Oman Online Marketing Country Profile
Oman provides exciting opportunities for start-up and low-budget companies to quickly and easily gain a foothold in the online market, in addition to already well-established organizations. With a rapidly growing and modernizing population, 78.5% of which regularly uses the Internet and searches on Google, Oman gives savvy marketers the potential of rapid profit and growth. This marketing profile will outline the context of the Omani market, analyses of ecommerce, SEO, PPC advertising, and social media in Oman, and the ways in which Oman can benefit and challenge online marketers.
Basic Overview of The Sultanate of Oman
Understanding the context of the country in which your marketing campaigns are based is a crucial component of targeting your desired population. Here’s some basic information about Oman to get you started.
Oman holds a total population of approximately 3.29 million – over 40% of which is composed of immigrants according to data from the UN. This small desert country’s economy is highly dependent on its oil resources, which currently form a 46% sector of Oman’s government revenue (GDP). The government is actively seeking to diversify and privatize these quickly dwindling resources, hoping to shrink the sector to 9% over the next 5 years. However, in its attempts to fix the size of the sector, the government now faces the challenge of creating new jobs while oil prices decline. Oman is a member of the GCC with a GDP of $81.80 billion in 2014.
Though the Omani government does not research or share statistics on the religious affiliations of its population, an estimated 85.9% of the population practices Islam. Savvy marketers based in the United States should have a good understanding and respect of the values and culture of a predominantly Muslim country while not failing to appreciate the modernity and sophistication of a rapidly developing, 77.6% urban society.
Arabic is the official language of Oman, spoken in the Gulf Dialect. However, the growing expatriate population and the prevalence of English as a second language taught in most Omani schools means that much of the population will speak English as well. Most business conducted in Oman relies on English. The most visited websites in Oman are typically in the English language, with the few sites written in Modern Standard Arabic available in English as well.
According to the 2015 “Freedom of the Press” Report from Freedom House, Oman remains one of the most repressive countries in the Middle East in terms of Internet censorship. Oman’s Internet Service Manual specifies a great amount of prohibited content – including false data, elicit or politically charged content, and forums that allow for the voicing of dissent. Though some use VPNS to escape the high-level censorship, the access to these networks has been widely blocked.
Oman Internet Country Codes
Oman provides country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) in both Arabic and English. However, the use of .org, .net, and .com websites is greater in Oman than the use of these codes outside of government websites. Entities must apply for registration of a .om or .عمان Internet domain under the Domain Names Administration in Oman. Typical annual registration has a tariff of approximately 30 Omani riyals (approximately 80 USD).
Popular Websites in Oman
This is a list of the most visited websites in Oman as of May 2016:
There are a number of interesting things to note about this list of the most popular sites in Oman. Oman is one of very few countries that ranks google.com over it’s own country-specific version (Qatar does this as well, but the difference in popularity is much closer). This trend is most likely due to the abnormally high censorship rates in Oman, which prompt many Omanis to intentionally search on google.com and avoid the customization and stricter censorship on google.com.om. Google has recently attempted to stop this habit by making it more difficult to redirect to google.com, after the company received complaints from various countries (France, Canada, the EU, etc.) that they needed Google to comply with their specific censorship guidelines and to expand the Right To Be Forgotten (a ruling that specified that Google had the responsibility to follow European law, specifically data protection rules) to all global domains.
Two more eye catchers on this list are timesofoman.com and onclickads.net. Times Of Oman, the only news source and Oman-specific website on this list, is an all-English website. This may indicate that Omanis actually prefer to search and read English on the Internet. This is supported by Alexa’s statistics showing that all searches sending traffic to the newspaper, as well as a majority of searches on google.com.om, are in English. Onclickads.net, an advertising platform based in the British Virgin Islands, takes an interesting spot at #11 on the list of most popular sites in Oman. This placement could indicate a high interest of Omanis in advertising and utilizing the Internet for online and mobile marketing.
Popular Region-Specific Websites in Oman
This is a list of websites specific to Oman and MENA that are popular among Omani Internet users as of May 2016:
An interesting pattern to take note of in this list is that even among region-specific sites in Oman, .com and .net sites are generally preferred over .om or .عمان domains, with the exception of governmental sites such as moe.gov.om and squ.edu.com and the Internet service provider Omantel.
