’s no surprise that many of the people who built the modern city speak Farsi. They often play key roles in business, are highly influential and are well versed in doing business in English or Arabic. But if you want to reach them on a personal level, speak to them in Farsi.

It can be tempting to use a blanket strategy to target a wide variety of keywords so you can appeal to these different demographics. But a more nuanced approach will bring greater rewards. By taking the time to truly tailor your site to your audience, you’ll engage with them on a deeper level.

WHAT SHOULD MY ARABIC WEBSITE LOOK LIKE?

If you do decide to optimize your website for Arabic, there are several design quirks to be aware of.

First, while English is written left to right, Arabic goes from right to left. This can create spacing issues if you’re translating an English website. Good translation and web design are key to overcoming this problem. One popular way around it is to use horizontal navigation.

When it comes to the technical elements of your SEO strategy, you can localize everything into Arabic – including URLs, xml sitemaps and robots.txt files. Keep in mind, though, that although Google supports Arabic characters, not all platforms do. This could result in some strange URLs when you share links on social media or on other non-supported sites.

Colors also carry different connotations in the UAE, which are worth knowing about:

  • Orange: loss and mourning
  • Yellow: happiness and prosperity
  • Blue: protection, often linked to spirituality
  • Green: strength, often linked to religion
  • Purple: wealth and virtue
  • Brown: comfort
  • Black: mourning and rebirth
  • White: purity and high status

Paying attention to these small details will play a big role in winning over a customer’s conscious (or subconscious) attitude toward your brand.

FINAL THOUGHT

Thanks to the dominance of Google, SEO in the UAE is relatively straightforward once you know who to target – provided you invest in good quality localization and web design. Leveraging local market research to identify your ideal customer in the UAE is key.