The Complete Guide to Local SEO in the UAE
This ebook will cover local SEO in the UAE in detail. We’ll show you:
- How to build NAP citations in the UAE
- How to rank in Google Map Pack in the UAE
- How to optimize your Google My Business profile for the UAE
- How to use advanced SEO tactics to rank in the UAE and lots more
A quick introduction
A decade ago, few people knew about search engine optimization (SEO) and even fewer understood how it worked. Today, SEO is everywhere and there are thousands, possibly millions of guides covering each and every single topic and subtopic on SEO.
As we sought to write this ebook, we did our best to avoid common SEO topics, especially those that have already been covered in great detail. If you want to learn SEO basics, there are already lots of good resources out there.
Instead, we wanted to direct our efforts towards something that leveraged our experience and expertise working as SEO professionals for over a decade.
We decided to pursue something very close to our hearts: local SEO in the UAE.
A good amount of our work has been with brands and businesses in the UAE. After all, it is where our headquarters is and where most of our team is based.
Through the years, we’ve been able to collaborate with countless local companies, and help them with their own local SEO. We’re proud to say that we’ve been successful for the better part of our practice and we are continuing to learn and improve each day.
It is our hope that the work we’ve done so far will carry on with this little ebook.
Let’s get started!
Local SEO in the UAE
What is local SEO?
Local SEO is the practice of optimizing a local business for location-based keywords and local searches and, such as “restaurant in Dubai” or “hardware in Abu Dhabi”. It involves optimizing the business’s web pages and Google My Business Profile, and improving its presence on local listing sites and directories.
What are local searches?
A local search as we mentioned above is a search that includes location-based keywords. These can be in the form of places like “Abu Dhabi” or “Dubai” or phrases like “near me”, “nearby”, or “in my area”.
Other forms of local searches include street names, landmarks, zip codes, and even geographical coordinates.
Google returns local search engine results pages (SERPs) in several unique formats, which we’ll discuss in a later chapter.
How does local SEO work?
Local SEO works just like a “regular” search in the sense that when someone enters a keyword on the search bar, Google scans its index to find the best match.
However, local search is unique because Google uses a different set of factors to rank local searches. These include:
- The user’s current location
- NAP citations
- Google My Business profiles (or lack thereof)
- Keywords used in Google My Business profiles
- Online reviews
- Number of check-ins at a location
- Social media shares
- Google Maps star ratings
- Several others…
Why is local SEO important in the UAE?
According to the Google Consumer Barometer, seven out of ten shoppers in the UAE use search engines to find local businesses. In other words, many potential customers get their first impression of a brand from a Google Search.
Imagine you run a small corner coffee shop in Al Ras, Dubai.
You know that there are at least thirty other coffee shops within your district, and hundreds more in your city. It’s almost impossible to stand out, especially when you’re up against established global coffee brands like Starbucks or Costa.
Local SEO gives you a leg up on Google. Ranking on local searches means that whenever someone searches for a “café in Dubai” or “coffee shop in Dubai” on Google, you’ll be one of the first establishments they see.
This increases the chances of them finding (and eventually visiting) your shop.
The Google Map Pack
We can’t possibly write a book about local SEO and not mention the Google Map Pack (also called the 3-Pack or Local Pack).
What is the Google Map Pack?
When you enter a local search, Google returns results in the form of a Map Pack. The Map Pack displays the top three results in the form of a Google Maps window and a list right below. Here’s what it looks like:
As you can see, the Map Pack provides a business’s basic information, including location, operating hours, type of business—even prices, ratings, photos of the store, and a link to the business’s official website.
If you click one of the results, you’re shown even more choices with more details:
Rather than link you to directories and listing sites (as Google would do before), the Google Map Pack shows you all relevant business information on the search result itself.
How do you track Google Map Pack rankings?
The first and easiest way to track Google Map Pack is to try the search yourself.
Keep in mind that Map Pack results can vary even with the slightest change in location. For example, results for an “airbnb in Abu Dhabi” will differ if you do the search in Khalifa City A vs. City B.
In fact, there are times where simply moving just a kilometer or two can give you completely different results.
Fortunately, there are some tools you can use to make your life easier. In fact, most SEO rank trackers already have a built-in tool for Map Packs.
Tools for tracking Map Pack rankings
Here are some of tools we recommend:
SEMRush allows you to filter searches by location and by SERP feature. Just provide your website name, keywords, location, and the SERP feature you want to track (in this case, it’s the Local Pack).
If you’re looking for precise map tracking, LocalFalcon can give you a detailed report of how you rank within a specified radius. If you operate in a city, it can show you how you rank for different areas (towns or districts) within your city.
Whitespark is particularly good at building local citations (e.g. listing sites and directories). It can help you identify sites where you’re already listed, sites where you should be listed, and places where your information is inconsistent or redundant.
Tracking Map Packs rankings in the UAE
One thing you should know about tracking Map Pack rankings in the UAE is that data tends to be sparse. When compared to other high-volume countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, there’s relatively less search data about UAE that standard SEO tools can track.
That being said, it’s important to really dive into the data. For example, you should combine reports for both English and Arabic results for the same search term.
Also, it’s important to not rely completely on your tools. There are instances where standard SEO tools miss what’s actually happening on Google, especially in the UAE. In cases like these, we suggest actually searching for your desired keyword while you are in your target location/s.
