Lebanon Online Marketing Country Profile
Lebanon hosts an increasingly tech-savvy population of over 6 million, with a wide-open Internet ready for digital marketers to make a profit from. Those selling products and services online who are equipped with a good knowledge of Lebanon’s market can expect limited competition and relatively inexpensive advertising costs in the country. This profile will outline some of the opportunities and challenges that go along with internet marketing in Lebanon, including analyses of the country’s developing ecommerce market, state of SEO, PPC advertising, and mobile efforts.
Basic Overview of Lebanon
The ability to target the right consumers for your product efficiently and intelligently depends on a good understanding of the motives, background, and culture of that audience. Here’s some quick background information about Lebanon to help you out.
Lebanon currently hosts slightly over 6 million people, approximately 61% of which fall between the ages of 15 and 54. 95% of the population is Arab and 4% Armenian, with 54% identifying as Muslim (with an even split between Sunnis and Shias) and 40% identifying as Christian. These statistics make Lebanon unique – it is the country with by far the greatest amount of Christians in the Middle East (Kuwait has the second-largest Christian population with 17%). However, the split of Sunni and Shia Muslims has been a source of great tension in the region. This information can be very useful to marketers both in terms of targeting their Lebanese audience respectfully, and also for the creation of various seasonal promotions.
Lebanon boasts a free-market, service-oriented economy and encourages foreign investment. The Syrian refugee crisis has resulted in a sharp decline of economic growth in the country. The current rate of growth is around 1-2% after years of averaging 8% due to the influx of refugees and resulting high levels of unemployment. As of 2014, Lebanon’s GDP was approximately $45.73 billion.
Savvy marketers targeting in Lebanon should keep in mind religious and cultural divisions, both between the Christian and Muslim populations and particularly between the Sunni and Shia populations, to ensure that their marketing remains respectful to all groups and shows an understanding of the variety in Lebanese culture. They should also take into account the slow economic growth and the increasingly urban population (greater than 85%) of the country while structuring their campaigns.
The official language of Lebanon is Arabic, with its colloquial use derived from the Syrian dialect. Most written content in Lebanon, however, is written in classical Arabic, French, or English. French is the most commonly used second language, with all government publications written in both classical Arabic and French. The Lebanese dialect of Arabic, especially in Beirut, incorporates various French words. English and Armenian are also used to a much lesser extent – knowledge of English is associated with high levels of education, and the 4% Armenian population maintains an active publishing industry to uphold their cultural identity.
Censorship of the media and of the Internet in Lebanon is generally low when compared to other Middle Eastern countries. Freedoms of expression and the press are guaranteed, but can often come into conflict with laws prohibiting the defamation of the president and of religious and government leaders. Freedom House’s 2015 report on the state of freedom and censorship and Lebanon indicated very low levels of Internet censorship.
Lebanon Internet Country Codes
Lebanon has only one ccTLD (country code top-level domain), in Latin characters. Application for a domain name in Lebanon is free under the Lebanese Domain Registry. However, since the LBDR (Lebanese Domain Registry) works under a closed-country system, all applicants for a domain must be formally recognized businesses with a base in Lebanon. Guides to the requirements and how to apply for various second-level domains in Lebanon can be found here.
Popular Websites in Lebanon
This is a list of the top 10 most visited websites in Lebanon as of June 2016:
The majority of this list aligns to internationally popular websites such as Google and Facebook, which top the lists of most visited websites in most countries. Other than the Lebanon-specific version of Google and Aljaras.com, an entertainment website, the most popular sites in Lebanon are commonly and internationally used search websites and social media platforms.
Popular Region-Specific Websites in Lebanon
This is a list of websites specific to Lebanon and MENA that are popular among Lebanese Internet users as of June 2016:
This list of region-specific websites, all of which were in the top 25 most visited websites of Lebanon in June 2016, is comprised mostly of Lebanon-specific news sites. Apart from Google.com.lb and Greenarea.me, all of these sites focus on either entertainment news in the Middle East (Aljaras.com and Lbcgroup.tv) or on Lebanese current events. This suggests a high level of interest across the Lebanese population on modern developments, entertainment, and information. Savvy marketers can use this trend to more effectively target their advertisements to a highly informed, curious, and modern population.
Another useful insight for marketers is the high position of the website Greenarea.me on Lebanon’s most visited sites. This could indicate a great national interest in environment-friendly products and in supporting “green” businesses. Emphasizing care for the environment in one’s business or products could result in greater trust and interest from the Lebanese population.
Popular E-Commerce Sites in Lebanon
Following is a list of the most popular e-commerce websites in Lebanon:
With the exception of Ishtari.com and Bey3.com, marketplaces specific to Lebanon, the websites on this list are typical of large ecommerce markets across the Middle East. This information could indicate opportunity for new marketplaces to quickly become known in Lebanon, as the low amount of country-specific e-commerce sites available gives great potential for independent marketers to rapidly gain attention and growth.
