Quo vadis, Middle East SEO?

I came to Dubai almost 9 years ago and working SEO in this region has been nothing short of insightful.

I can read and write Arabic, but I don’t speak it and I don’t always know what I’m reading (or writing for that matter). It’s an interesting skill. And working on Arabic SEO campaigns has not come without its challenges. But it has been rewarding – I can certainly read, write and understand Arabic a lot better than when I came here 9 years ago.

One thing that has always stood out to me with how brands manage their online presence in this region is how there’s this preference for  .me domains, on the basis that it (wrongly) stands for “Middle East”. There is no such thing.

.me is the ccTLD for Montenegro, a tiny country in the Balkans.

Now I’m not entirely sure why Montenegro even went with the .me ccTLD (couldn’t immediately find this information at the time of publishing but happy to learn more if you’ve got any ideas?)

Serbia goes with .rs which is the Serbian name for the country –  “Republika Srbija”.

Croatia goes with .hr which is the Croatian name for it: “Hrvatska”.

Could Montenegro have gone with something close to its native name of Crna Gora?  .cg perhaps? Possibly.

That Middle Eastern brands choose .me for their Middle Eastern businesses is not Montenegro’s problem though.

This stems from a lack of education and Middle Eastern brands make better informed SEO decisions. 9 years on, there’s still much to do on this front.

What domain should a Middle Eastern brand choose? In true SEO fashion, the only real response is: “it depends”. It really does.

Going for a ccTLD is usually the preferred and recommended choice but if you’re catering to a Saudi audience but don’t actually operate in Saudi, there’s licensing requirements which are needed to register a .sa domain.

My preference is to go with a .com and setup language-country subdirectories. Something like etihad.com/en-ae, etihad.com/ar-ae etc.

But it all depends!

And it’s something we’ve been banging on for years and yet still, brands make mistakes choosing the wrong domain extension with incorrect hreflang implementations and improper translation and localisation.

Yet despite our repeated efforts to uplift the local SEO industry and improve education, SEO is still not taken seriously.

Cheap labour and a general lack of authority and expertise has allowed other digital channels to sprint ahead at the expense of SEO.

Even SEO job ads in UAE reek of ignorance (demanding MBAs and PPC knowledge!).

But it’s 2022 and SEO in the Middle East is still not where it should be.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we’re in a dire, beyond redemption type situation.

It’s just that we could be so further ahead but we’re not.

And for what it’s worth, we have had MENA Search Awards for a few years now which has showcased local Search Marketing talent. I was even a judge in 2020 and 2021. So that’s definitely something!

So what’s actually wrong? Honestly, it’s ignorance. Pure and simple.

I’ll be the first to own up to not doing more to educate and inform more people about the importance and benefits of SEO.

It’s not people’s fault that they don’t care about SEO the way they should. It’s our fault we haven’t made them sit up and give a damn.

It’s time we did more to change the local perception of SEO.

Time to show the Middle East how invaluable SEO is.

We owe it to SEO.

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