This will allow you to fill any reporting gaps your local SEO tool/s might have.
Local organic rankings
Before we go any further, we’d like to say this: the Map Pack isn’t the end all and be all of local search. In fact, you should invest in traditional SEO tactics just as much if you want to improve your local SEO.
This brings us to local organic rankings.
When we say local organic rankings, we are referring to all organic (read: non-paid) search rankings for a local search. These come in the form of your usual SERP:
If your location services are turned on, the SERPs for searches like “Italian restaurant” or “hospital near me” will vary depending on where you are when you search.
Ranking on local organic results entails traditional SEO tactics. We’ll focus on three of them:
- Use local keywords in your content
- Keep your tags organized
- Mind your markups
Use local keywords
Make sure your web pages contain local keywords. Going back to our earlier example, if you run a barber shop in Ras Al-Khaimah, make sure your content contains keywords like “barber shop in Ras Al-Khaimah” or “haircut in Ras Al-Khaimah”.
Note that thorough keyword research is a must. You can use tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to find which keywords in your area get a lot of hits. The good part is, more often than not, local keywords tend to be easier to rank for.
Keep your tags organized
Second, make sure that your meta descriptions, meta tags, and image alt tags contain said keywords. This is an exercise that takes a lot of attention to detail; everytime you publish an article, add an image, or embed a video, always keep in mind to contain the keywords or terms you’re targeting.
Mind your markups
Ever since Google, Bing, and Yahoo introduced schema.org in 2012, data markups have been an important search ranking factor.
Markups are a very important part of search because they help tell search engines what your content is about. For example, you’re writing about a restaurant, Google recommends adding a restaurant tag to your content’s HTML code.
It should look something like this:
Image from schema.org
In the example above, search engines are able to identify that the text is about a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant in Sunnyvale, California with specified operating hours and contact details.
If you aren’t familiar with coding HTML, you can always utilize Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to markup your pages.
We’ll discuss schema markups for local SEO in depth in a later chapter.
Local SEO ranking factors
We mentioned earlier that Google uses a unique set of factors to rank local searches. Let’s discuss three main ones:
- Your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone number) citations
- Your online reviews
- Normal SEO
Note: Google My Business is actually the number one local SEO ranking factor according to Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors Study, but we’ll reserve a specific chapter for it later so that we can discuss Google My Business in detail.
NAP citations include any place, especially listings and directories, where your name, address, and phone number are listed.
As you already know, Google collects data from a variety of sources. NAP is no different.
The more NAP citations you have, the more consistent your citations are across different sources, and the more reputable sites you’re listed on, the more confidence Google has that your business info is correct.
This often translates to better rankings on local searches.
Listing sites in the UAE
Speaking of reputable listing sites, here are some business listings and directories in the UAE that you should be on.
These sites have high domain authority (meaning their domains are respected by Google) and high page authority (meaning their pages are highly likely to rank).
- Enroll Business
- UAE Yellow Pages
- Local Search
- Biz Community
- Guide 2 Dubai
- Gulf Business
- Craig’s List Dubai
- Arabian Talks
- Dubai Biz Directory
- UAE Business Directory
- Day of Dubai
- Open Sooq
We’ve also written an article about listing directories that you might want to check out.
Improving your NAP
It isn’t difficult to maintain your NAP citations. In fact, here’s a simple four-step process to make sure you keep your information in all your listings updated at all times:
- Keep a list of all your basic NAP information and a list of all the listing and directory sites your business is in (keep this in a Word or Google document)
- Update all your listing sites as needed
- Get on as many reputable listing and directory websites as you can
If you can do this every month or even every quarter, you should be fine. It does take some time, but it goes a long way in improving your local SEO.
Online reviews in the UAE
A study by Dimensional Research claims that 93-percent of consumers say online reviews influence their purchasing decision, whereas 91-percent say they trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations.
Good reviews and ratings, especially those on Google My Business, matter a great deal to local SEO. Google treats good reviews as a signal that customers trust your business; the opposite is also true for bad reviews.
According to Bright Local, the top three results have an average rating of 4.47 out of 5 and almost no 1-star reviews.
Which reviews matter?
The same Moz study we mentioned earlier, also claims that Google uses “review signals” in its local search ranking algorithm. Aside from relying on reviews posted on your Google My Business profile, it also likely uses reviews on third party sites like Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Zomato.
As a rule of thumb, assume that Google places the greatest importance on reviews posted in Google My Business and weighs third-party sites by their respective domain authorities.
How bad are bad reviews?
Obvious, bad reviews will impact your rankings negatively. However, all businesses, no matter how well run, will encounter a bad review at some point.
The trick is addressing those comments (calmly and professionally) and doing your best to resolve them before they turn into a viral mess. If you play your cards right, you can turn a bad customer experience into an opportunity to build trust and strengthen your relationship with your customers.
Make sure you:
1. Address the issue immediately
The longer you wait, the harder it will be to resolve the problem.
2. Identify the root cause
When talking to an angry customer, they may wander off topic and mention all kinds of things unrelated to the experience. Stick to the issue at all times.
3. Be accountable
So you made a mistake. It happens. That said, make sure to own up to anything and everything that is your fault. Period.