However, this lack of e-commerce in Lebanon is no accident. A survey conducted by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade indicates a variety of issues that slow the growth of e-commerce in the country – including the high cost of building an online market, lack of confidence on the part of Lebanese buyers in transactions conducted over the Internet, high costs in shipping packages, and a lack of awareness among the population about the Internet and its capabilities. A regulatory framework was only recently put into place for ecommerce, as an attempt to spur its growth in Lebanon. The Ministry also recently conducted an awareness campaign directed at informing the population about IT, e-commerce, and technical tips for using the Internet. While this campaign reached thousands of Lebanese citizens, there are still tough barriers in place (high costs, lack of trust, and lack of information) that prevent the creation and success of online markets in Lebanon.
Search Engine Marketing in Lebanon
According to these StatsMonkey usage statistics for search engines in Lebanon in the year 2014, Google takes the lion’s share of the market with a 93.46% usage rate. Every other search engine in the region manages to claim less than 3% of the market share. This indicates a great deal of loyalty to Google, and shows that it might not be worth a marketer’s time or money to try to expand their advertising out into other search engines.
State of SEO in Lebanon
Effective Search Engine Optimization is a necessity in Lebanon, where Google takes an enormous share of the market and thus creates competition for marketers to compete for top-level ads on just one site. Below we will use Moz metrics to compare the states of SEO in the United States and in Lebanon. We will compare the metrics of the top results in Google.com and Google.com.lb for the popular keywords “hotels” and “cars for sale”. Since most searches on Google.com.lb are in Arabic, we will search in that language as well. These metrics will demonstrate the relative competitiveness in getting top-placement ads in the two countries.
Hotels in USA vs. Hotels in Lebanon
Hotels.com took the top placement ad for this search on both google.com and google.com.lb. The only difference is notably less trust in the Arabic version – it required millions fewer equity-passing links to qualify for the top spot, and ranked an entire mark lower for MozTrust. It also had a remarkably low number of external links, indicating low trust by others in the website. The fact that it remained the top ad despite these comparatively low numbers shows that it is much easier, with lower levels of competition and probably lower bids, to rank high in Lebanon than it is to gain a front-page link in the United States.
Cars for Sale in USA vs. Cars for Sale in Lebanon
This search again shows the low level of competition that exists in Lebanon for online marketing. The top paid ad in Lebanon was actually an advertisement for a car game, not an advertisement to sell cars! The landing page for the ad ranked much lower in MozTrust than the page for the highest-ranking ad in the United States (cars.com) and had far fewer equity-passing links. The lack of external equity-passing links indicates low trust from others in the quality and relevance of the site. This example reiterates the low level of competition for high-ranking ads in Lebanon and the low amount of trust a site needs to get that top spot.
State of PPC in Lebanon (Paid Searches)
Likely due to the high level of difficulty in setting up ecommerce in Lebanon, few Lebanese marketers are using PPC ads to sell their websites or products – leaving plenty of space for marketers to jump into the online Lebanese market. However, while it may be relatively easy and cheap to score a high-ranking ad placement on Google.com.lb, the newness of the market and the lack of trust from the Lebanese public in online marketing may make scoring conversions a bit more difficult.
Analyzing the PPC Differences between the US and Lebanon
To show the relative competition and success of online marketing between the U.S. and Lebanon, we will do a few basic searches on each country’s Google page and question what the order and relevancy of ads in each country can tell us about the PPC advertising there.
We’ll start by searching “women’s dresses online”, in English for the Google.com search and in Arabic for Google.com.lb:
There are many differences between the results we get from the American and Lebanese Google pages. The first thing we notice is that there are 4 paid advertisements on the US version of Google and a full pack of Product Listing Ads (PLAs), whereas there is product listing ads on the Lebanese website. This indicates opportunity on both pages for marketers to get front-page results through PPC advertising on this search term. However, it is also noteworthy that every link – paid ad or not – on the U.S. site leads to an online clothing store. On the Lebanese page, only three organic links lead to online clothing stores. The rest (not all pictured) lead to blogs and videos about Arabic and Islamic clothing. This could indicate that the difficulties faced in Lebanon in establishing e-commerce sites negatively affect the state of PPC in the country.
Next, we will search for “offices for rent in New York/Beirut” in the U.S. and Lebanon:
This search shows many more paid results in the United States than in Lebanon. One would expect this to be a search term with a lot of PPC advertising because it is targeted to a region and indicates intent to buy, which is why all the paid spots on Google.com are taken. However, the lack of companies engaging in PPC in Lebanon leads to only 1 paid results on Google.com.lb. Marketers able to successfully target Lebanon should expect much less competition than they would find in the United States for these highly desired spots.
