Saudi Arabia is a booming online market in the Middle East with a vast amount of opportunity for those looking to market their products and services in the region. In this article we will discuss some of the facets of reaching a Saudi Arabian audience with your search engine optimization efforts. Of course no one article can sum up all the strategies for reaching an audience in the KSA but here we will go into 6 keys to Saudi Arabia SEO.
Domain Name – .com.sa
As with any other country in the world you can gain a great advantage in Google.com.sa by having a .com.sa domain name. Google gives special priority to local websites when determining which websites to rank higher in their local search engines. This is typically to give local businesses the advantage they would have in the physical world. If you already have a domain name for your website and you only plan on targeting Saudi Arabia you may also consider changing the geographic target setting in your Google Webmaster Tools account to Saudi Arabia. If you are targeting more than one country with your website we don’t recommend making this change. Also, please note that some Saudi domains have special restrictions that only allow businesses that have a physical presence in the country to register the domain so make sure to check with your domain registration company for more insight.
The Arabic Language
Despite the fact that a large number of Saudi Arabians have acquired the English language in recent years, a majority of the population only speaks Arabic. In light of this fact, Arabic SEO is essential to reaching Saudis, both young and old across the Kingdom. This means having high quality content, titles, Meta descriptions, alt texts and more in Arabic. Also, knowing which keywords are being searched for in Saudi Arabia as opposed to other countries in the MENA region and incorporating those keywords into your strategy can give you an advantage over the competition.
Update On Language
While Arabic is the most important language in KSA for reaching consumers, English is important in some contexts within the Kingdom. First many businesses work internationally or are run by native English speakers from other countries though the business owner may be Saudi Arabian. Since English is the preferred language of the some of these high level decision makers, English optimization is essential to reach this demographic.
Additionally, wealthy Saudi consumers that were educated in English often prefer to use the internet in English. If you are looking to reach wealthy consumers or if you sell high end luxury products you should definitely optimize your website in both Arabic and English.
Lastly, 33% of the population in Saudi Arabia are expats, that’s about 9.7 million expats. Many of these expats rely on English despite working in an Arabic speaking country. If you have a product or service that could appeal to these expats your SEO efforts in Saudi Arabia should include English as well as Arabic.
Censorship’s impact on SEO
In most countries censorship would not be included in an article about SEO but in the case of Saudi Arabia it needs to be mentioned. Each year online censorship appears to be getting more sophisticated across the kingdom. If you want to show up in search results in Google in Saudi you need to avoid getting your website censored or blocked in KSA. The reason is that even if your website is able to climb to the top of Google if users click on the link to your website they will be redirected to censorship page. To add to this users are going to bounce back to the Google quickly when they see that the page is blocked and Google will assume your search result is not ideal and your website will quickly lose its place on the first page of Google. For more about avoiding censorship visit our Saudi Arabia Online Marketing Profile.
Geo-targeting cities Saudi Cities
If your aim is to target cities across Saudi Arabia you shouldn’t forget about geo-targeting specific regions across the country. Some of the major cities worth targeting are listed below.
Once you have decided which cities in the region you want to target you should consider creating specific landing pages for each city. Each of these pages should have titles and content that is related to both your offering and that specific city. For example could have a page with the title “Riyadh Website Design Services” all about the unique design elements that appeal to people from Riyadh. Avoid just saying the same thing on each of these pages but consider how you might add unique value to visitors from this city. Examples of this include discussing how your product or service is different for that city, adding valuable images or maps for that city, or even discussing unique attributes of that city. If you have a location or branch in that city be sure to add the address to that page inside the HTML address tag.
Host your website in Saudi Arabia
This is a little difficult to do for some websites, but if you have the ability to host your website in the KSA it can give you a little bit of an advantage over websites hosted outside the region. If you can’t find a Saudi Arabian hosting company you should at least consider hosting your website in the Gulf region.
Consistently across a majority of websites in various industries we see mobile traffic comprising more traffic than desktop. In some cases we’ve seen websites targeting Saudi that get more than 80% of their traffic from mobile devices. In light of this and the fact that Google favors mobile friendly websites in the search results, making your website mobile friendly is essential to your success with SEO in Saudi. Having a responsive website is helpful but in addition to this you should also focus on getting your website to load fast on mobile connections in KSA. Aim for a load time of 3 seconds or less. Remember that page load times will vary in different countries so make sure to check what you average page load time is for Saudi Arabia in your Google Analytics account.
Getting links from other local sites
Links are an important part of any SEO campaign but when you can get links from other authoritative websites in the KSA its even better. The fact that other Saudi sites are linking to you makes your website appear to be an authority in the country. As Google sees you are an authority you will typically start to see your website rankings improve within local search results. Avoid trying to acquire links from low quality sites in the region that could get your website penalized. Instead, you should look for opportunities to earn links from high quality websites. This won’t be easy often times but even one link from a local authoritative website can have a significant impact on your local rankings.
Video on your website
Saudi Arabia has the highest adoption rate of YouTube in the entire world. In light of this it is clear that video is an extremely powerful medium in the region. If you have budget to create even a simple short video that explains your product or service video can be a powerful tool for attracting Saudi customers. Depending on your product or service YouTube may or may not be the best place to have videos. Often times it can make more sense to host your videos on a third party video hosting service so video traffic is sent from search engines to your website instead of to YouTube. There isn’t enough space in this post to cover video SEO in full detail here, but we will try to address this topic in a future post. Regardless, video is a great way to reach Arabs in this country.
Due to fears of internet fraud in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Government set up a program to verify the legitimacy of websites in Saudi Arabia called Maroof. Many of the top websites in Saudi like Souq.com, which was acquired by Amazon.com, are registered with the website. Websites looking to do business in Saudi should consider registering with Maroof although it isn’t required. This may have an impact on SEO in KSA in the future but we don’t think it is likely.
2020 Saudi SEO Update
Given changes around the world as result of 2020 global pandemic many companies are shifting offline budgets into digital channels including content marketing and SEO. With offline marketing channels like in person events being severely restricted in Saudi Arabia, investing in SEO instead makes sense. This change could impact the level of SERP competition in the region as more companies compete for the same online real estate.
In summary, Saudi Arabia is a rapidly growing online market with tons of SEM opportunities. In order to effectively reach this market with your SEO efforts some of the key elements you should include in your strategy are a local domain name, links from local websites, and local hosting. Arabic website optimization and video SEO are also important aspects of effectively targeting this market.