The Ultimate Qatar Digital Marketing Guide
Qatar is an essential market for digital marketing opportunities in the Middle East. It has an internet population of 1.5 million, over 85% of the total citizen population, and it is one of the most connected countries in the Middle East. In 2013, the number of mobile subscribers in Qatar reached 3 million and is expected to grow by 3.7% annually. Qatar also enjoys the highest per capita GDP in the region at $102,100 having derived its wealth from natural gas reserves. Qatar’s vast wealth makes it a lucrative market for online businesses and digital marketing.
Basic Information about Qatar
Qatar has an estimated total citizen population of 2.1 million people and is one of the smallest land masses in the Middle East. Like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), expatriates compose the majority of Qatar’s population. As mentioned previously, Qatar’s wealth derives from oil as it is estimated to have 5% of the world’s known oil reserves. There is no income tax for Qataris which increases the amount of discretionary income that could be used for online purchases. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Qatar was 0.1% as of 2013. Islam is the dominant religion in Qatar, as 77% of the population identify as Muslim. Because of this, Qatari society is relatively conservative compared to western countries. Thus, respecting local norms, culture, and religion is key to reaching Qataris with your internet marketing efforts.
Qataris speak the Gulf dialect of Arabic – similar to that of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Most Qatari websites are written in the Modern Standard (MSA) form of Arabic so they can be read by Arabic speakers around the world. Some websites are beginning to use the Gulf dialect in their content in order to attract a larger gulf audience. English is widely spoken in Qatar, particularly in business environments, but Qataris usually prefer Arabic content. Thus, a well written website in Arabic is essential to attracting Qataris.
Like other countries in the region, Qatar practices internet censorship. The government of Qatar censors the internet through a proxy server that monitors and blocks websites, e-mail, and chat rooms through the state-owned internet service provider (IPS) Qatar Telecom (Qtel). Qatar commonly filters pornography, political criticism of Gulf countries, blasphemy towards Islam, gay and lesbian content, sexual health resources, dating and escort services, and censorship circumvention tools. Many Qatari’s avoid internet censorship by using virtual private networks (VPN) and proxy servers.
Qatar Internet Country Codes
Country Code Top Level Domains
Second Level Domains
Most popular sites in Qatar
Most popular region specific sites
In 2012, Qatari E-commerce spending amounted to $0.7 billion and is projected to grow to $1.25 billion by 2015. Differing from western consumers, Qatari’s preferred method of payment for online shopping is cash on delivery (COD). This preference is shared throughout the Middle East as internet users fear fraud and mistrust online payment. Few goods are purchased using non cash payment services such as credit, debit, or PayPal.
Some successful regional Ecommerce companies with strong online presence include:
Search Engine Marketing in Qatar
As of October of 2014, Google owns 92.32% of the search engine market share in Qatar. This is divided up between Google.com as well as the English and Arabic versions of Google.com.qa
State of SEO in Qatar
Because Arabic is the official language of Qatar, Arabic is the dominant search engine language for Qataris followed closely by English. Below is a comparison of organic search metrics for first position websites that rank in Qatar and the United States respectively for a Google Search. The keywords used were “Hotels” and “Cars for Sale.” These comparisons highlight the differences between SEO for local websites that rank in Qatar versus those that rank in the US.
Hotels in USA VS. Hotels in Qatar
Cars in USA VS. Cars in Qatar
SEO Comparison Explanation
These charts show the differences for ranking a website in Google.com between the U.S. and Qatar. It is easier to rank a website in Google Qatar than Google U.S because it requires fewer high quality links. Thus, a website geo-targeted for Qatar has significant advantages over websites targeted globally. However, it is worth noting that quality links in the Middle East are more difficult to acquire than in other parts of the world. This is because many of the top regional websites rarely link out to other websites. Online content is often plagiarized, making content promotion increasingly difficult. However, all other websites in the region face similar challenges.
