For SEO to succeed in the United Arab Emirates, it’s important to account for the region’s diversity and be specific about who you want to target. With upfront research based on your growth goals and the UAE’s unique market landscape, you can identify your target demographic and tailor your strategy to maximize engagement. Depending on who you want to engage within the region, you’ll need to vary the language, search engine and perhaps even the web design you use.
LANGUAGE TRENDS IN THE UAE
There are more than twice as many Indians in the United Arab Emirates than native Emirati – just 11.3% of the population are citizens. The rest is made up of a diverse expat community, with the largest foreign populations being Indian (27.2%), Pakistani (12.5%) and Bangladeshi (7.31%).
Because the region has a diverse multicultural population, choosing the right language is crucial to the success of your SEO strategy in the UAE. There are five main languages to consider, depending on who your target audience is:
Localizing your website into Arabic is a natural choice. Not only will it appeal to Emirati citizens, but also to the many Arabic tourists who regularly visit the UAE.
Because English is the most widely spoken language in Dubai and the common language of many expats, proficiency in the region is high. English is generally used for business and trade in the UAE. So an English site can be valuable, especially for B2B marketing.
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 is the mother tongue of many Indian and Pakistani expats in the UAE, and many Urdu speakers are Muslim. If you’re looking to engage with this demographic, you’ll need to think about how to position your brand and content accordingly.
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 this audience, 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 consider the competitive landscape and the region’s high expectations for a personalized customer experience. A more nuanced, culturally sensitive approach will likely drive better results. By thinking beyond translation and taking the time to truly tailor your online presence to your audience, you’ll engage with them on a deeper level.
SEARCH PLATFORM TRENDS IN THE UAE
Google reigns supreme in the UAE, with a 96.37% market share. However, depending on your specific target audience and your maturity in the market, you might 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, Google will be the most effective – and efficient – starting point and a major part of any localized SEO strategy.
UX TRENDS IN THE UAE
If you’re optimizing your localized online user experience for the UAE, there are several design standards to be aware of.
While English and Hindi are written left to right, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu are right-to-left languages. If you’re translating an English website into right-to-left languages, you will need to internationalize your website design to accommodate encoding, directional and navigational differences, as well as potentially review the imagery on your sites for cultural sensitivity.
Colors also carry different connotations in the UAE, which are worth taking into account. For example, orange and black can represent loss and mourning, and mourning and rebirth, while yellow is connected to happiness and prosperity. Blue and green have connections to spirituality and religion, and purple can inspire feelings of wealth and virtue.
When it comes to the technical elements of your SEO strategy, you can localize everything – including URLs, XML sitemaps and robots.txt files. Keep in mind, though, that although Google supports right-to-left character sets, not all platforms do. This could result in some strange URLs when you share links on social media or on other non-supported sites. So upfront consultation with your localization partner is a good idea before beginning translation.
Paying attention to these small details will play a big role in winning over a customer’s conscious (or subconscious) perception of your brand.
Thanks to the dominance of Google, SEO in the UAE can be relatively straightforward once you know who within this richly diverse region to target, which languages they speak and what their expectations are for your brand’s online experience. Taking the time to invest in your marketing localization strategy will drive success in the region. All you have to do is think beyond high-volume translation, deliver a locally relevant experience and tailor your SEO activities to local search trends and behaviors.