Though many would assume that search behavior in the Middle East is similar to search behavior in other regions of the world there are some important differences we found when interviewing none English speaking Arabs. Since this post is written in English and many English speaking Arabs might read it I want to start by saying that not all Arabic speakers search online in this way. The point of this post is to make note of the fact some Arabs do search in this way and that it might be worth considering this when you are formulating an online marketing strategy for the Middle East.
Step 1: The Arabic Web Search
Often the first step in an Arab’s search for information starts with entering keywords into their browser in hopes of finding what they are looking for. If they find a relevant site or sites pertaining to their search query in Arabic and then find the answer to their inquiry the search stops there. However, if they don’t find relevant sites in Arabic or they don’t find an answer to their questions their search continues in a different way.
Step 2: Query Translation
Once the Arabic speaker realizes they aren’t going to find what they are looking for in Arabic they begin down the path to getting their answer in English. The first step in that process (the second step here) is translating the search query from Arabic to English. So for example they copy the keyword “مرض القلب” and use Google translate to translate that to “heart disease.”
Now that query has been translated from Arabic to English searcher pastes the query string in English into a search engine and hit return. The results in their native form don’t help them much because they are still in English. Search engines like Google allow you to translate the search results into a wide number of languages. In this case the Arab searchers has Google translate them into Arabic.
Step 4: Translating English Websites into Arabic
Once the search engine results have been translated into Arabic the searcher can start clicking through to results that seem pertinent to his or her query. When they arrive on these sites with English content, they have to take one more step and have Google translate the site content as well. If the Arabic speaker can handle the machine translation and get past gaps in the content due to poor translation they should be able to successfully find what they started out looking for.
Why such a drawn out process?
Even today in 2014 at the time of the writing of this post many topic areas are not well covered online by Arabic websites. In some cases no content exists around a topic or in other cases the content may not be seen as coming from an authoritative source. In light of this many Arab Internet users seek out content that is available in other languages rather than their own and rely on machine translation to understand that foreign content.
Hopefully, as more and more Arabs become more active online, as is already happening to a large extent, we will see this search trend disappear. For now though, it is important to consider this kind of search behavior when you are marketing to Arabs online.