Geo-Targeting Opportunities in Lebanon
Geo-targeting can help marketers to focus in on audiences most likely to be interested in their product. In Lebanon, marketers would want to focus on targeting large cities and the capital to ensure that the people they are targeting are tech-savvy, ready and able to buy, and interested. Here are some cities in Lebanon that might be worth the investment:
With a population of 1,916,100, Lebanon’s capital is a clear first target for marketers. The capital is the center for business in the country, and is said to be the “Paris of the East” due to its large and thriving tourist, media, and commerce sectors.
Tripoli is Lebanon’s second-largest city, boasting a population of 1,251,739. It is known not only for hosting a number of important historical and religious sites, but also for hosting an ever-expanding business climate. The “capital of the North” is an obvious choice for geo-targeters to find a savvy and business-orientated audience.
Lebanon’s third-largest city holds 229,398 people. While most of the population is concentrated in Beirut and Tripoli, Sidon acts as a busy commercial port for a significant amount of people.
Social Media in Lebanon
As of 2015, an estimated 80.4% of Lebanon was on the Internet. Of that 80.4%, nearly 78% used Facebook. Internet penetration in Lebanon has been climbing at an astonishing rate, growing from 52.8% of the population in the year 2012 to 80.4% only three years later. With this growing use of the Internet comes the growing popularity of various social media sites. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn rank high in the list of the country’s most-visited websites.
Statistics on the mobile usage of social media suggest strong loyalty to Facebook and Twitter, with little attention paid to other social media platforms. Facebook boasts approximately 95.2% of the social media traffic on mobile, with Twitter earning 3% and all other sites (such as Google+, Tumblr, and YouTube) receiving negligible amounts of traffic. This information could help marketers willing to target social media pages such as Facebook and Twitter to find a web-savvy and interested audience. However, apart from these two sites, social media marketing is limited in Lebanon since Facebook takes such a large share of the country’s interest and traffic.
State of Mobile Marketing in Lebanon
Lebanon has been lauded as the country in the Middle East that is most quickly going mobile – smartphone penetration in the country grows at a fast pace every year, jumping from just around 25% penetration in 2006 to 87% in 2013. In 2014, nearly 87% of the population held a mobile subscription. The ever-growing demand for mobile Internet could show interest in surfing and shopping from a smartphone, or in downloading apps sponsored by different businesses. Marketers could easily jump on this still-developing platform for lots of impressions and interest in their ads, products, or apps.
However, the mobile market may have too many barriers still to be a worthwhile investment. The BlomInvest Bank reports that the Lebanese mobile market may be the least competitive in the Middle East, but it holds that position due to weak structure, poorly performing network coverage and internet services, and the expensive and short-term licenses necessary to break into the state-owned mobile market. In addition, while there are large rates of smartphone penetration, broadband coverage hovers at only around 60%. Mobile marketing has slowly been on the rise, with mobile advertising compromising 5% of the average marketer’s budget in 2015. The government hopes that improvements to the slow and expensive broadband will result in a rise in mobile advertising as well as in the digital economy as a whole. As of 2013, however, Lebanon was still focusing more on television and newspaper advertising than on mobile marketing – especially when compared to the rest of the world.
Online Display Advertising in Lebanon
Popular search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo are widely used in Lebanon and offer many modes of online display advertising, either through pictures or video. While YouTube is typically an excellent place to engage in display advertising through video ads, the low amount of traffic in Lebanon (it receives only .03% of the market share for mobile social media) combined with the general distrust of online markets in the country may mean that your ad will not return on the investment.
Seasonal Promotion Times
Lebanon is unique among Middle Eastern countries due to its large Christian population – making up nearly 40% of the public. Therefore, Lebanon offers many and varied opportunities for seasonal promotions centering on both Muslim and Christian holidays. Below is a list of important holidays in Lebanon that could provide opportunity for successful seasonal campaigns:
- New Years Day, January 1st
- Easter Sunday, date varies each year according to the Gregorian calendar
- Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th
- Eid al-Fitr, date varies each year according to the Islamic calendar
- Eid al-Adha, date varies each year according to the Islamic calendar
- Hijri New Year, date varies each year according to the Islamic calendar
- Ashoura, 10 days after the date of the Hijri New Year
- Independence Day, November 22nd
- Birthday of Mohammad
- The birthday of Mohammad is observed on December 12th by Sunni Muslims and on December 17th by Shias. Lebanon’s Muslim population is split almost evenly between Sunnis and Shias, with tension between the two groups, so skipping this holiday might be the most sensitive thing to do
- Christmas, December 25th
There is a lot of opportunity for marketers to gain recognition in Lebanon, with the country’s low competition and rising interest in mobile search and online exploration. However, the obstacles in the way of both gaining a way into the market and turning impressions into conversions may be too high for developing businesses to see a significant return on their investments. With Lebanon’s high taxes and strict regulations to get into the market, combined with the population’s distrust of ecommerce, slow and expensive broadband, and lack of knowledge on the Internet, marketers may be better off staying away.
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