UAE Digital Marketing Country Profile
The UAE, the country in which Dubai resides, is rich in digital marketing opportunities. From SEO to PPC to Social Media this country is probably the most Internet-savvy of all the countries in the MENA region. Due in large part to the fact that the majority of the population in the country are expatriates from other countries you find that a large segment of society is dependent on the Internet. With free trade zones set up specifically for foreign investments in industries like IT there is a great demand for web-based and localized online marketing services. In light of heavy investments in telecommunications, the United Arab Emirates is also one of the most connected countries in the region.
Basic UAE Country Information
If you are planning on embarking on an Internet marketing campaign in the Emirates it is important to understand some basics about the country before you embark. With a population of more than 10 million people, only 20% are Emiratis. A large percent of the population is made up of migrant workers while the remaining sector of society consists of expat working professionals. Though the Emirati population is small, there are also many other Arab nationalities that live and vacation in Dubai and Abu Dhabi making the total Arabic speaking population equal to 3.8 million people. 87% of the total population dwells in urban centers.
The economy depends heavily on petroleum production but in cities like Dubai the majority of the income comes from the services sector. Tourism is huge in Dubai and the airport has become a world-class transit center for travelers from all around the globe. Due to the fact that very little in the way of products and food are produced in the UAE the country depends greatly on imports to the tune of $28.2 billion in imports annually. Many import opportunities exist in the country. There is a high demand for quality products and foodstuffs from around the world.
The Emirates are a great place for online business with the highest reported broadband Internet connectivity in the Arab World. Companies that locate in one of several tax free zones in the country are exempt from taxes for a period of 50 years.
Cases of censorship online do happen on occasion but are mostly limited to websites with certain types of religious information and websites with content that isn’t suitable for children. Laws are also in place that prohibit a website to encourage public indecency.
UAE and the GCC
The UAE is a key member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC’s goal is to encourage increased social, economic and political cooperation between the countries of the Persian Gulf region. Given this strong connection any Internet marketing campaign that targets the GCC should incorporate the UAE and at least its two largest cities Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In recent years the relationship between the two member states of the UAE and Saudi Arabia has grown.
Internet country codes
There are both Arabic and English versions of the country code top level domain (ccTLD). In English its .ae for Arab Emirates and in Arabic it’s .امارات .
Most popular sites in the region
Below is a list of the most frequented websites in the UAE according to similarweb.com. As you can see the majority of these websites aren’t regional websites but global websites with a regional presence.
Most popular region specific sites
Some successful ecommerce sites based in Dubai, UAE include the following:
Search Engine Marketing in the United Arab Emirates
It is important to note that both English and Arabic are used in the UAE and Dubai. For industries that depend heavily on expats you will find that the majority of the search volume is in English. On the other hand in industries that depend on nationals and other Arabs you will find that the search volume is mostly in Arabic. There are also many instances where there is both high Arabic search volume and high English search volume for specific keywords. Depending on the specific product or service you are promoting in the region it is important to do your keyword research thoroughly in order to utilize your online marketing budget and efforts most effectively.
Google Zeitgeist’s annual search trends 2021 report lists the most common search queries in the UAE as follows:
1) India vs England (cricket)
2) Euro Cup
3) Ramadan 2021
4) Cyclone Shaheen
5) Expo 2020
6) Iphone 13
7) منصة الف (Alef Education)
8) Squid Game
9) Olympics 2021
10) مسبار الأمل (Emirates Mars Mission)
Keyword Insights on the Country Name
“UAE” as a keyword has much higher exact match search traffic than “United Arab Emirates”. This is due to the obvious fact that it is much easier to type out the abbreviation for the country name than it is to spell the whole thing out.
Another important thing to know is that the keyword “Dubai” has 10 times the search traffic of either versions of the country name.
State of Organic UAE SEO
When compared to just about any other country in the Middle East and North Africa the UAE is clearly one of the most if not the most competitive when it comes to SEO. Given the presence of many multinational companies with experience in SEO many companies have localized websites that are optimized from both an on-page and off-page perspective. Additionally, there are also some online marketing agencies in Dubai that solely focus on SEO in Dubai and the UAE.
Despite the competition level being high comparatively to other countries in the region when we compare the SEO savvy to more competitive countries around the globe the competition level would be considered low to medium for most keyword searches.
Below are comparison SEO metrics for the top position websites ranking in the US and the UAE respectively for the keywords “Hotels” and “Cars for Sale” in Google.
Hotels US vs Hotels UAE
Cars for sale – UAE vs. US
It can be seen clearly that from a linking perspective the top sites that rank in their respective countries for these keywords are on a whole different level. For the keyword “Cars for Sale” (English) the total number of linking route domains for the UAE site is dismal when compared to the massive number of linking route domains for the US site. We find almost the same situation for the keyword “hotels”.
State of Paid Search in the Emirates
Paid search advertisements or PPC advertising is becoming more and more common in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other cities in the United Arab Emirates. For certain keywords and niches you can find that there is a completely full first page of Adwords ads both above the organic search results and to the side of the organic search results. Though this is the case for some ultra-competitive niches it is somewhat rare and you generally find that for most niches there is still unfilled Adwords ad space on the first Google search result page. Arabic search result pages often have more open ad space than English result pages in both highly competitive and not so competitive niches.
