Bahrain Online Marketing Country Profile
With the highest Internet penetration rate in the Middle East, and one of the highest globally, Bahrain has a rapidly increasing demand for online goods and services. In addition to a high GDP per capita of $51,200, Bahrain has nearly 1.3 million Internet users from both the state itself, and foreign nationals, making it an ideal market for diverse online marketing opportunities.
Basic Information on the Kingdom of Bahrain
As with any new online marketing campaign effort, it’s essential to understand the context of the country you’re targeting, so we will start with an introduction into the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has a small population of 1.35 million, and half of that population is non-native. Oil exports account for 86% of Bahrain’s income, followed by the export of aluminium, the finance industry, and construction. The Kingdom’s economy faltered in 2011 after social unrest amongst the local Shia population, but has since stabilised to a GDP of $65 billion. Additionally, Bahrainis enjoy generous subsidies from the state, meaning additional discretionary spending for local families.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy ruled by the Al-Khalifa family, though roughly half the government are a member of the royal family. The country is predominantly Muslim, and though 75% of Bahraini Muslims are Shia, the royal family is Sunni, which has caused unrest in recent years. It is also important to note the population of both native and foreign Christians, who account for approximately 15% of the population. It is critical that any marketing campaign in Bahrain respects the cultural traditions surrounding Islam, but this doesn’t mean a bit of creative marketing won’t be appreciated by the highly modernised and urban population.
The royal family of Bahrain is notorious for its strict control of news and media. There is extensive filtering for pornographic, political, and religious content contra to the opinions of the royal family, which is performed under the guise of protecting the moral trajectory of Bahraini citizens.
Bahrain Internet Country Codes
The royal family’s Internet provider Baletco provides top-level domain names in English at various rates. However, .com, .org, and .net sites are far more commonly utilised, with the exception of google.com.bh. Additionally, the Kingdom currently only has an English extension, despite the popularity of Arabic extensions throughout the region.
Top Level Domains
Top Ranking Sites in Bahrain
This is a list of the most popular websites in Bahrain as of May 2016 from Alexa:
The top 15 most popular sites are a relatively unsurprising combination of search engines, social media, and online retailers, with the addition of a torrenting website, and a news website in English and Malayalam, a language from India.
Top Ranking Region-Specific Websites in Bahrain
While the majority of these sites are related to news, government, or sports, it is also worth noting that there are popular users of local sites from specific regions of the world that correspond with the immigrant population of Bahrain, such as urdopoint.com, indiatimes.com, dailypakistan.com.pk, and manoramaonline.com.
E-Commerce in Bahrain
The majority of these sites are familiar, international retailers, with the exception of Talabat.com, which is the most popular food delivery service in the GCC. In addition to these sites, online shopping at regional sites like dukakeen.com or eshopbahrain.com are popular sources for electronics, fashion, and appliances.
Search Engine Marketing in Bahrain
Google is by far the most popular search engine in Bahrain, though specific statistics are unavailable. There are two versions of the www.google.com.bh site, in English that is left to right, and in Arabic that is right to left. Both are hosted on the same site, and are changeable with a button below the search bar. This means that both SEO and PPC marketing options are available in English, and in Arabic.
State of SEO in Bahrain
Searches in Bahrain are in both English and Arabic, but barely over half the population is from the Arab region, meaning searches in Arabic and effectively equal to searches in English.
Below is a comparison of organic search metrics for the top ranking websites in Bahrain for the keywords “Hotels” and “Cars for Sale” on Google. These comparisons serve as an example of the differences in link authority for localised websites verses highly competitive international websites.
“Hotels” in the US vs. “Hotels” in Bahrain
“Cars for Sale” in the US vs. “Cars for Sale” in Bahrain
These two charts demonstrate how much easier it is for a website to rank on Google in Bahrain than on Google in the US. The Moz Page Authority rank is a measurement of predicted page ranking potential based off of all metrics, and the numbers indicate that it requires far fewer links to rank in Bahrain than for a site in the US, if the site in geo-targeted for Bahrain.
State of PPC in Bahrain
The Pay Per Click market in Bahrain is dominated by Google Adwords, and there is far less competition for most markets than in the States. PPC is still relatively underutilised in Bahrain, especially for geo-targeted campaigns. Despite the small market, Bahrain has unique opportunities to reach native Bahrainis, expatriates, and visitors from other GCC countries.
