Saudi Arabia Digital Marketing Country Profile
Saudi Arabia is a land ripe with digital marketing opportunities. With an internet population of just over 33.58 million Internet users in 2021; increased by 1.3 million (+4.2%) between 2020 and 2021, there is a high demand for online goods and services. Combine that with the relatively high GDP per capita of $20,912 USD, a very low tax rate and more than 50% of the population under 25 years of age, Saudi Arabia is clearly set to see significant online growth over the coming decade or more. Its also important to not that almost a third of the residents of KSA are expatriates from other countries like Pakistan, India, the Philappines, and Arab countries like Egypt. The number of expats has decreased in recent years with a push to replace foreign workers with Saudi nationals.
Basic Information about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Before you start on any online marketing campaign it’s important to understand the context with which you will be doing your marketing so here we will outline some basic information about Saudi Arabia.
The country has a total population of 35,642,607 million and from a land mass perspective it is the third largest Middle Eastern country. It is extremely oil rich with an estimated 15% of the world’s oil reserves and because of this citizens enjoy an individual tax rate as low as 0%. This low tax rate helps increase the amount of discretionary income each family has for goods and services that could be purchased online. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also the most stable economy in the GCC with a GDP of $792.967Billion in 2019.
Saudi is a very conservative society rooted deep in the religious traditions of Islam and the teachings of the Koran. Though this may present some challenges for some types of marketers, those that are sensitive to culture can see many opportunities in finding unique ways to reach this audience.
Censorship is a big part of internet usage in the KSA. In 2007 the Saudi Government set up a special commission to guard citizens from illicit content, defamation, and anything that goes against Islamic values and law. Since that time more than a half a million websites have been blocked.
Despite the high levels of censorship in the country, Saudi Arabians feel comfortable sharing more online than any other country in the world. In addition to this, VPN and other forms of software that allow you to browse and visit websites anonymously have become extremely popular. Many of these VPN’s allow Saudi Arabians to access websites they wouldn’t be able to access over a standard internet connection from their local ISP.
Saudi Arabia Internet Country Codes
Saudi Arabia has both English and Arabic based country code top level domains (ccTLDs) available. Though it may make sense to purchase a domain name with one of these ccTLDs it should be noted that some of these domain extensions do cost much more than a .com or .org. Also, some of these domains require a physical address in the KSA or a local representative for your organization.
Country Code Top Level Domains
Second Level Domains
Most popular sites in Saudi Arabia
Saudis spend a great deal of time on the web. Below you will find a list of some of the most visited websites in the region regardless as to whether or not they are specific to the Middle East or not.
Most popular region specific sites
Below is a list of the top regional websites, i.e. sites that are specifically geared to the region and Arabic speakers:
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Saudi Arabia E-commerce
Saudi Arabia is potentially the largest ecommerce market in the Middle East right now. What most fail to mention is that when it comes to physical goods that are bought in Saudi Arabia 75% of those goods are bought using Cash on Delivery (COD). What is interesting to note is that digital payment transactions in the Kingdom jumped by 75 percent in 2020 as Saudi consumers embraced online shopping during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, while cash withdrawals from ATMs and other payment points fell 30 percent over the same period.l. It is important to note that there are some risks involved with offering COD, including increased returns and send backs though the order volume is much higher.
Electronics remain the most popular purchases made online. Software comes in second when you include apps in this category. The exciting thing about the Saudi Ecommerce market is the fact that it is already a decent size market, but the next decade appears to hold huge growth as the majority of the population starts opening up to online commerce.
Ecommerce companies that have been successful in the region and that have a strong digital presence include:
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 Amazon.sa are registered with the website. Websites looking to do business in Saudi should consider registering with Maroof although it isn’t required.
Search Engine Marketing in Saudi Arabia
As of 2020 Google owns the lion share of the search engine market in Saudi Arabia. Depending on the source of the information Google’s market share ranges from 95-97%. Regardless of the percentage, Saudi Arabians tend to be extremely loyal to brands once they have an established stronghold so it may be very hard for the competition to take any market share away from Google any time in the near future. Yahoo has a small following in the region and gets some search queries through their regional website Maktoob.com.