4. Offer a concrete solution
How many times have we heard the phrase, “we’ll get back to you”. If you want to regain lost trust, you better do something tangible about the issue. Talk is cheap.
5. Make sure it doesn’t happen again
This goes without saying, but many companies make the same mistakes over and over again. When that happens, you develop a reputation, and a reputation of bad service is infinitely harder to correct than a single mistake. Nip it in the bud. Fast.
Your Google My Business profile
Instead of including Google My Business in the previous section about Local SEO Ranking Factors, we decided to dedicate an entire section to Google My Business.
Google My Business is arguably the most important local SEO ranking factor, so if there’s something you’ll want to really spend time on, it’s this.
What is Google My Business?
Google My Business is Google’s one-stop-shop for information about your company. Here’s what a Google My Business profile looks like:
A Google My Business profile provides searchers with vital information about your business, from basic NAP citations to reviews, hours of operations, geographic information via Google Maps, and even virtual tours of your physical store/s (more on that later).
If you operate in the UAE, a Google My Business profile is extremely important because, as we mentioned earlier, consumers in the UAE tend to search Google for information about a business before they visit an actual location.
You should think of Google My Business as a virtual entrance to your physical store. Here’s how you can get started:
Keep your information up-to-date
We mentioned earlier that businesses with updated information rank better on Google. If you’ve recently changed your basic information, update your GMB profile ASAP. Better yet, set a regular schedule for updating your information (monthly should be fine).
Use the “Virtual Tour” feature
Virtual tours are an awesome way to improve your brand experience online. The great part is, you don’t need advanced or expensive technology to take advantage of it.
Here are three (3) simple tips for setting up your very own virtual tour:
1. Get a high-quality camera
Make sure that your camera is at least 7.5 megapixels and capable of taking 360-degree panoramic shots. A high-end phone like an iPhone 8 or Samsung Galaxy S8 can already do the trick. However, if you have access to a 360 degree camera, the photo quality will be much better.
2. Shoot your photos
Taking a 360-degree photo is surprisingly simple. If you’re on a smartphone, simply download an app like 360 Panorama and start shooting. If you have a 360 camera, you can start shooting right away.
3. Upload your photos
Once you have your 360-degree photo, simply go to Google My Business, click “Photos” on the left panel, click “360” on the top panel, click the “+” sign on the upper right, then upload your photo on the popup window.
Once you’ve uploaded your chosen photos, you can already view them on your Google My Business page and even add them to Google Street View. Adding your photos to Street View lets more customers see your business when they search for a particular location. You can choose multiple photos.
Take note that your images must pass Google’s guidelines, which just means your photos should be appropriate (no nudity, profanity, etc).
The advantage of having a virtual tour is it gives potential customers an interactive, visual way to interact with your brand online. If they like what they see, you’ll probably see them in your store one day. In a competitive market like the UAE, this is one way you can stand out from the hundreds of other businesses in the area.
Mind your reviews
As we mentioned in a previous section, reviews can make or break your brand. When you’re gunning for local SEO success, your reviews on Google My Business are among the first things your customer sees.
Always encourage customers to leave reviews, and make sure to respond to those reviews. Simply leaving a “Thank you for your feedback” after each review will go a long way if you do it consistently.
Likewise, make sure to address negative reviews always (read the above chapter How Bad Are Bad Reviews? in case you missed it).
Responding to your reviews sends a positive signal to Google, and you’ll likely be ranked higher because of it.
Optimize Google My Business for the UAE
How does one optimize their GMB profile specifically for the UAE?
The answer: try to get as “localised” as you can get.
This involves several steps, including adding keywords relevant to your location, filling up your profile completely, adding photos, pinning your location on Google Maps, and other basics that we outlined above.
Complete your Google My Business profile
This is a no brainer: the more complete your profile, the higher the chance you will rank.
Google uses GMB as a source of truth for information about your business. It also uses your profile as an indicator of SEO hygiene—the more updated and complete your GMB profile, the better it can tell users about your business.
Like we said earlier, make sure you’ve filled in all the relevant fields (including store photos and opening hours) and make sure to keep your business information updated at all times.
Add both your English and Arabic business name
The UAE is a multilingual country. This being the case, it’s important to provide users with your information in both English and Arabic. This ensures that you are able to capture all possible local searches for your business.
Here’s how to do that in two steps:
1. Enter your business name in your primary language
Login to your Google My Business account then go to Info. Click the pencil icon beside your business name and enter your name in your primary language.
If you use GMB in English, enter the English name of your business; if you use GMB in Arabic, enter the Arabic name of your business.
2. Add your business name in your secondary language on Google Maps
Once you’ve updated your GMB profile with your business name in your primary language, go to Google Maps > Suggest an edit. Next, set the interface to your desired language.
You should be able to see two name fields for your business, one for each language. Make sure that both entries are correct, and, finally, submit the edit.
On-page and off-page SEO
Let’s discuss some SEO basics.
There are two main types of SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
The first, also called on-site SEO, refers to any SEO you do on your website. This includes blogging, managing HTML tags, using relevant keywords, organizing schemas, optimizing pages for mobile, and many others.
The second kind refers to any SEO outside your website, including link building and social media promotion.
To rank well on local search, you need to pay attention to both. We’ll go through each in detail.
As we mentioned earlier, on-page SEO refers to any SEO you do on your website, which is to say, it’s all well within your control.
