UAE SEO Guide
UAE SEO is both similar and unique to SEO in other countries around the world. In this guide we will go over some of the most important factors that can help a website rank well on Google in the United Arab Emirates. If you are seeking help with your SEO efforts in the UAE this guide should give you a brief introduction before you get started.
Why you want to rank on Google in the UAE
The UAE is the 2nd most important online market in the GCC. Due to the high GDP per capita of 44,315 USD per year and the culture of shopping the UAE is an ideal target for your online marketing efforts. The UAE is unique in that it is the center of much of the business that is done in the Arab world while at the same time being a country with more ex-pats than locals living within its borders. It has a population of just over 10 million people.
How the UAE is different from other Arab countries online
- Most of the country is made up of expats.
- While it may seem hard to believe, only 11% of the UAE population are Emirati nationals – the other 89% of people living in the UAE come from all over the world, but mainly from South Asian countries like India and Bangladesh, as well as other Arab countries like Egypt and Morocco. Today, there are over 200 different nationalities living in the UAE.
- Shopping is so important in the culture that they have a national shopping day.
- Known as White Friday, this holiday is similar to Black Friday in the US, taking place at the same time of year. It started in the Middle East in 2014 by Souq.com founder Ronaldo Mouchawar. Additionally, the Emirate of Dubai recently announced its plans to host a shopping festival at the end of 2024, which will span two weeks and feature brands from all over the world.
- A large percentage of the population speaks English
- About 90% of the UAE population speaks English – and that isn’t just because of the high concentration of expats. The UAE has strong education systems that teach English as a second language to all students, and given the amount of international business that happens in the Emirates, it is no surprise that English has become so prevalent.
- There are more e-commerce websites in the UAE than in any other Arab country
- With soaring mobile phone usage and internet penetration rates, it is no surprise that e-commerce is taking off in the UAE. Reports from last year show that over 62% of the population made purchases online, and economic forecasts predict the UAE e-commerce market size will reach USD $17 billion by the end of 2024.
- The awareness of SEO and the competition is higher than in other Arab countries
- Because of all the reasons we mentioned above, there are a lot of domestic and international players quickly flocking to the UAE online market. While this competition can present some challenges, there is also immense opportunity that savvy businesses can tap into, with proper market research and marketing campaign design.
Keys to ranking in the United Arab Emirates
1. Keyword research
Keyword research for the UAE will be similar to doing keyword research in other countries but there are few things to keep in mind. Don’t assume that all the keywords you target for another Arab country will be the same. The UAE has a unique culture and combined with the large number of expats it has you may find people search for your services or products using different keywords than in other countries. Depending on your target audience you may want to do your keyword research in Arabic or in English. Given the large amount of expats from India, you could specifically target this demographic by using keywords in Hindi. Make sure you take the time to do this correctly to begin with since selecting the wrong keywords can waste time and resources on keywords that won’t produce the desired results.
Keyword Insights on the Country Name
“UAE” as a keyword has much higher search traffic than “United Arab Emirates” as a keyword. This is due to the fact that it is much easier to type out the three letter abbreviation for the country name than it is to spell out all 3 words.
Even more important is the fact that the keyword “Dubai” has 10 times the search traffic of either “UAE” or “United Arab Emirates”. Many Westerners know the name “Dubai” as the city is famous for its lavish culture, but don’t know what country Dubai is in. There is also an alternate spelling for the word Dubai that some people use – “Dubayy”. This alternate spelling is very rarely used so we wouldn’t recommend using it as Google usually auto-corrects it anyway.
For Arabic, the most commonly searched keyword for the UAE is الإمارات (The Emirates) as opposed to the full name of the country. This is very helpful because it leaves space available in key SEO elements like the title for other keywords instead of taking up the entire tag with the full spelling of the keyword. It almost never makes sense to spell out the entire official name of the country in Arabic in key elements of your article like the title, URL, or heading but including the full name of the country in Arabic somewhere in the article might be useful.
2. Assigning keywords to the proper pages
Once your keyword research is complete, you should assign 3-4 keywords to pages on your website that match the search intent of the keywords. If you don’t already have pages that match up with the researched keywords you should create new pages to target those keywords.
3. Use your target keywords in the Title, URL, and Meta description
As with any SEO campaign, it’s important to incorporate your target keywords in the Title, Meta description, and URL for the page in addition to key on-page elements like the H1 tag. For the UAE we recommend using various versions of the UAE country name in these elements when it makes sense to do so and matches the search intent. If you are targeting specific cities in the UAE as part of your SEO campaign you can include the names of those cities in these elements as well.