What were Saudi’s searching for in 2019?
According to Google’s Zeitgeist’s annual search trends report, launched below is a list of the most common search queries in Saudi Arabia during 2021.
1) مدرستي (Madrasti)
2) ترتيب الدوري السعودي (Saudi League Ranking)
3) الهلال (Saudi Football Club)
4) مسلسل رشاش (Saudi drama series)
5) ايفون 13 (iPhone 13)
6) موسم الرياض (Riyadh Season)
7) الألعاب البارالمبية (Paralympic Games)
8) فوكس سينما (VOX Cinema)
9) مانجا (Manga)
10) فلسطين (Palestine)
State of SEO in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the most number of searches in the Persian Gulf region. Less than a quarter of those searches happen in English so Arabic is clearly the dominant language in SEO.
Below you can find a comparison of SEO metrics for the top position websites ranking in the US and Saudi Arabia respectively for the keywords “Hotels” and “Cars for Sale” in Google. We have made these comparisons in order to provide insight into the SEO competitive landscape in Saudi Arabia when compared to much more competitive market.
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Hotels in USA VS. Hotels in KSA
Cars in USA VS. Cars in KSA
Comparing the domain authority and other metrics of the top websites in Saudi and the US respectively gives us a good general understanding of the number and quality of backlinks a website would need to rank well in the KSA for the most competitive terms. Judging from what we see above a website can rank very well in the KSA with a very limited number of quality links and a relatively low domain authority. This means that companies looking to embark on SEO efforts in Saudi Arabia will find that they need far fewer links to have success and rank well than they would require in more competitive markets around the world.
With that said it is often much harder to acquire links from within Saudi Arabia than it would be to acquire them in many other markets. Why is this? Little attention is given to citing sources properly even on large Arabic publications in the region. Since publishers and writers feel comfortable taking information from other sources without citing it they will usually fail to link back to the source of that information. What is important to remember here is that other websites face the same challenges in acquiring links naturally so even a small success with gaining some regional links can have a very positive impact on your English and Arabic SEO campaigns in Saudi.
State of paid search in Saudi Arabia (PPC)
Pay per click advertising in Saudi Arabia is still not competitive in most niches but over the past couple of years the low cost of PPC ads on Google in the country have driven many websites to open up to the idea of advertising on Google. It is worth noting that in some niches like fashion content publishers bid on popular keywords in order to drive visitors interested in reading content to their websites despite the fact that they don’t know if they will ever be able to monetize these visits.
Analyzing the PPC Difference between the US and Saudi Arabia
Using google.com.sa we searched for two products that are popular in both the US and Saudi Arabia. We started with the car manufacturer Toyota. When we do the search in Arabic in Saudi Arabia we don’t get any ads, not even a single one.
When we do the same search for Toyota in English within the United States we get quite a few more ads than was the case in Saudi Arabia. There are a total of 10 PPC ads on the first page of search results. 3 ads are at the top of the page.
Our second search query was for the new iPhone 13. When we look at the search results for this product in Saudi we see just 4 Arabic ads above the organic search results.
On the other hand when we do the same search in the US we find that the whole page is full of ads in addition to the product listing ads.
In summary, there are some PPC niches where Saudi Arabia is almost as competitive as other larger markets around the world but in many areas they are far less competitive. Many of the newer ad formats like Product Listing Ads (PLA’s) have yet to appear in the Saudi PPC ad space as well. Earlier entrants into this advertising medium in the KSA will most likely reap the early rewards.
Geo-targeting Opportunities throughout the country of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is made up of many different cities that can actually be quite diverse from each other. In light of this there are many opportunities that can be gained by targeting different cities with a unique digital marketing strategy.
Below is a brief overview of some of the cities you may consider targeting.
Riyadh is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. With a population of just over 7 million people it represents the largest market in the country and should be your first focus in your online marketing efforts. The city has a large middle and upper class and there are plenty of consumers with discretionary budgets available for a wide assortment of products.