Note that while Google has over 200 different ranking factors, we’ll be focusing on five of the most important ones.
Put your local keywords in high-impact places
Keywords are the foundation of any SEO strategy, especially when it comes to local SEO.
Whenever you perform a search, the first thing Google does is search the web for pages that contain the keywords in your search query. Of course, these days, Google is far more advanced; it is able to categorize and rank searches using dozens of factors.
But I digress.
If you run a search for a “flower delivery in Abu Dhabi”, Google will look for web pages that contain that particular phrase, especially when said phrase is used in important sections of the webpage like page titles and headers, or used frequently (but not too frequently in a way that is unnatural to readers) in the body of the content.
Here are some tips to follow when incorporating keywords into your content:
Use your local keyword in you page title
If you search for a particular keyword, chances are, the top web pages contain the exact phrase you searched in their titles.
Make sure your titles are no longer than 60 characters long as Google typically clips titles that are longer than that.
When doing local SEO, always make sure the page title contains location-related keywords. This will signal to Google that your particular page is about a specific place.
Use your local keyword in your header tags
Search engines behave like people in a way. Just like us, search engines scan articles using headers—if something is in a headers, chances are it’s important.
Use your local keyword in your introduction or above the fold
Adding your keyword early on in your content is important because it makes it easier for readers to know what your main topic is. Furthermore, many SEO experts suggest that Google scans pages starting from the top first, which means the sooner you introduce your keyword in your article, the faster Google will locate it.
As a rule of thumb, make sure that you have keywords above the fold—i.e. within the page area before you scroll down.
Use your local keyword in your meta-description
A meta description is the short paragraph directly below a search result:
Meta-descriptions are one of the most important SEO signals. They provide searchers with a summary of each result. Think of it as a teaser—if they like what your summary says, they will be more inclined to click.
Note that adding your keyword onto the meta-description will help you rank better. If you notice the entries above, you’ll see that they both contain the keyword or a variation of it.
A quick tip: keep the length of your meta-description between 150 to 160 characters since Google truncates anything longer than that.
Take your keyword research seriously
Targeting the right keywords is key to successful SEO. You need to find keywords that (1) get a lot of searches and (2) are possible to rank for.
But before we get to that, let’s discuss short-tail and long-tail keywords.
Short-tail keywords are keywords that have very few words. In fact, sometimes, they have just one word. Examples are “shoe” or “women’s clothing”.
Short-tail keywords typically get a lot of search volume. However, they are often too general for searchers to gain information from and too difficult to rank for.
If you’re a brand that sells men’s shoes in Abu Dhabi, simply trying to rank for “shoe” will be very difficult—you’ll be competing against brands like Nike, Adidas, and Puma. It’s almost impossible to rank in this case.
Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are keywords that contain longer phrases or even full sentences. Some examples are “car repair shops in Dubai” or “barber shops for kids in Abu Dhabi”.
These keywords are more specific and typically get more engagement from searchers. Plus, they’re usually easier to rank for the more specific you get.
That said, always keep in mind that keyword research is a balancing act between choosing keywords that get enough search volume and ones that are feasible to rank for.
Keywords that are too specific probably won’t get enough searches, and keywords that are too general are probably too difficult to rank for.
Getting familiar with keyword research tools
Successful keyword research requires powerful keyword research tools. There are a lot of great options out there at various price points. We’ll discuss some of our favorites.
Google Keyword Planner
If you’re planning to rank on Google, the best place to start is with the free Google Keyword Planner. All you need to start is a Google Account.
Before we discuss, let’s get one common misconception out of the way: you don’t need to run a Google AdWords Campaign to use Keyword Planner. There are just some hoops you need to pass through (as any experienced SEO will tell you).
Once you set up a Google Account, go to Keyword Planner. You should end up on the page below. Click “Go to Keyword Planner”.
You may be asked to verify your account using your password.
When you see the “What’s your advertising goal screen, click the “Switch to Expert Mode” link at the bottom. This will allow you to bypass some unnecessary steps.
On the next page, click “Create an account without a campaign” and click “Submit” on the page after that (don’t worry, Google won’t be asking for your credit card information).
Once you click submit, you’re all set. Click “Explore Your Account” to get started.
You’ll be led to the main screen of Google Ads. There you should click the wrench icon that says “Tools & Settings” on the upper right panel, then select “Keyword Planner”.
You’ll be taken to a screen with two options: “Discover new keywords” and “Get search volume and forecasts”.
“Discover new keywords” will take you to a page where you can enter keywords related to your business, including names of specific brands. We suggest searching not only for those keywords that define your business but for competing brands as well. This will allow you to survey the competition a little bit.
You can even add a URL or website into the input field.
As you can see, this gives you some stats about your chosen keywords, including average monthly searches, the level of competition, the cost of the keyword, and even related keywords.
Google Keyword Planner is a great place to start, especially if you’re new to SEO. It’s free and it gives you a rough picture of what keywords you should target. However, if you look at the column for average monthly searches, the range provided is so broad that it’s difficult to tell how much volume you can expect from a certain keyword.
There are better tools out there if you want to be more precise (more on this later).
“Get search volume and forecasts” will take you to a screen where you can enter keywords.
Once you enter your chosen keywords, you’ll be sent to a page that shows you some basic information about your chosen keyword, including how many clicks and impressions you’re likely to get with a particular budget.