Analyzing the PPC Differences between the US and Bahrain
We performed a comparison between google.com.bh and google.com using two popular search queries for “Toyota” and “iPhone 6” to investigate the differences between PPC marketing in the US and in Bahrain. When searching for “Toyota” Arabic in Bahrain, there are no paid search results- it’s just organic search results and a map with retailers.
If we perform the same search in English in the States, we get very different results with seven different Adwords ads, and only one organic search that shows up without scrolling down the page. This is a good indicator of the drastically different levels of competitiveness in the two markets, and the opportunities present in Bahrain to deliver a strong online marketing campaign.
Our second search for the iPhone 6 returned no paid search results again. For something as popular and marketable as Apple products, this is kind of surprising. However, it is a good demonstration of the open opportunities in the Bahraini market for PPC campaigns.
By contrast, when searching google.com in the States, we see seven different ads again, in addition to product listing ads, which we didn’t see in Bahrain.
Geo-Targeting Opportunities in Bahrain
Though Bahrain is the smallest country in the Middle East, there are still a few geo-targeting opportunities on the archipelago. Across the Kingdom, there are pockets of urbanized populaces with both expatriates and locals, but the most important is the capital of Manama.
The population is concentrated most heavily in the capital of Manama, with just under 150,000 people in the city proper. Manama is the centre of business activity in Bahrain, and is highly developed, with a diverse array of enterprises, malls, and construction. Since it is the hub of the country’s activities, it’s an important marketing opportunity.
Other Cities in Bahrain to Consider Targeting:
Saudi Arabian Tourism
Bahrain is a popular destination for Saudi tourists thanks to the King Fahd Causeway that was built to branch the Western Saudi mainland with the island of Bahrain. In 2012, Saudis composed more than half of Bahrain’s eight million tourists. Generally, they come to vacation for short periods of time, spending large amounts of money on non-essential items such as hotels, entertainment, insurance, food, and accommodations. During the Eid al-Adha holiday in 2015, Saudis spent 106 million USD in a span of three days alone. The influx of wealthy tourists into Bahrain from Saudi presents a unique and highly valuable marketing opportunity. As Saudis search for restaurants, cinemas, and hotels online and on their mobiles, there are many different platforms for a strategic online marketing campaign. It would be extremely beneficial to try and target this population as they escape to Bahrain for vacation.
Social Media in Bahrain
With the highest Internet penetration rate in the Middle East, it’s unsurprising that 52% of Bahrainis are Facebook users, though jus t under 5% have a Twitter. LinkedIn is also quite popular with Bahrainis, with around 7% of the population creating profiles. The portion of the population using social media continues to grow, and in recent years Instagram has an uptake in users as well. However, Facebook still maintains its position as the most popular form of social media among Bahraini residents. Given the popularity of these social media sites, there are many opportunities to be found for creative online marketing campaigns integrated into Bahraini’s everyday activity.
Mobile Marketing in Bahrain
With an Internet penetration rate of 96.4%, it’s unsurprising that mobile phones are quite popular in Bahrain. In 2014, the World Bank reported a whopping 173 mobile subscriptions per 100 people, only including lines with voice capability. Not all of these subscriptions are for smart phones, but between the resident of Bahrain and the tourism industry, it’s important to consider a mobile campaign. It is especially important to have a website that adapts to popular mobile devies, such as iPhone and Android. Since not all smartphones are created equally, adaptability is key.
Online Display Advertising in Bahrain
Display networks aren’t very common in Bahrain, and they are also limited by censorship guidelines. For example, Article 42 of Bahrain’s penal code calls for the complete separation of editorial and advertising material, which is vague in description and thus allows the government wiggle room to censor more material if they should find it in contest with the crown’s image and ideals. The strict regulation of both online and print media in Bahrain means increased difficulty finding placement options for ads.
Seasonal Promotion Times
For 2016, the public holidays in Bahrain are listed below. It should be noted that the dates of Islamic holidays change yearly based on the lunar calendar. These holidays serve as beneficial online marketing opportunities to connect with the local population, and take advantage of the festive spirit.
January 1: New Year’s Day
May 1: Public Holiday
July 7-9: Eid al-Fitr
September 13-17: Eid al-Adha
October 3: Muharram
October 22-23 Ashura
December 12: The Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
December 16-17: National Day
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a highly modernised, urban society with many potential online opportunities for marketing and business. Despite the small population, the country has a high GDP per capita, a diverse demographic population, and interesting tourism activity. As of now, the online marketing of Bahrain is relatively underdeveloped, with both SEO and PPC opportunities that should be exploited for a significant expansion into the market.