Jeddah is a city on the west coast of Saudi Arabia that is consider by many to be they most open and free city in the country. If you are looking to target a demographic that is less conservative and more open to new ideas and concepts Jeddah may be the right place for you to begin some of your digital campaigns in the region.
Al Medina is the second holiest city in Islam and is one of the holy pilgrimage sites. This makes Al Medina the second largest tourist destination for Muslims. The city itself also has a population of 1.300 million residents. If your business focuses on tourism or you want to take advantage of traffic spikes around the large peak tourist season, Al Medina may be a great place to focus your Internet marketing budget.
Dammam is the capital of the Eastern region of Saudi Arabia. Since it is located on the Persian Gulf it is close in proximity to many of the large cities that are part of the other GCC nations located on the Gulf. If you are already doing a lot of marketing in other GCC countries and want to target frequent visitors to Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar you may consider targeting Dammam with your marketing efforts.
Mecca is the destination for millions of Muslims every year. As the number one holy city of Muslims from around the world it attracts millions of new visitors every year from the ultra-poor to the super-rich. Given the influx of visitors experienced by this city every year it may be a great city to market to tourists or the local merchants who benefit from the influx of visitors every year.
Social Media in Saudi Arabia
Social media in Saudi Arabia is booming! Many think that much of the growth in social media within Saudi Arabia has to do with the fact that many things that couldn’t be shared in traditional contexts online can now be shared through social media. In fact Saudi Arabians share more online than any other country in the world. Social Media has brought many types of freedom to Saudis (especially women) that didn’t exist before the digital age.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest Twitter penetration in the world at 14.2% and ranks number eight in the world in terms of the total number of Twitter users.
Saudi Arabia is now the largest user of YouTube per capita in the entire world. Saudi is not only the largest user of YouTube but in recent years Saudi Arabians have been producing a great deal of YouTube content. This Youtube content is on a variety of different topics but the most popular form of content would have to be Arabic comedy shows.
Not surprisingly Saudi Arabia also has the highest Facebook usage rate in the Gulf region. Facebook is the third most visited website in the country.
It probably goes without saying but social media content that resonates with the Saudis the most is in the Arabic language.
Mobile Marketing in KSA
According to Dataportal recent report for January 2021, smartphone penetration is 98.7% of the population in Saudi Arabia. As time passes smartphone users are becoming more dependent on their smartphones and it is not uncommon to find Saudi Arabians with more than one mobile phone. Surprisingly some smartphone adopters who are older or from lower classes are having their first experiences with the Internet on mobile as 95.4% of users access the internet via mobile devices. And the average daily time users aged 16 to 64 spend using mobile internet was 4 hours and 25 min.
96.6% of smartphone users watch video on their phones, which gives us insight into why YouTube is so popular and such a great advertising medium in the country. Internet users aged between 16 -64 that discovered a new brand or product through search engines was 36.3% and 31.2% from ads on social media. The interesting thing was that 60% used social networks and 50% used search engines when researching brands.
In light of these high numbers different forms of advertising that are mobile friendly can be extremely effective. Traditional SMS marketing still works but new channels that target Arabs while they are browsing the web or watching a video on their smartphone are just as effective if not more effective.
Online Display Advertising in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has a variety of online display advertising options. First as we pointed out above some of the most popular websites in Saudi Arabia are websites that aren’t just focused on the Middle East, many of these websites provide display advertising options that allow you to target users in the Middle East. Whether it’s YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo or others many of these global sites provide display advertising options that allow you to target Saudi Arabians. Google’s display network also has many outlets you can advertise on through their Adsense network.
Direct media buys are also an option in the Saudi Arabia and many content publishers in Arabic and English in the region will allow you to specifically target Saudi Arabia. These direct media buys can tend to be very expensive though so it may be worth testing other channels before venturing into direct media buys. Another point to make is that many Arabic content publishers will only reply to inquiries in Arabic and not in English.
Saudi Arabia is the market with the largest online marketing potential in the region. If you are looking to get a taste of marketing in the Middle East Saudi is where to start. Essential ingredients to any marketing campaign in this country is a solid knowledge of Arabic, culture, and what online channels are the most effective at reaching Saudis.
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