Google Keyword Planner provides very accurate search data (the data comes straight from Google, after all). However, it isn’t really built for SEO.
If you want to kick things up a notch (and you’re willing to invest a few hundred dollars in a proper SEO tool), then there are several options you can explore.
Ever type something in Google’s search bar and get an auto-completed suggestion? That’s Google Suggest at work.
It isn’t an exact science but Google Suggest more or less shows you what keywords get a lot of searches. All you need to do is type a keyword (preferably a short-tail keyword) in the search bar, and let Google work its magic.
Once you have a keyword or a list of keywords from Google Suggest, check their keyword metrics on a keyword research tool. This will confirm if those keywords really do get enough search volume and whether or not they’re easy to rank for.
SEMRush is an awesome all around SEO tool that is especially good for keyword research and competitor analysis. We discussed SEMRush a bit in an earlier chapter, but we’ll take a closer look here.
As far as keyword research, SEMRush provides best in class functionality. It has a keyword research tool that displays your website’s top keywords, including how much traffic those keywords generate, how well your pages rank, and suggestions for other keywords you can target.
It’s quite easy to use. All you need to do is enter your chosen keyword on the search bar at the top of the main dashboard.
This should take you straight to Keyword Analytics.
As you can see, the results provide you with all kinds of metrics about your chosen keyword and suggestions on other keywords you can target.
SEMRush’s keyword research tool not only spits out stats about your keywords, but it also allows you to discover new keywords and optimize your web pages based on keywords it suggests.
In addition, SEMRush has a Keyword Magic Tool that you can use to generate dozens of keyword suggestions from a single entry.
It shows keyword trends, keywords that contain an exact match (phrase match), related keywords, and cost per click metrics in case you want to use a keyword for pay per click advertising.
SEMRush gives you an extra advantage because it can also show you keywords that your competitors are ranking for.
A subscription can cost you anywhere between $99 to $399, depending on your needs. You can also contact SEMRush directly for enterprise level solutions.
Ahrefs has a powerful and user-friendly Keywords Explorer tool that generates a handful of keyword suggestions from your chosen seed keywords. Using it is as simple as keying in one or more keywords into the search bar.
You can filter the results based on search volume, clicks, traffic potential, keyword difficulty, and several others. There are also some interesting albeit less popular metrics that you can explore such as clicks per search, percent paid vs. percent organic clicks, and return rate.
Aside from that, you can use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to explore the SEO profile of any website. It’s an extremely useful feature for anyone looking to optimize their own webpages or do analysis on competitor’s web pages. Using this feature you’ll be able to see which sites are ranking well for your target keywords and if your competitors are paying for those target keywords.
Another feature that stands out, especially if you’re interested in local SEO, is the view that shows you top search volumes by country. This will allow you to find specific locations that generate a lot of volume around your target keywords.
Ahrefs prices its software from $99 for its Lite plan all the way to $999 for its Agency plan.
When using keyword research tools for UAE-based keywords, make sure to explore both English and Arabic keywords. There are times where the volume around a certain keyword isn’t enough, so you need to be able to incorporate both the English and Arabic versions to make the most of your local SEO.
Create specific content for every location
A big part of a local SEO strategy—and any SEO strategy, actually—is building out content. For local SEO, this means creating webpages, blogs, landing pages, etc. dedicated to each of your target locations.
Say you’re running a men’s clothing store with several branches across the UAE. Obviously, you’ll want to have content dedicated to each of your products. Creating just one piece of content to cover all your target locations won’t get you anywhere because you aren’t using local keywords to help you rank.
It could be as simple as creating a web page to each location wherein each page contains testimonials from local customers, pictures of your branch, or even just contact details of each location. That said, the more comprehensive your content, the higher the likelihood of you ranking for your target keywords.
We suggest creating a unique page for each location that you want to target. This will allow you to incorporate local keywords into vital on-page elements such as page titles, header tags, meta-descriptions, and text body.
When doing this, don’t simply swap out the city or state name and copy-paste the rest. This can lead to duplicate content issues that Google may penalize you for, thereby hurting your chances of ranking.
Now, developing unique content for each location is understandably more work, but doing so will ensure a more targeted user experience.
Here’s a list of things you can include in your localised pages:
Localised header tags
|Local reviews and testimonials|
Embedded Google Map
|Photos of your branch|
Types of payment accepted
Local case studies
Employees in each branch
Pro-tip: Make a locations landing page that contains links to each of your locations. These can contain details on your local branch or even fun facts and tidbits about each location.
Also, it helps to treat your location pages like sub-sites that you can expand on. This URL structure from SEMRush is a good model to follow:
The more pages you build out for a particular location, the higher the chance Google will see your site as relevant to that location. Just make sure that the content you add is value adding and helpful to your customers, and not merely a way to keep adding local keywords to your site.
Use schema markup for local SEO
We touched on schema markups in an earlier section. We’re going to dive deeper here.
Schema markup, also called structured data, is essentially a “guidebook” that tells a search engine about a webpage. It isn’t visible to users on the front-end, but it affects local SEO a great deal.
Adding schema markup helps Google understand what your page is about without it having to crawl through every line of text. It’s also an explicit way of telling Google, “Hey, this is a phone number, that is a postal code, and this is an address.”
