The short answer is: yes.
You need to adopt a Chinese SEO strategy for your UAE website because with the UAE taking its relationship with China to a whole new level, you’re about to get a lot more interest from Chinese consumers.
Let’s take a short history lesson first.
The UAE and China have a relationship that goes back a fair while. In July 2018, the UAE hosted one of its largest ever state visits with a red carpet welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping. You should also note that back in May 1990, UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed was the first head of state from the GCC countries to visit China. Dubai is also home to Dragon Mart which is the largest trading hub for Chinese made products outside of mainland China. And while I’m at it, the Burj Al Arab hotel and the Burj Khalifa were both lit up in the colours of the Chinese flag in honour of the Chinese President’s state visit to the UAE.
So this is all kind of a big deal to say the least.
Now I’m not an economist nor am I a political pundit but when the UAE government welcomes the Chinese president with open arms, awards billions in contracts and relaxes visa requirements for Chinese passport holders, you better start taking notice of the Chinese consumer and the potential they bring.
But before you throw your entire website into Google Translate, you need to understand the difference between the UAE and China in terms of the internet.
Firstly, in China, people use Baidu as their primary search engine. Google isn’t *really* available there (there’s talk of Google working on a censored version for China that is more in line with Government requirements). So when Chinese people come to the UAE, they’re going to automatically use Baidu out of habit and because they’re more than likely going to search in Mandarin, not English (or even Arabic for that matter). They may even start using Google but Baidu is what they’re used to so you’ll need to optimise your website for Baidu (it’s quite different from Google!). As a side note, other popular search engines in China include Sogou.com and SO.com (I’m told it has smarter ways of tackling spammy results when compared to Baidu).
Secondly, understand how the Chinese market works. They’re used to things like AliPay and WeChat. In Dubai and elsewhere in the UAE, cash is still king and WhatsApp rules the day. Many UAE small businesses offer customer service via WhatsApp but if you want to ensure you don’t isolate Chinese consumers, get onto WeChat and cover all your bases. In March 2018, WeChat 1 billion active users. For context, China’s population is over 1.4 billion. So simply using the app opens your business to a whole new world of customers once you get it all working right.
Thirdly, in China, domain names as a series of numbers is normal. And this is what the Chinese are used to. To quote this section from a NewRepublic.com article on numeric domain names in China: “Check out 4399.com to see one of China’s first and largest online gaming websites. Buy and sell used cars at 92.com. Want to purchase train tickets? It’s as easy as 12306.cn”.
It doesn’t stop at the Chinese border though. Take a recent entry into the Dubai real estate market: Fidu Properties. They’re a Chinese owned agency who has taken out ads everywhere (mostly taxis and the Mall of the Emirates metro walkway hoarding over Sheikh Zayed Road). The ad initially had Chinese script but this was removed later on. Now their domain name is https://www.299.com/. If you go to fiduproperties.com or fiduproperties.ae, there’s a 301 redirect to 299.com.
Acccording to an article on Pop.co, the reason for numeric domains range from a lack of quality alpha domain names to translation of Madarin Chinese Pinyin Acronyms into numbers to bypassing of government censorship. I learnt that “Pinyin is the most common way of converting Chinese names and geographic locations into an English equivalent” so it’s clearly important. Should you look at a numeric domain name based on Pinyin in an effort to target Chinese consumers? I’d say you should definitely look into it with a native Mandarin speaker.
Back to Fidu Properties. They aren’t necessarily targeting the Chinese community in Dubai because I’d say that’s not the biggest market to go after. But it’s what they know and hey, who doesn’t like short, memorable domain names? This is a good reason to consider a numeric domain name as part of a Chinese SEO strategy.
However, you’re better off optimising your website for a Mandarin speaking audience by offering a Chinese version to them first. Like how many UAE websites offer English and Arabic versions, you should consider offering Chinese as a new option.
Now most people who live in the UAE are not Arabic speakers and since English is universally spoken, this is often the main language used across the country.
It also makes sense that most websites in the UAE are in English with the exception of Government websites which are in Arabic first (with English options also available). There’s also a smattering of websites that cater exclusively to the many expats that live here but don’t speak either English or Arabic (think: Russian, Filipino and South Asian communities mostly).
Multi national brands tend to have multilingual websites so they tend to offer English and Arabic versions of their websites as part of their global policy. I worked on the multilingual SEO strategy for Atlantis The Palm Dubai and their website is available in English and Arabic as standard but they also had Russian and Chinese versions since many of their guests hail from these countries.
So where do you start with a Chinese SEO strategy?
Looking at your website stats (typically Google Analytics). It will show you a great deal about where your users come from, the devices they use and what languages their browser is set to and so on. Do you have any visitors coming from China? If so, how do they find you and through which search engines and on which devices?
Find out what the Chinese equivalent of your products/services are so you can optimise the Chinese version of your site using the most relevant keywords in Mandarin. If you’re even remotely interested in tapping into the Chinese market, you should care where your website ranks in Baidu first and foremost.
Pay to get your existing content translated into Mandarin (and have it optimized too). Don’t use Google Translate unless you want everything to be lost in translation. It’s the quickest way to alienate your audience.
And lastly, make sure you develop the Chinese version of your site using a correct implementation of hreflang so that you serve the right language to the right people. There’s more to multilingual SEO but this is the first step!
But before you do all of this, have a look at your website as it stands right now in general.
Is it HTTPS compliant?
Is it fast?
Does it work well on mobile?
Do you present your best content up front or do people have to scroll endlessly to find what’s important?
Does it use the best keywords and do you have adequate links between your pages?
Is it free from spelling and grammatical errors?
If not, make sure you address these issues first. Then you’ll be in better shape to build up a Chinese SEO strategy that works.
Your UAE website may not need to focus on China right now but keep an eye on the strengthening relationship between UAE and China and see how your business can grow to make the most of this partnership.
Also published on Medium.