As with any other country in the MENA region there are many local and geo-targeting opportunities in both organic and paid search in the region. Below is a list of the seven Emirates with some basic information about each so you can decide whether or not it is worthwhile to geo-target one of these Emirates.
Abu Dhabi is a very wealthy Emirate due to its large oil reserves. It currently has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. In light of the high standard of living and government investment drawing business and tourism to the emirate, geo-targeting this Emirate in your web marketing efforts would be well worth the investment.
As the most famous and most visited emirate, Dubai is full of online marketing opportunities on a local scale. Almost all sectors of online marketing that work in any large metropolitan city will work here as well.
It is important to note that since Dubai is such a large city there are also many opportunities to geo-target in your local SEO and PPC efforts by targeting various parts, districts, and neighborhoods of the city. Below is a list of areas in Dubai you might consider having a web presence in if it makes sense for your business.
- Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
- Palm Jumeirah
- Jumeira and Umm Suqeim
- Downtown and DIFC
- Bur Dubai
As a final note “Dubayy” is an accepted alternate spelling of Dubai that does still produce different results than typing “Dubai” into Google. It might be worth using this keyword variation somewhere in your on-page copy in order to win some of this additional traffic.
Sharjah is the third largest emirate and like the other two larger emirates is seeking to grow both its tourism and commerce sectors. It is a much stricter emirate as to laws and has a much smaller expat population than Dubai. Regardless there are still many opportunities in this Emirate but a strong Arabic online presence is a must to reach it.
Ras al Khaimah
Ras al Khaimah is a smaller emirate that is growing. Located on the east side of the Gulf with a population of about 350K it might not be the first emirate you want to focus on but as you grow your marketing reach in the region it could be a source of valuable online traffic.
Ajman is part of the larger of the greater Dubai metro area along with Sharjah. As the smallest emirate in the UAE some might overlook it but in light of its proximity to Sharjah and Dubai it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Umm al Qaiwain
Umm al Qaiwain is the second smallest emirate after Ajman with a population of just under 50K. Unless you know there is a specific market for your products or services in this region it may not be worth your efforts.
Fujairah is another smaller emirate but has established free trade zones to attract foreign investment and economic growth in the emirate. With a business-friendly climate on the Gulf of Oman and only about a 30-minute commute to Dubai it could be worthwhile to give this emirate some of your focus.
UAE Social Media
As with almost all Arab countries social media is becoming a central part of daily life in the UAE. The Arab Spring in Egypt revealed the power of social media in the region and the Arab Emirates are no exception to this rule. Given that Arabs depended heavily on social signals to help inform their purchasing decisions, having a strong social media presence in the region is key to online marketing success. In a survey done by bayt.com 38% of respondents said that companies in the region were successfully turning fans into customers. 47% of those that responded said that social media largely impacted their company’s site traffic. The research went on to say that 70% of those surveyed in the region followed corporations online. These stats make it clear that social media can be a great online channel for not only increasing brand loyalty but also a source of new business.
Of all the social media sites that have a presence in the region Facebook is dominating the pack with just under 7.2 million UAE users. Surprisingly the runner-up is LinkedIn with more than 5.7 million users in the UAE in 2022. With the strong business focus in Dubai it actually makes a lot of sense that this is such a popular social media network in the UAE. Instagram has 5.2 million active monthly users. Twitter also has a decent presence in the region with about 2.4 million active users.
Mobile Marketing in the Emirates
Mobile marketing in Dubai and other cities in the UAE is probably one of the most if not the most rapidly growing online channels in the region. Mobile technology in the region has been adopted very rapidly and smartphone usage continues to grow. The UAE has the lowest cell phone usage cost out of any country in the region which makes smartphone usage very affordable for nationals and expats alike. As in other regions of the Middle East, there are many individuals who are having their first Internet experiences on a smartphone. Some lower-class members of society may not even have regular access to a PC making their smartphone their sole gateway to the Internet.
In light of this having a mobile presence in both organic and paid search in the UAE can be very important in many industries. Given the vast array of mobile devices that are available in the country from the iPhone to Android devices having a responsive design website is a must. With different screen sizes and operating systems a responsive design helps make sure your marketing messaging is being delivered accurately on all devices.
Using mobile banner ads in your display campaigns on various sites and apps that are used in the region can also make sense in many industries. In addition to the Google display network there are several display networks that can incorporate mobile ads or SMS ads.
Online Display Advertising
Though there aren’t as many display networks in the region as there are in other countries around the world there are still plenty of sites and networks for banner ads. Depending on the niche or vertical the products or services you offer are in, you may have a simple time or a hard time finding display ad placements in the UAE. There are a handful of strong business-to-business websites in the region that charge a hefty sum for banner placements. Finding more affordable avenues to do display advertising on business websites can be a little more complicated. This stems from the fact that there is a relatively small number of medium and small business information websites and blogs in the region. Much of the content in the region that appears on blogs tends to be around the subjects of politics, religion, and sometimes tech. Still, despite payouts being relatively small, many smaller sites in the region use Google Adsense to monetize their site, which means these sites are potential placements for your Google Ads display ads.
The United Arab Emirates is ripe with online business opportunities. As a hub for commerce and tourism in the region there is already a good deal of online marketing already going on in the country, yet there remains a significant amount of opportunity across all the online marketing channels in this country.
Other MENA Country Profiles
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