Popular E-Commerce Sites in Oman
Oman has been gradually opening itself in recent years to both online and mobile ecommerce, according to a “2014 Online Shopping Behaviour Survey” researched by MasterCard. MasterCard found that approximately 20% of the population of Muscat utilizes the Internet for online shopping – spending the most on airlines, clothing, and beauty. A 2013 survey by the Arab Advisors Group agrees with this statistic. Respondents to the MasterCard survey were clear that prices, exchange policies, and reviews were the greatest considerations they took into account while making online purchases. They also indicated strong beliefs in ethical spending. Many respondents also claimed that user-unfriendly platforms and additional service charges were the main deterrents to shopping online.
Following is a list of the most popular e-commerce websites in Oman:
Search Engine Marketing in Oman
Whether Omanis are on google.com or google.com.om, Google receives a great deal of use in the country every day – holding about 94% of the market share for search engine use in Oman in 2014. Yahoo.com and Bing.com also receive a certain amount of use, but make up less than 4% of the market share. In contrast, Google holds only about 63.8% of the search engine market share in the United States this year – with the other 40% split by Microsoft and Yahoo. The great monopoly of Google over searches in Oman demonstrates that there might be little profit in expanding your advertising into other platforms.
State of SEO in Oman
Search Engine Optimization is a crucial tool for marketers targeting Oman, where many of the most popular websites are search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Live, and Bing. Here we examine the relative competitiveness of SEO rankings for top ranking websites on Google in the U.S. and Oman respectively through the comparison of very general and highly used keywords – “hotels” and “cars for sale”. These comparisons will be accompanied by brief explanations of what this data indicates about marketing in Oman.
Hotels in USA vs. Hotels in Oman
Interestingly, the top result website (hotels.com) was the same in both searches – on google.com and on google.com.om. The difference was that the Arabic version of the site targeted to Omanis has substantially fewer internal and external links, and less trust in the landing page. This indicates that marketers in Oman may not face as much competition as their ads might in the U.S. – Oman requires far fewer links and less page authority to receive the top placement in their searches.
Cars in USA vs. Cars in Oman
This search demonstrates the same trends seen in the earlier comparison – namely, that much less authority and relevancy has to be established in Oman than in the U.S. for a website to gain a top position in paid searches. Marketers operating in Oman face much less competition for desired keywords than they would for running the same advertisements in the U.S.
State of PPC in Oman (Paid Searches)
While broad keywords hold moderate amounts of competition in searches through google.com.om, there is still plenty of room for marketers on a small budget to easily target an Omani audience. Due to little competition, pages do not need as much authority or equity-passing links to qualify for high positions in Google advertising. The low cost and low demands of current PPC advertising in Oman could provide excellent marketing opportunities while the connected Omani market is still growing and developing.
Analyzing the PPC Differences between the US and Oman
To illustrate the lower competition levels in Oman and ease of marketers to establish high-ranking advertising there, we will compare the amount and placement of ads for popular searches between the United States (google.com) and Oman (google.com.om).
We will start with the search “cheap flights to London”, in English for the U.S. search and in Arabic for Oman:
These pages demonstrate the smaller amount of competition in Oman to achieve a top position for an advertising campaign. The same search revealed only 1 paid result in Oman, whereas the U.S. search shows all 4 spots at the top of the search engine page filled by advertisements from large companies.
Next, we will search for “apartments for rent” in the U.S. and Oman:
Though there is only 1 paid search term for this search in the U.S., there are none at all in Oman. These searches help to show that the low level of competition, in addition to the low cost of advertising when high-level keywords have little competition and lower bids, can provide incredible opportunities for online marketing in Oman.
Geo-Targeting Opportunities in Oman
Oman is a highly metropolitan area, with the enormous bulk of its citizens residing in Muscat. While Muscat is the center for business and by far the most populated area in the country, some smaller cities do provide substantial business opportunities. In addition, there are districts within Muscat that it can be very worthwhile to target for a more specific audience.
Here are descriptions of places within Oman that could provide substantial return on geo-targeting:
Muscat is the capital and most densely populated city in Oman, boasting a population of over 800,000 people. It is by far the largest city in the country, with over 50% of the total population of Oman, and should be any marketer’s first stop for advertising.
Districts in Muscat to Geo-Target
Ruwi is known to be the central business district in Muscat, with the largest amount of Oman’s commercial buildings and banks. Marketers seeking to target a more professional and urban audience should concentrate in this district.
