Companies in the region are missing out on a massive opportunity by failing to promote their products and services online, says an internet business consultant.
"The region represents a huge opportunity for the business community," said Husam Jandal of WSI Internet Consulting. "Local companies are wasting that opportunity by ignoring a tool as powerful as the internet. Companies can gain a lot by search engine marketing while competition is still at its weakest.
"Real estate is dominating the online marketing arena with millions of websites currently having the keyword 'property', followed closely by the hospitality industry. The rest are almost unaware of the benefits of search engine marketing and have no presence at all.
"Businesses targeting Arab youth have a big chance of extending their outreach through the internet. Research figures show that 65 per cent of Arab youth regard the internet as their primary source of information while 49 per cent use the internet to view advertisements," said Jandal.
He added there was a huge gap between demand for information and the supply of relevant content in the business arena.
"There are people who are desperately looking for certain products and services but are unable to find relevant links because business offerings are not available online, or at least not visible on search engines.
"Search engine marketing is an essential tool for businesses and has become one of the world's most popular marketing strategies due to its flexibility, accessibility, accuracy and cost-effectiveness," he said.
Search engine marketing involves promoting websites by increasing their prominence in search engine result pages. Jandal said 90 per cent of all traffic generated on the internet came from search engines.
"Search engine optimisation, which is unpaid, and pay-per-click are two very effective tools to increase visibility for businesses. The paid service can be as cheap as 30 fils per click and it can reach the target audience in any place and at any time. So why not test it? There is nothing to lose."
Jandal gave a presentation about search engine marketing at a workshop hosted by Dubai Media City. He described the latest advances in measuring and optimising online marketing and the advantages of implementing such strategies in a competitive marketplace.
He told 59 regional marketing professionals – representing advertising, public relations and media buying – that Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Live, MSN, Facebook and Emirates are among the most visited websites in the UAE, according to recent research by Alexa.com.
"Most websites don't work because of faults in the design, inadequate maintenance, insufficient visitor traffic, lack of correlation with the business objective and absence of return on investment measurement. Search engine marketing can target audiences in specific areas as small as Sheikh Zayed Road. Only residents of that area would receive a link to a specific company or business. Also, online marketing is available at the perfect time since it is there at the exact moment a user is looking for the service or product involved."
The effectiveness of search engine marketing can be measured with web analytics programs.
"These programs help connect the dots among e-mail marketing, online banners, direct mail, online directories, pay-per-click, search engine optimisation, SMS marketing and offline campaigns. Some of them, such as Google Analytics, are free and require no more than 10 minutes to install."
Web analytic programs measure the number of visitors to a certain website, the rate of conversion from visitor to client placing an order and the source from which the visitor reached the company's link or website.
Jandal said local businesses should consider the features of their target audience, including the language barrier – 65 per cent of the 43 million Arab internet users do not understand English.
Taking products online
- Search engine optimisation: Based on the relevance of the content of a website to the keyword or query, domain name, link popularity and other factors, a search engine ranks its search results starting by the most related to the least related.
Internet users rarely go beyond the third search results page for a query. Therefore, search engine optimisation is a process that helps a search engine identify a link to keyword searches.
- Pay-per-click: The sponsored links at the top or side of a search result page signify paid advertisements. Advertisers do not pay unless users click on the links to view the ads. Such ads are considered effective as they are specifically related to a certain search query.
They also provide long-term branding on the web world even if users do not click, which amounts to free exposure of the firm.