SEO for a Saudi Arabian client?
If you had told me that after 10 years of doing enterprise SEO I would be writing a post about how to execute SEO in Saudi Arabia because that’s where one of my clients is based, I would have told you that you were crazy.
But that’s the reality and I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far about conducting SEO in Saudi Arabia as there seems to be so little English how to content online to help those of us here in the US that might be providing SEO counsel abroad.
I’ve come up with a list of areas that I think you need to be aware of to be successful.
Let’s dive in!
Here’s why I could help a Saudi Arabian client with their SEO.
I’m going to share with you one of the reasons why I could help this client even though there were based in Saudi Arabia and I’m based in the Washington, DC region.
Their focus was reaching an audience in Saudi Arabia (or those that were moving there), and they had an associated content site that was targeted to English and Arabic speakers more globally, but still just talked about Saudi Arabia news.
So what search engine captured my client’s focus?
And with ten years of SEO experience, I certainly understand Google’s rules and best practices.
The only huge difference I saw was the content quality guidelines and how they were applied in the country.
I discovered that my client’s competitors were not yet developing the type of long form content we see here in the US, so content improvements were made less of a priority by the client than other tactics to improve rankings. In retrospect, this limited our link building opportunities, and near the end of the contract, we started working on content that was pitchable.
Subdirectory or subdomain for international content?
For this client, they already had a subdomain in place (ksa.domain.com) for their Saudi site, but they did not have domain.com set up for international visitors. We launched that version so that they had an infrastructure that would grow with them over time, and to create a division of content vs. advertising for Google new requirements.
Arabic language skills would have been ideal.
Now here’s a confession.
I don’t read or speak Arabic.
(Yes, I have no idea that those characters mean above).
However, for this client, I was brought on board to largely tackle SEO technical issues where understanding how to read code is more important than how to read Arabic.
And here’s the other secret:
Most people in Saudi Arabia read and speak English.
In fact, wealthy Saudis search online in English,AND there’s a huge expat community (33% of the population) that uses English for Internet activities.
My client’s site has an English version and all of the URLs were in English.
However, for this client, the web content was written in Arabic and then translated into English, so their challenge was ensuring that the English translations were grammatically correct for their English audience, and as their first native English speaker on their marketing team, I was able to spot a few areas of improvement.
SEO Tools in SA are *mostly* non-existent
This by far has been the biggest challenge as I’m a fan of Moz tools, but their Open Site Explorer tool doesn’t include most Arabic sites I’m looking at. There are, however, a host of social media monitoring tools (like Brandwatch and Radian 6 with expensive price tags) that can help you find influencers, but here are the tools I found at a reasonable cost:
Getting non-personalized results for Google/SA
Here’s where Moz’s toolbar has saved the day. You can set up a search profile for a range of engines and countries, and I was good to go once I set it up.
Here’s how you set it up:
While looking at a search result, click on the section of the Mozbar that is labeled “Search Profiles”.
Click on “Add New Profile” and you’ll see something like this:
Then next time you conduct a search, flip your Search Profile to the appropriate country and search engine.
Encoding Arabic characters
Google has trouble reading Arabic characters in URLs, and all Arabic language needed character encoding. The site I was working on tried to keep all of their URLs in English, so this was less of an issue.
Hreflang Tags were critical and confusing
And frankly confusing. I was at the SMX Advanced workshop where they announced hreflang support, and I still found it challenging years later to implement. During my research, however, it seems as though each Google presentation/explanation about hreflang at the search conferences has been different in how they walk through the implementation process, so I’m clearly not the only one that was confused about the correct implementation.
Either way –
Do you want me to save you the same frustration?
Yes, you do.
So here it is. The best resources on how to implement hreflang correctly:
It’s hands down the best guide out there with real examples of how to implement the x-default tag.
The biggest challenge that I saw was that each hreflang tag needs a reciprocal link. So if page A needs to reference page B, and page B needs to reference page A, etc. A missing backlink will break the coding and Google will ignore the annotations.
I was regularly using DeepCrawl’s “Pages with hreflang Tags” report (which list all pages that contain hreflang tags, provide all of the tags found on each page and indicate whether they are being supplied in the HTML of the page, via XML sitemaps, or delivered via the response header) and the other reports in its “validatation” area to help me troubleshoot.
YouTube in Saudi Arabia is big
Saudi Arabians watch more hours of YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world. I also discovered while creating video optimization recommendations for this client that Saudis engage in highway surfing.
Now here’s where I’ve got to be honest.
This “hobby” looks a bit crazy to me, and I can’t image what type or rubbernecking we would have if someone tried this on the DC beltway.
Washington DC is a very international city.
While working on this client I re-discovered that Washington, DC is truly an international city.
I was actually able to find local language support from two different women who were bilingual in Arabic and English AND used to live in Saudi Arabia (and had free time to help me with promotional tasks). It seems like a crazy request when I first started looking, but it just shows you that with a strong professional network, finding subcontractors for any task is possible.
So what’s your challenge?
Are you trying to optimize a client’s site for an international audience? Do you have a client in Saudi Arabia?
Let me know in the comments below.