To better illustrate this point, let’s compare a piece of text with its corresponding schema markup.
Here’s what a user sees in the front-end:
Image from schema.org
And here’s the corresponding schema markup:
Image from schema.org
As you can see, the schema markup contains all kinds of information about the text. This way, Google knows exactly what each page element means.
Let’s dig in a little deeper into markup types that are useful for local SEO.
It comes as no surprise that location is important to local SEO. It’s absolutely important to include your full location details when you fill in your schema markups.
This is what a full address looks like in basic HTML:
Image from schema.org
And this is what it looks like on a schema markup:
Image from schema.org
The example above shows a LocalBusiness schema markup. Under this markup, there are a lot of properties you can use such as address, locality, telephone number, and region. But there are many other properties you can explore if you want to be more specific.
Here’s a full list of schema markups for local businesses.
The great part about the LocalBusiness schema is it allows you to tell google exactly what kind of local business you run—whether it’s a restaurant, bank, library, or shopping center.
You can be as specific as you want with your schema markups. In fact, the more details you provide about your location, the better.
2. Ratings and reviews
We mentioned earlier that reviews lend an air of credibility to your business. When it comes to schema markups for local businesses, reviews are just as important. Ideally, you should have reviews per location or branch.
Here’s what a review looks like in basic HTML:
Image from schema.org
And this is what it looks like on a schema markup:
Image from schema.org
Creating schema markups for reviews helps Google identify easily which elements on your webpage are reviews. This is, again, a positive SEO signal that can help boost your ranking, especially your local ranking, if the review is tied to a particular location.
If you’re in the type of business that holds events, you should add your event details to your schema markup. This can help you rank for searches such as “events near me” or “events in my area”, or even land you a slot on Google’s featured snippet for events.
Here’s what an event looks like in basic HTML:
Image from schema.org
And this is what it looks like on a schema markup:
Image from schema.org
Events are a positive SEO signal because they indicate that your business has activity in a certain area. Make sure to place all your events on schema markups so Google can easily identify them as such.
Use outbound or external links
All major search engines pay attention to external or outbound links.
But, before we dig deeper, let’s differentiate between internal vs external links.
An internal link is a hyperlink to another page within the same domain. For example, if your website is www.weareigloo.com, an internal link is any hyperlink that points to any other page within that domain, like www.weareigloo.com/blog or www.weareigloo/team.
In contrast, an external or outbound link is a link to a web page under any other domain.
As you might have already figured out, outbound links are important because they show a search engine that your content is well-thought out and well-researched—it’s the same logic as citing your sources on an academic paper.
When choosing outbound links, we suggest screening for two main criteria:
The more popular a web page, the better the chances a search engine considers it credible. After all, popular pages get a lot of hits for a reason.
In other words, you are better off linking to a source that is widely accepted as credible (like the New York Times or National Geographic) rather than one that’s obscure.
It’s not enough for an external link to point to a popular site. It’s also important that it points to a source that is (1) relevant to the content at hand and (2) relevant to the anchor text of the link.
Imagine clicking a link that says “diet halal recipes” and it leads you to a page about cars, or clicking a link that points to a topic completely different from the content you’re looking at. It makes no sense—and most search engines will agree.
Here’s a full list from Moz of other factors to consider for external links:
- The trustworthiness of the linking domain
- The popularity of the linking page
- The relevancy of the content between the source page and the target page
- The anchor text used in the link
- The number of links to the same page on the source page
- The number of root domains that link to the target page
- The number of variations that are used as anchor text to links to the target page
- The ownership relationship between the source and target domains
There’s one more thing we’d like to add about external links—stay away from black hat (read: unethical) linking tactics such as link farming or spamdexing. Besides, as Google and other search engines have gotten smarter, these techniques are no longer as effective as they once were.
Modern internet users are more vigilant about their web activity—that is, they’ve learned to spot malicious (and unsecure) websites from a mile away. Not only that, search engines are also much smarter and stricter about the websites they rank.
In fact, any website that doesn’t follow basic security guidelines will find it hard to rank on the first SERP. Below are three things you need to know about how domain security affects SEO.
1. HTTPS is a known ranking signal
We mentioned in an earlier paragraph that Google considers over 200 ranking signals. An HTTPS domain distinction is among the most important of those factors.
HTTPS (short for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) is an internet protocol that transmits data over a secure connection. In simple terms, it’s a set of measures that ensures hackers can’t intercept any exchange between your website and its visitors. You can learn how it works here.
Most browsers will tell you if a website is HTTPS encrypted through the padlock icon on the upper left of the window. A locked icon means that a web page is HTTPS encrypted and an unlocked icon means that it isn’t. Alternatively, you can tell if a website is HTTPS encrypted if you see “https://” precede the page’s URL.
Most content management systems (WordPress, HubSpot, or SquareSpace, etc.) allow you to implement HTTPS easily. Heads up, you may need to pay a small fee for the SSL (Secure Sockets Locker) certificate required for HTTPS. Think of a SSL certificate as the “key” that allows you to encrypt and decrypt data coming from and going to your website.
An additional note: if you accept payments on your website, HTTPS is a basic requirement. All popular online payment systems like PayPal, Stripe, or SecureNet will not process your transactions unless your website has HTTPS.