Content is king in UAE SEO, as it is in other countries. A focus should be placed on writing content that includes the target keywords and long tail variations of the keywords while at the same time making the content engaging to website visitors. In Arabic content, this is even more important. Since there is a shortage of high-quality content in Arabic on the web often times a website that has few links and a short history can rank for lots of Arabic keywords because of the limited competition in Arabic. When it comes to creating content in Arabic, hiring a professional translator or native speaker is essential. The ease of machine translation tools like Google Translate or Reverso can be tempting because of their cost efficiency and speed, but they almost never deliver a quality result. Native speakers can easily pick up on text that was machine-translated, and it clearly indicates that a brand is taking shortcuts in their marketing work. You might also want to consider using Emirati dialect in your content, depending on the context and target location. Our Middle East marketing experts can help you decide when it is beneficial to use dialect versus Standard Arabic.
5. Local UAE backlinks
Getting links from other websites in the UAE can be a useful signal to Google that you should rank in the Emirates. Attracting links from other regional websites can be a little difficult for a couple of reasons including the fact that many regional websites don’t link out and there is a smaller number of websites in the Middle East than in most other parts of the world. Given these challenges getting a small number of regional links can go a long way toward improving your SEO in the UAE. We’ve seen that international links from outside the region are often just as powerful.
Here are some potential types of local websites you can attract links from
- UAE News and Media Sites
- UAE Business Clubs for Your Industry
- UAE Event Sites
- Niche Directories
- UAE Resource Pages
- UAE Schools and Universities
- Community Pages
- Partner Sites
- Vendor Websites
- UAE Job Postings Websites
- And More
6. User experience for UAE website visitors
Finally, its vital that when users arrive at your website from the Emirates that the user experience is good. Some of the key elements for user experience include the following.
- Its mobile friendly – 90% of UAE traffic is on mobile devices
- The website loads fast
- Its easy to navigate
- The Arabic version works as well as the English version of the website
Other important parts of ranking in the UAE
Hosting your website in the UAE
In most cases, hosting your website in Europe and then using a CDN like Cloudflare will be good enough to get you fast page load speeds in the UAE. That said, recently, local server options have opened in the GCC region. If you have a more technical team and need very fast load speeds to improve your UAE SEO even more, we recommend hosting with Amazon AWS, which launched UAE locations in Dubai and Fujairah in 2022, or with Alibaba Cloud also has a location in the UAE.
International Targeting for the UAE
We’ve found that, in general, since the UAE is a hub for Gulf business, many websites in the region are set up with a .ae domain. Though this signals to Google that the website is just for the target audience of people that live in the Emirates, it also may be perceived by people in the region as relevant to the rest of the GCC as well because the UAE is perceived as the hub for GCC businesses. If you choose to have a .ae domain name and still want to target GCC countries or the rest of the world, you should also make sure to either change your Google Search Console location setting to “unlisted” or use the hreflang tag to accomplish this. If however you only want to target people living in the Emirates, you can set the location in Google Search Console to the United Arab Emirates like in the picture below.
Emirates Domain Extensions
There are both Arabic and English versions of the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United Arab Emirates. In English, its .ae for Arab Emirates and in Arabic it’s .امارات . Unless you have a physical address in the UAE and are only targeting the UAE with your website we don’t recommend a .ae domain as, in our tests it doesn’t give more websites a significant ranking advantage. The Arabic domain version is not commonly used and is still confusing for most Arabic speakers so we wouldn’t recommend using it.
Geo-targeting parts of the UAE
Map of the 7 Emirates
Some cities in the UAE you may consider targeting include the following:
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 at USD $65,700. Abu Dhabi has a higher percentage of Emirati residents than Dubai so using Arabic SEO is key to having success online in this market.
Dubai dwarfs the other Emirates in regard to its population. Dubai is also so well known globally that many people think of it as a country and are unaware it is part of the UAE. Given the large number of Expats in Dubai many websites can get away with just doing SEO in English and still get decent results. That said, a significant segment of the population prefers to use Arabic online including Emiratis and expat Arabs from other MENA countries.
Sharjah borders Dubai and is the third largest emirate, and like the other two larger emirates, it is seeking to grow both its tourism and commerce sectors. With a large Emirati population, Arabic is essential to reaching this Emirate online.
Ras al Khaimah
Ras al Khaimah is a growing emirate on the east side of the Gulf with a population of about 400K. It’s mostly made up of Emirati residents so Arabic is key to attracting online traffic here.
Though Ajman is one of the smallest Emirates, it is still part of the greater Dubai metro area, so it’s worth optimizing your website in both English and in Arabic for this emirate.
Umm al Qaiwain
Umm al Qaiwain has a very small population of 44K of mostly Arabic speakers, so it might not be the first place to geo-target.
Fujairah is another smaller emirate only 30 minutes by car from Dubai on the Gulf of Oman. It is well known for having free trade zones, so it may be an ideal target for B2B online commerce in both Arabic and English.
The UAE is still a lucrative market for search engine marketers. Though there are a few more details that couldn’t be covered in depth in this guide, hopefully, this guide has given you enough insight to start your SEO efforts in the Emirates.