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Seven Digital Marketing Mistakes UAE Brands Make (And How To Fix Them) Having worked with several UAE businesses, agencies and developers, I feel that I have discovered a range of areas where they typically fall short, when considering their digital efforts.

By Col Skinner

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Information Technology Report 2015, the UAE has the second highest internet penetration in the world, with a We Are Social study in January 2016 saying 96% of the population here is online.

With that being the case, after working for eight years in the UK digital marketing industry, I was really keen to see how things differ in the UAE, a country with one of the fastest growing economies, where digital uptake should be strong.

In September 2015, I was privileged enough to be invited over to Dubai to work with, train, and support several businesses, all based under the same family owned business group.

Nine months later, and having worked with several UAE businesses, agencies and developers, I feel that I have discovered a range of areas where they typically fall short, when considering their digital efforts.

Below are seven common digital marketing mistakes that many businesses in the UAE currently make- and how you can avoid them with your enterprises:

1. Poor quality websites

One of the things that shocked me the most in the UAE was the level of dated or poorly designed websites in the country. Price appears to be dictating the end result- businesses appeared to be employing low-cost developers from Pakistan and India, and then finding that their small budget got them a poor and often outdated website.

Many UAE businesses appear happy to spend money on large glossy print campaigns offline, but forget the importance of a quality presence online. As more and more people gain access to the internet, your online presence should be just as important as offline, whether you are a B2B or a B2C brand.

When planning a new website, my advice would be to consider functionality, usability, messaging, calls to action, and most importantly, content. Think about what you want the website to say about you as a brand. The chances are that words like "innovative", "trustworthy" and "high quality" will come to mind. If your website does not match those characteristics, then why should anyone buy into your brand?

With platforms like WordPress offering a range of free and paid templates, there is now no excuse to have a low quality website design.

Related: Penetrating Your Online Target Market

2. No documented strategy

In 2015, I did a survey of 55 startups to better understand the digital marketing issues and hurdles they face. The survey results found that a massive 71% of startups do not have a documented digital strategy.

Now while that shocked me, it turns out that a lot of established brands also do not have their digital strategies documented. This makes it very difficult to be efficient and retain consistent messages across all channels and departments. My advice is to ensure that your brand, however large or small, has some form of documented digital strategy, covering a minimum of three months in the future. Ideally, it should be 12 months, but that is often hard to predict and budget for.

The format of this digital strategy can be whatever you like, but it should cover the following key areas:

  • Strategic overview
  • Keyword research
  • Brief competitor analysis
  • Ad messaging
  • Testing recommendations
  • Schedule of activity
  • Objectives
  • Goal tracking
  • Media budgets

3. Don't forget mobile

The UAE now has the third highest mobile commerce usage rate, with 40% of the population having purchased products via mobile, according to the We Are Social study in January 2016. Mobile phones have 49% of all web traffic in the UAE, with desktop only taking 40%. With a large amount of the working population commuting on a daily basis, mixed with the high availability of the latest technology, I was not surprised to see this figure was high.

But I was surprised to see how few businesses appear to have a mobile friendly website, or any marketing channels dedicated or tailored towards mobile visitors. Your business and marketing team need to have a sound mobile strategy, considering both paid media and SEO (organic search) purposes.

If your website is not currently mobile friendly or responsive, I suggest looking into getting a dedicated mobile website created or simply getting a responsive version of your website that works across desktop and mobile. Google have created this free tool to test how mobile friendly your website is, which in itself is a strong sign that this is something that should be at the front of any brand's priorities.

Consider also paid search campaigns (PPC), where you only pay when someone calls through the advert. They can be great for B2B brands looking to generate leads directly through search engines like Google. Social media advertising through Facebook or Twitter can also be targeted solely at those on mobile devices with very cost effective controlled campaigns.

4. Lack of personalization

With the pace of new technology comes the ability to share more and more with brands and platforms. This breakthrough has created the ability to personalize the user's experience to gain their attention and custom.

Remarketing is one example of utilizing personalization for digital marketing. Once a user visits your website, they are added to a remarketing list, which monitors their activity on your site. If they leave without completing a previously selected conversion, they are eligible for targeting with a tailored/personalized advert. This makes them feel like you are engaging directly with them, and can work very well for ecommerce or B2C brands.

