Review of the first ever Digitalks Dubai January 2018

I had the good fortune of attending the first ever Digitalks Dubai event held at the Novotel DWTC on Wednesday 24 January.

I was invited as a guest by one of the organisers, Naguib Toihiri. We go way back when we were both new to Dubai and almost worked together but life had other plans. I wasn’t going to attend originally due to prior commitments but Naguib is persistent! It worked out in the end as I got to meet the good people from DeepCrawl who I’ve met before and who were also sponsors of the event. In full disclosure, my company is a client of DeepCrawl.

The theme of Digitalks Dubai was officially “Digital Revolution Occurring Among E-commerce Platforms“.

Naguib opened the proceedings by highlighting that Digitalks is really just Digital KS, with the K and S standing for Knowledge Sharing. It’s a happy coincidence.

I will commend Aby Sam Thomas for his excellent work as the MC. He’s the EIC at Entreprener ME so you know, bit of a big deal.

It’s great to see digital events like these that aim to cover specific ares in digital as opposed to being a generic free for all. So I was genuinely excited to see speakers from L’Oreal, RBBI (Naguib’s company which organised the event), DeepCrawl, Sitecore, Alteryx and Dubai Media Inc. I figured there’d be plenty to chew on and I’d walk away with lots of cool insights into e-commerce locally. I’ve had the pleasure of working on search campaigns in classifieds, for hotels and an airline as well as in news and for a pay tv network but my experience with e-commerce consists of online purchases and a handful of blog posts with amateurish reviews.

I’m a fan of RBBI’s work. Their focus and leadership in the UX and UI space is unparalleled and I’ve worked on projects with them in the past. I commend their attempt at hosting an event of this nature. So I’ll highlight what I liked about it.

The venue was great, refreshments were more than adequate and free parking across the road made it easy to get to. I love conference freebies so the goodie bag with the branded everything was a cool touch. Seating was fine and I got to make a new friends in the rush so that was cool. Not a lot of people were live tweeting but that’s just a thing in Dubai – no one really does that here which is a bit odd.

On to the speakers, there were some really cool insights from Sofiane Haddadi of L’Oreal and I wish he had gone into more detail because there would have been so much more to learn about because L’Oreal works with so many online brands as part of a broader e-commerce strategy.

Amol Kadam‘s preso on UX was decent and well designed, though I think people may have appreciated more examples in relation to e-commerce and perhaps a little less theory – however Amol is a UX expert that works on a whole different level to everyone else! He takes some cool shots on Instagram if you’re interested.

Up next was a discussion with Heba AlSamt from Dubai Media Inc. and she had plenty of great tips to share on social media in relation to MENA. I think she would have loved to have talked even more about influencers and how brands should focus on brand advocates or micro influencers and shouldn’t chase influencers with crazy high follower counts. Discussion was a little light on e-commerce but I guess the questions being asked weren’t really targeted in that way. I follow her on twitter and she’s got lots of English and Arabic tweets with cool tips.

Murad Daniyel from Sitecore hopped on next to talk about personalisation in omnichannel marketing can benefit brands. What I got out of it was ‘personalisation is cool, Sitecore can do this for you’ and we watched some videos about that. It did feel like a sales pitch more than anything else which is a shame because the next speaker was able to talk about theory and concepts without selling their product. I will add that I like Sitecore and saw it in action when working on the redesign a few years back. I’m a firm believer in personalisation too so this is an objective thought on this Sitecore preso. Not a lot of e-commerce talk which was a shame because e-commerce and personalisation are made for each other.

Nabil Dabbagh from DeepCrawl followed up with what I dubbed on twitter as the sizzle, not the sausage. He talked about the importance of looking at crawl data from multiple sources, understanding where things are broken, bridging the gaps and also improving site indexation. Definitely wasn’t a sales pitch but I will add that none of what Nabil talked about was new to me – it merely reinforced fundamental SEO concepts. It was refreshing to hear some actual SEO concepts being discussed and in relation to e-commerce though it wasn’t a deep dive of any sort. I would have liked a lot more e-commerce banter because indexation and crawlability are vital for e-commerce; though I think the talk was kept somewhat generic to cater to the many SEO novices in the room – in fact, I’d probably count the SEO folks on one hand!

Jonathan Beacher from Alteryx was up after Nabil and in all fairness to Jonathan, it’s always hard going up on stage towards the end of a conference, especially after some great food. What I got from this was ‘consolidate your data, here’s Alteryx’ and I admit to tuning out a little bit – only because again, I understand the need to get data in order and am currently trying to consolidate data silos at my job. Also felt a wee bit salesy.

The event ran over time which pushed lunch back and also delayed the start of the SEO workshop. It happens and isn’t just a Dubai thing, thankfully!

The SEO workshop was dope. I mean, it was the first time I got to geek out with other SEO folks on real SEO concepts that didn’t fixate on mundane meta data trivialities. Got to meet Ali from Tajawal who is an ex Googler who worked alongside Matt Cutts so he knows his stuff. The group was mixed so it was nice to have a bit of discussion amongst ourselves on SEO concepts in relation to indexation, crawlability, etc. Other brand reps in the workshop were from Hertz, Helpbit (part of Souq) and

I had to bounce early, just as Nabil was going to use DeepCrawl with the group to highlight issues one might find on any site when using a ‘crawler’ and how you could go about addressing those issues. This would have been great, I’m sure. I would much rather be seated in a round table discussion style workshop where brands and agencies could discuss SEO concepts without fear of giving away secrets or looking stupid. It would be great to ask someone why they do what they do on their site and to learn more from that because with SEO, there’s always plenty of debate (heck it’s 2018 and we’re still fighting over subdomains vs subdirectories!).

If more events like these were held (where you could actually be specific and follow themes), I think people would find exceptional value for money. Not everyone is made for presenting but what people may lack in presentation skills, they more than make up for in friendly industry banter. I think that means me!

So to cap this already lengthy review off, Digitalks Dubai was generally good. It missed the target by not adhering to the theme of the day and that was disappointing. I don’t mind when things go overtime provided the discussion is on point but this wasn’t the case with Digitalks Dubai. No discussion on payments (get Omar Kassim from to talk to you about cash on delivery!) – I mean, we still grapple with the issue of PayPal here. Having the cool cats from PayFort on the day would have been excellent. There was also no talk on order fulfillment and logistics which is also critical. What about business setup, legalities and ofcourse, VAT? And there’s of course so much more to e-commerce which would be hard to cram into one day along with workshops. So I can empathise with the organisers that it’s tough to pull off a great event that ticks all the right boxes.

And because this is meant to be a healthy discussion on an event that is trying to fill the gaps in the UAE digital marketing event calendar for 2018, you can check out an article by another attendee, David Fuller, where he’s given his thoughts on Digitalks Dubai. Valid points, all of them.

There’s plenty to learn from and I’m sure we’ll see more from Digitalks Dubai in 2018. Also, special mention to Basma Abou Assaf from RBBI who is our region’s very own Aleyda Solis. She has got SEO on lock and has experienced an astronomical rise in the local SEO scene. She’s head of SEO at RBBI (started at the bottom now she’s here!) so be sure to catch her at the next event.

One last point: each speaker had a great intro screen complete with animations and sound! Think major film awards evenings but without the red carpet. That’s commendable, no matter what.

Were you at the event? What did you think?

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