Qurum, similar to Ruwi, prides itself on its modernity. It is the touristic center for the city and contains dense concentrations of restaurants, shops, and hotels. Fashion goods and restaurants could be very successfully marketed here.
Muttrah is a port and commercial city within Oman, where tourists and Omanis flock to for the latest goods and seafood restaurants. Marketers hoping to promote new and exciting goods might have success in this district.
Seeb is a smaller city within Oman, populated by just under 240,000 people. It provides a fresh and substantial market outside of the stiffer competition for Muscat.
Salalah is the third largest city in Oman, with a population of approximately 163,000. While it is not nearly as populated as Muscat, it still provides a good market for determined marketers.
Social Media in Oman
As of 2015, approximately 76.8% of Omanis used the Internet – 46.4% of whom have accounts on Facebook. With the increasing penetration of Internet use in Oman over the past few decades, there has been a large rise in the popularity of these social networks. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the three most popular social media websites in the country – all of them ranking in the top 15 of the country’s most visited pages.
However, mobile usage of social media websites suggests much more loyalty to Facebook, with Facebook creating 82.7% of social media traffic on mobiles in 2015. Twitter also had a large following of 16.3%, but all other networks (Google+, Pinterest, etc.) were barely used. This suggests that while there is an eager and growing market in Oman for social media advertising – both on desktops and mobiles – Omanis are generally loyal to Facebook and Twitter and show little interest in other social websites. This trend can present a challenge to marketers who must beat out significant competition for visibility on these very famous and targeted websites, but also presents tremendous opportunity to savvy marketers able to target and advertise to a specific audience.
State of Mobile Marketing in Oman
In contrast to the 20% of the Omani population that uses the Internet for online shopping, only about 7% of Omanis use their phones – a surprising statistic considering the extremely high rate of smartphone penetration (the Arab Advisors Group reported a 96.7% ownership of smartphones among Internet users) in Oman. This number is rapidly increasing, however, due to increasing prevalence of user-friendly mobile shopping applications. Subscriptions to mobile data have also been steadily increasing, demonstrating a growing interest in surfing online. This increasing demand for user-friendly mobile forms of marketing could provide a great opportunity for those looking to market and sell in Oman.
However, Mordor Intelligence, in a recent survey on mobile marketing in Oman, presents a grimmer picture of the potential for marketing products in the region – especially the clothing and beauty supplies for which Omanis most enjoy to search and shop. They claim that Omani culture and mindset has a preference for brick-and-mortar shops. Those they surveyed indicated that it was very important to them to be able to try on, feel, and see products before purchasing them. They also indicated that Omanis preferred a more personalized shopping experience, in contrast to the impersonality of mobile advertisements. Mobile marketers should take this context as a signal to focus and direct any advertising in Oman in a highly specific manner to turn more impressions into conversions.
Online Display Advertising in Oman
Online display advertising in Oman is limited by governmental rules over advertising content. These rules contain guidelines that correspond to the government’s censorship as well as rules that aim for ads to be relevant to Omanis. Article 8 of the “Local Ordinance 25 of 1993”, which governs advertising in Muscat, specifies that all advertisements should be written in Modern Standard Arabic (English may be used if it is next to a correct Arabic translation) and that advertisements must not violate religious beliefs, Omani customs, or societal morals.
The ability to engage in online display advertising in Oman, however, is open to foreign companies hoping to establish a foothold in the country. Only a handful of advertising agencies operate in Muscat, but popular search engines in Oman such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing are available and cost-effective due to this low competition.
Seasonal Promotion Times
Potential opportunities for seasonal promotion advertisements include:
- New Year’s Day (January 1st)
- Eid al-Isra (celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, date varies according to the Islamic calendar)
- Eid al-Fitr (celebration of the end of Ramadan, date varies according to the Islamic calendar)
- Eid al-Adha (most important Muslim feast day, date varies according to the Islamic calendar)
- Hijri New Year (date varies according to the Islamic calendar)
- National Day (celebration of Omani independence from Portugal, November 18th)
- Birthday of Prophet Muhammad (December 12th)
Start-up companies with little established legitimacy, as well as companies with smaller budgets for advertising that can’t bid high to receive top positions on profitable keywords, may benefit and gain recognition much more easily in Oman than they would in the U.S. or in similar markets throughout the GCC and Middle East. Oman is a growing market with great potential for marketers who jump on the current opportunities.