2. Poor security could get you blacklisted
Poor security puts your website and your visitors at risk from hackers. If you don’t have the basic security measures in place, Google may blacklist your site and exclude you from any ranking altogether.
And, once you get blacklisted, it’s extremely difficult (although possible) to re-enter search rankings.
3. A ‘Not Secure’ on the address bar turns off users
Data shows that 85% of online shoppers will avoid an unsecure website. This comes at no surprise, especially as more internet users are becoming more vigilant and adamant about keeping their data safe.
Having a secure website is a basic requirement for building trust with your users, especially when it comes to handling any sensitive information they may give you.
Local Voice Searches
With the advent of voice recognition software like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant came a surge in voice search. According to a survey by Adobe that interviewed roughly 1,000 US adults, 48-percent of consumers use voice for general web searches. This number will only increase as we continue to see improvements in voice recognition software and widespread adoption of voice-driven applications.
A separate study by Microsoft found that the top-five use-cases for voice search are :
- Searching for a quick fact
- Asking for directions
- Searching for a business
- Researching a product or service
- Making a shopping list
Numbers 2, 3, and 4 will likely involve local SEO, which is why it’s important to utilize voice search as early as now.
As you might expect, keywords in voice search are usually long-tail. You can use Google Suggest or your chosen SEO tool to look for these keywords. We recommend that you start by typing in your city or location name followed by your target keyword. You should be able to get some useful suggestions from there.
As we mentioned before, off-page SEO refers to any search engine optimization activity that happens outside your website. We will talk about seven of the most important off-page SEO techniques below.
1. Link building
Link building is formally defined as the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites (also called backlinks) to yours.
To better explain this, let’s differentiate outbound and inbound links (also called a backlink).
An outbound or external link, as we covered earlier, is a hyperlink that links from your site to another site. Below, in a red box, is an example of an outbound link:
The text inside the red box takes you from a page within www.weareigloo.com to a page within dubai-businessdirectory.com.
A backlink, on the other hand, is a hyperlink from another page to yours. Having plenty of high-quality backlinks is a very important SEO ranking factor.
Backlinks may be acquired organically, in which case others link to your website naturally because they use it as a reference or source, or inorganically, in which case you reach out to other webmasters to link to your site, this is usually done in exchange for a link from your site or content in the form of a guest post.
Backlinks are important because search engines give a lot of weight to backlinks. In fact, an Ahrefs study on 920 million web pages showed a strong correlation between the number of referring domains (i.e. unique sites that point to a page) and ranking.
Pages that had lots of referring domains ranked in the top-100 for more keywords than those with less.
Image from Ahrefs
Think well and hard about what kinds of sites can help yours. Aim for those that provide you both relevance and popularity.
It’s a no-brainer to choose sites that are relevant for your industry. For example, if you’re in the travel industry, you’ll want backlinks from travel blogs and destination sites. Likewise, if you’re in the restaurant industry, you’ll want backlinks from sites that talk about food.
When you’re doing local SEO in the UAE, we suggest seeking out popular local sites.
Search engines not only look at whether or not you have backlinks, they also care about the quality of those links. A backlink from a site that gets a few hundred visitors is less valuable than one that gets millions of visitors.
How does one go about acquiring a backlink?
Report broken links to webmasters
Expert SEOs know all too well that link building is about developing relationships with other webmasters. The easiest way to do this is to help them out before asking for a link.
What better way to do this than to point out their broken links.
Start by finding websites you want links from, then look for pages within those websites that are relevant to you. We find those pages by using the ff query formats on Google:
- keyword + URL of target site
- keyword + inurl:URL of target site
Once you find those pages, scan them for broken hyperlinks. You can use a tool like Check My Links to find broken hyperlinks quickly.
Once you’ve found broken links, reach out the webmaster and provide the exact location of those links. At this point, you can suggest alternatives to those broken links, including some from your own website. Of course, the webmaster won’t always agree to link back to your site, but it’s always a good way to start a relationship.
Offer to write a guest post
First things first: What is a guest post?
A guest post is a post you write and publish on someone else’s website, often in exchange for a backlink. The backlinks are usually woven into the guest post or included at the very end where the writer’s bio is located. It’s a good way for you to gain a backlink and for the website to produce more content.
Many popular websites openly look for guest posts. In fact, popular websites like Medium, Forbes, Mashable, and The Huffington Post provide great opportunities for guest posters.
Again, the key here is relevance and popularity. Find a site that is relevant to your niche and generates a lot of traffic. Some will have a section where you can apply as a contributor or guest poster, whereas, for others, you will need to contact the webmasters directly.
Link building in the UAE
A word on link farming
There are unethical ways to acquire backlinks that Google has since cracked down on since its 2012 Penguin update. One of the most popular techniques is called link farming.
A link farm is a network of spam sites created to artificially increase the number of inbound links pointing to a website. It looks something like the diagram below:
Some blackhat SEO companies use link farms to create backlinks for their clients. Before the 2012 Penguin update, back when Google’s algorithm wasn’t as adept at distinguishing spam from non-spam sites, this strategy allowed smaller sites with little to no traffic to leap up the search rankings. However, today, link farming can get you penalized and altogether banned from Google.
It’s best to acquire links ethically and stay away from these kinds of strategies.
2. Social media marketing
Social media has an important role to play in local SEO. While it isn’t directly considered a ranking factor, it does provide a lot of opportunities for backlinking and distributing content.