Advertising through Facebook and Twitter opens up a range of personalization opportunities for adverts that are tailored to match the demographics you target. So, for example, you can put an advert in front of people who are, say, engaged to be married, or who live in a specific city. However, it is worth always remembering that less user personalization is better than the incorrect user personalization.

5. Lack of measurement

One of the biggest selling points of digital marketing is the amount of data you can acquire and utilize in your campaigns, particularly when compared to offline or print campaigns, where you just have to look at the number of sales and hope they increase during that campaign. But there seems to be a real missed opportunity with UAE businesses that have an online presence but are not tracking data. Accurate data is the first step to making smarter business decisions, reducing costs, and learning more about the products and solutions you sell on your site.

Google Analytics is the industry standard tool for tracking visitor behavior to your website. Not only is it very easy to install, it is also completely free. So there is no reason that you shouldn't have it installed on your website. I recommend paying particular attention to the following data statistics in Google Analytics:

  • Time on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Percentage of new visits
  • Pages per session

If call leads are important to you, then consider call tracking from a provider such as ResponseTap (or a UAE equivalent). This essentially generates a unique number for every website user that lets you track where they came from before calls and attribute back to a campaign. These unique tracked numbers also work great for tracking call leads from offline campaigns such as billboards.

Related: How To Make Your Business Messaging Effective In The Age Of Video

6. Overlooking paid media advertising

Perhaps I am wrong, but in the UAE, there appears to be a running theme of advertising being about going one better or bigger than the competition. Because digital advertising is not something that a business owner can show off about (like a massive poster down Sheikh Zayed Road), it seems to get left out of marketing strategies.

I am a huge advocate of paid media formats for brands looking to get in front of their potential customer or client. You can match up your customer's online behavior with touch points that let you market to them directly. Most of the paid media platforms offer a pay per engagement model, where you only pay when someone actually engages with your advert. They also offer campaigns that can be instantly turned on or off for effective control over spend or budgets.

Paid media, as a term, covers a range of platforms/mediums including:

  • PPC/Paid search
  • Display advertising
  • Video advertising
  • Social media advertising
  • Remarketing

In the UK, my clients can pay between AED27 and AED80 for a click through Google Adwords. This is because the market is so saturated with brands bidding on keywords. The research I did for my Dubai clients showed virtually no businesses utilizing paid search, despite the fact that usage of search engines like Google is where virtually everyone starts their online journey.

Please don't take the "if we build it, they will come" mentality to online. Yes, a website is the first step to gain online revenue, but you must be where your customers are in order to get them to visit your website. Paid media is the most logical, cost effective method to do just that.

7. Lack of testing and experimentation

Many UAE businesses often trial some new digital marketing platform, medium, advertising etc., and very quickly decide if it works or doesn't. The beauty of the many elements of digital marketing is that you can instantly amend or change things for immediate gratification. Here are some examples of things that should be tested:

  • Website calls to action
  • Various ad messaging
  • Different ad platforms
  • Different landing pages
  • Alternative media formats
  • Diverse online offers and deals

Track and record any testing to understand the repercussions of your changes. This way you will know what had a positive effect and what caused a negative downturn.

So, to sum things up, if you tick the above boxes with your enterprise, then you are laying the foundations for a successful online presence, which will increase the measured reach of your brand to lead to potential sales. There is no quick fix for a successful digital marketing strategy, but by embracing the above points, you will be ahead of the majority of your Middle Eastern competition.

Related: Staying On Top Of Trends: Local SEO And Your Business

Col Skinner

Founder and Digital Consultant, PROFOUNDRY

Col Skinner is founder and Digital Consultant at PROFOUNDRY, a UK-based digital marketing consultancy that works with startups, SMEs and brands around the world, offering strategic digital services that increase ROI for their respective enterprises. Col has been working in the digital marketing industry for nine years, and he is driven by opportunities to get under the skin of businesses. He likes to keep things simple, jargon-free, and practical, as digital marketing shouldn’t be an intimidating topic.

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