State of paid search in Qatar (PPC)
Like search engines in Qatar, Google Adwords owns the majority of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising market share in Qatar. Competition is low for most specialties, but because of the low cost of PPC ads on Google many websites have begun advertising on Google. Thus, competition in certain areas is increasing. Regional e-commerce retailers for goods and services ranging from apparel to travel are common PPC advertisers in Qatar.
Analyzing the PPC Differences between the US and Qatar
Google.com.qa and Google.com were used to compare two popular search terms between countries. The first keyword we looked at was Toyota (تويوتا). Surprisingly, there were no ads for this keyword (in Arabic) for Google.com.qa. Although Toyota is a broad keyword, one would expect at least one ad because Toyota is a global brand. Below is a screenshot of the search engine result page (SERP):
For the same search (in English) on Google.com, there was an abundance of Adwords ads. This SERP returned 10 ads, including site link ad extensions. This comparison exemplifies the differences in competitiveness for popular search queries when comparing Qatar and the US. Below is a screenshot of the SERP:
The second search query was for the iPhone 6. Because Qatar has a smartphone penetration rate of over 75%, one would expect to see more ads in Arabic for this search query. Despite this, there was just one ad for the iPhone 6. Below is a screenshot of the relevant SERP:
Like the Toyota search, this search query for Google.com returned very different results. All of the ad ‘real estate’ available in a Google SERP is utilized for this search query. Additionally, Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for the iPhone appear in the US. PLAs are currently not available in Qatar.
Geo-targeting Opportunities throughout Qatar
Despite Qatar’s small landmass compared to other countries in the region, there are still geo-targeting opportunities. The majority of Qatar’s population live close to city centers.
Doha is the largest city in Qatar with a metropolitan population of almost 1 million people. Doha is Qatar’s business center and is home to the headquarters of the country’s largest oil and gas companies. It is also the focal point of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa’s modernization program. As such, Doha is experiencing huge amounts of growth.
Some other Qatari municipalities you may consider targeting:
- Al Khawr
- Umm Salal
- Ar Rayyan
- Al Wakrah
Social Media in Qatar
Qatar has very high social media usage rates as active social media users amount to 77% of the total population. On average, Qataris spend 3.9 hours on social media daily. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social media outlets in Qatar, both capturing 65% of total social media users. Along with Instagram, these three outlets have experienced significant growth in Qatar within the past five years.
Instagram is also very popular in Qatar and is often used for retail opportunities.
Mobile Marketing in Qatar
Smartphone penetration in Qatar is the highest in the Middle East at 75% and rising. Smartphones are also the most popular devices for internet access in Qatar. Qataris are increasingly dependent on their smartphones and it is not uncommon to find people with more than one mobile phone. Like other countries in the region, mobile marketing is very effective in Qatar. The top mobile operators in the country include Ooredoo and Vodafone.
Almost 93% of Qatari smart phone users access the internet for email and social networking apps. Androids and iPhones are the most popular mobile phones in Qatar.
Online Display Advertising in Qatar
Arabic online content publishers are quickly emerging and targeting Qatar. Many advertisers are targeting the Gulf region of the Middle East because it is relatively stable compared to the Levant or North Africa. This has resulted in increasing ad space prices online. Small businesses may encounter challenges advertising on quality sites in Qatar (as well as the Gulf region) because ad networks remain fragmented. Thus, it is very difficult to see a positive return on investment from online ad spend.
Search engines such as Google and Yahoo as well as social media networks like Facebook offer many display advertising opportunities. Considering YouTube’s high popularity in Qatar, video advertising can be very effective. Because of Qatar’s small population, there is little data on top country wide advertising categories.
Do you need help with your Qatar internet marketing strategy and execution?
Contact us today to learn how we can help you have more success in the region.
Other Middle East Online Marketing Countries Profiles
Special thanks to Scott Ridout for writing and compiling this original Qatar online marketing country profile based off our previous country profiles for other countries in the region.