From Lyfe Marketing
When a link to your content is posted and shared in social media, it can generate traffic and point users to your website. This is especially true when a post goes viral.
Moreover, if you develop a strong social media presence and are able to build a community, this will reinforce interactions with your website and thereby improve your ranking.
3. Influencer marketing
The influencer landscape in the UAE has grown exponentially over the last few years. More and more brands, local and foreign are enlisting influencers to push their products, and the data is clear—71-percent of marketers say that influencer marketing creates better results than other marketing channels.
When choosing an influencer, it’s best to align with someone that aligns with your audience. Yes, follower count is important, but you also need to pay attention to the kind of followers each influencer has.
Below are some of the top influencers in the UAE:
1. Huda Kattan
@hudabeauty, 40.7m followers
Huda Kattan is the self-made founder of Huda Beauty. She boasts a beauty line of over 140 products that bring in at least a whopping $250 million in sales annually.
2. Joelle Mardinian
@joellemardinian, 11.6m followers
Joelle Mardinian is considered one of the ten most powerful influencers in beauty by Forbes Middle East. She owns the region’s leading beauty clinic, Maison De Joelle.
3. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
@faz3, 9.3m followers
Sheik Hamdan is the Crown Prince of Dubai. He is also called Fazza by his followers. Apart from his life as a politician, he is a popular figure in the worlds of extreme sports, luxury cars, and social causes.
4. Noor Stars
@noorstars, 6.5m followers
Noor Stars is a YouTube creator with one of the largest followings in the Arab world. Though she got her start doing tutorial videos and challenges, she has been booked non-stop by global brands like KitKat and Pantene
@bin_baz, 5.2m followers
Abdulaziz Baz is an Emirati comedian who’s a veteran in entertainment. He’s best known for his slice-of-life comedy that portrays the seemingly conservative Middle Eastern lifestyle in a more playful light.
As of 2019, video has overtaken blogs and infographics as the number one form of media used in content marketing. Furthermore, demand for video is growing at an unprecedented rate, as platforms like Youtube, Facebook, Vimeo, TikTok are continuing to amass more and more users and views.
Video is an emerging channel that local businesses in the UAE can definitely tap. The key is to make a shift from ads to content creation.
Moreover, there’s a growing sentiment within the SEO community about YouTube becoming the second best search engine. These days, more and more users are taking their queries to YouTube, especially for how-tos, informational content, and news. Even in social media, posts with videos get significantly more clicks than those without.
Here are a few tips to get it right:
Focus on informing, not selling
Modern consumers dislike ads, but they have an increasing appetite for video tutorials, reviews, and episodic content. If you want to grow your local SEO with video, it’s important to focus on educating and entertaining your audience instead of simply selling to them.
For instance, if you’re in the beauty industry, it’s much better to produce makeup tutorials than run video ads. Likewise, if you’re in the fitness space, it’s more effective to create workout videos than sell equipment.
Pay attention to length
What’s the ideal video length?
There’s no single answer. It depends on your industry.
For example, the top video for “places to eat in uae” was 28-minutes long, whereas the top video for “what to wear in dubai” was 12-minutes long. The ideal video length in some industries can be as short as 3-minutes, while for others, as long as 1-hour.
It takes some research and some trial and error. Start by entering your local keyword into YouTube’s search bar and pay attention to the results: How long or short are the videos with the most views? What topics do they cover?
When you do start producing videos, experiment with different lengths and formats. You’ll slowly but surely discover what works for you and your audience.
We’ve already covered a lot of ground on local SEO in the UAE. We didn’t tackle the topics in this section because they deserve their own section.
More on languages
While the main languages in the UAE are English and Arabic, there is significant demand for other languages because of the country’s large population of migrants.
Iran is right across the Gulf. Due to the close proximity of the two countries, there are many Persians living in Dubai. As a matter of fact, Persians are quite influential in Emirati business circles. It’s worth taking a look at Farsi if you have a sizable Persian audience.
Although the UAE is an Arab country, the country’s largest ethnic population is from India. Most Indians living in the UAE can speak English or Arabic, but some of them may be more comfortable doing their searches in Hindi.
A minority of Indians and Pakistani in the UAE speak Urdu instead of Hindi. Urdu speakers are definitely a smaller population than the others, but definitely worth looking into, most especially when you’re dealing with low-volume keywords.
The UAE is a conservative country, and are some things you absolutely can’t do or say. The country’s ISPs ban pornography, politically sensitive material, and anything that otherwise conflicts with local moral values.
It’s absolutely important that you pay attention to the UAE’s cultural sensitivities. This is a consideration that the local government takes very, very seriously. Violating local laws could get you banned on search engines or, worse, in trouble with local authorities.
The UAE is a technology-forward country that holds a lot of promise for businesses that are able to strengthen their local SEO. As more people get comfortable with search, which is happening sooner rather than later, businesses will have greater reason to improve the way they operate online.
Your local SEO journey is just beginning, and, as long as you follow the tips and tricks we outlined in this ebook, you’ll be well on your way to the top of the search results. Always remember that SEO is a long game—you need to give it time and (a lot of patience) before you see results.
If you learned a lot from this ebook and want to learn more about local SEO in the UAE, feel free to read our blog or get in touch with us through our website.