The 101 series of Website localization in Middle East- Part 1

In the era of IoT, using websites for presenting your services/products is not an optional thing, and the same is true when talking to your prospective customers in their language/s.

Therefore, localizing your website correctly is very important, and, if you are looking to localize your website into any of the Middle Eastern languages, you might want to carefully consider the points below before you start doing so:

- Localization is not just translation
Localization is considered as a multi-level translation process, with multiple elements such as images, gestures, colors and icons.

The target market can be one country, for example Germany or France, or many countries with a mutual language and culture, like the Middle East.

- Arabic is the lingua franca for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Although many of these countries have much in common, every country has its uniqueness.
This could mean more customized localization, but also advantages because of diversity.
To bring a unique localized experience to your customer, you should readjust these elements.

1. Culture

A) Image
It’s always the key to attracting the reader to read the text. Sometimes it can deliver the message more efficiently (an image is better than a thousand words). To make your image deliver a message, it should imitate the target culture. Speaking about the Middle East culture, you should consider the following with images:

- Ethnicity
The Middle East is diverse in its races. This comes from the communication between the people in this region and the rest of the world, as the Middle East was the heart of the ancient civilizations. So it’s normal to have many different skin colors in the same country, although the pure Caucasian look, with blond hair and blue eyes, is just not that common. To be on the safe side when you want to create an image representing Middle Eastern people, try to include as many different races as you can: black Africans, people with tanned skin and white skin, and maybe others with black or brown hair.

- Symbols
Some companies make mistakes with symbols when they target ME markets.For instance, they have an image of a man wearing a ghutrah and iqal
(akind of headdress with a band round it). This is popular in the Gulf countries, but not in places like Egypt or Morocco.(Pictures of the ghutra).

- Conservative vs. modern
Conservativeness seems to be a stereotype for this region. However, it’s not the same in all countries. For instance, the Gulf countries are considered as the most conservative, while a country like Lebanon is more modern and oriented towards the West. But, when you look at the UAE, you can see a society with much diversity. Although the differences vary, in localization it’s better to stay with the average, what is acceptable for the majority. The majority don’t like too much women’s skin to be revealed, or intimacy between men and women.

B) Seasons/ holidays
To make sure that you hit the right tone with your readers, you need to take care of small details, like weekends and holidays. For many Arabs, summer is not the season that they are waiting for. The region is very hot when compared to Europe and America, for instance. Also, when it’s fall in Europe for example, it’s still summer in the Middle East, so may you write something like fall is on its way, while it’s 45 degrees in Egypt! Also the weekend is always confusing. Weekends in the Middle East are normally Friday and Saturday, so the week starts on Sunday. If you write a blog on your website and say: it’s Monday, let’s make a fresh start for the week, or about how to spend your Sundays…, it sounds weird.

2. Formatting

· The battle of the digits
Arabic or Hindi digits? When a company translates its website into Arabic, this question always comes up.Maybe it’s obvious, Hindi digits, but no, no one size fits all. Hindi digits don’t go for every website, so let’s look at some examples:A food brand needs to localize their website with menus and offers etc. This is an everyday product that the average man in the street would use, so you have to keep it simple for your consumers.However, if it’s an airline website that means your customer is probably more educated and used to Arabic digits. Also, it’s better for you as a service provider in this case to unify the digits to avoid any confusion.

Some parts MUST be as source view (which means we can’t use local digits for the target language), such as:

- Part numbers
(which are often printed on the original part)

- Product names
(which are often printed on the product),
for example MXXX Addresses if not translated, for example 7 XXX St. New York

- User interfaces
(Any data appearing on the interface should remain as source, if there is not any localized interface)

- International policies and agreements (such as the International Organization for Standardization or ISO XXXX).

3. SEO

Today, creating good localized content is not the only way to go global. Good content without good SEO means that your website will get lost, buried among the tremendous number of websites on the internet. The good news is you can boost your content in the search results, if you give it an SEO kick. But how you can do this with Arabic?

I have to say that languages have things in common when it comes to SEO strategies, but in this blog, we need to focus on Arabic, and this can be useful for other RTLs, like Persian and Hebrew.

- The Devil is in the details
Many companies concentrate on finding the right keywords, which is important in the SEO, but what about localizing multimedia formats—such as images, videos, podcasts, dynamic PDFs?
Giving an image description in Arabic helps your website to appear in the first searches.

- Keyword searches
Selecting the right keyword is always critical in Arabic, even if you use MSA (modern standard Arabic).

If you’re looking to optimize a website for regional or specific country users, in the Gulf region or the UAE for example, you need to consider the local dialect of your product term, so for example:
Mobile phones: There are multiple words for these in Arabic (jawal- جوال), (khalawy- خلوي) or even transliteration (mobile- موبايل).

Egyptian users prefer to use the transliterated form موبايل,
but for Saudi Arabians it’s جوال -jawal. You can see below an analysis of these words and other examples: