Needless to say that developing compelling Arabic content is a task of the utmost importance for the success any business operating in the Middle East. This period in the age of the Arabic e-verse is actually the best time to develop content, as most of the Arabic digital landscape is in its teen years: raw, energetic, and full of opportunities.
Developing content that contributes effectively in growing the business isn’t a one-time shot, but an ongoing process and a long-term investment; but whenever the topic of digital content comes up, you will hear wildly diverse and opposed opinions on how to approach it. Things get even more complicated when we talk about Arabic content –where most of the current work revolves around mirroring the English content, or is absent altogether from the business plan.
Having worked in very different content environments through the years, from writing feature stories in daily newspapers to drafting digital content strategies for international brands, we learned the best and most efficient approaches for developing Arabic content that’s bound to give you results and stand out in the crowded environment of the world wide web. What’s better is that we’re sharing all of it with you. Read on.
Phase 1: Content Ideation
When I first moved from newspapers and magazines to digital agencies, I was amazed how little thought is given to the ideation process in the agency world, especially given that this task becomes more important when you expect your content to contribute to your business. You don’t want just to tell any story, you want to tell your story, and one that calls people into action.
The success of the content is largely defined in the ideation process if you chose the wrong approach it doesn’t matter if you publish your content on the most popular website in the world, it just won’t click, or it might generate a lot of buzz that doesn’t reflect in numbers for your business.
When you’re in the ideation phase, there’s a number of predictable recommendations that you might hear, depending on the trend of the year: infographics were all the rage a while back, so everyone was being recommended to develop and publish infographics. This year you’ll probably hear that you need to develop short videos, long written guides, podcasts and whatnot. The problem with all canned recommendations is that they’re not optimized to suit your business needs; an infographic might be great for an entertainment business, but might not be the best way to drive leads for fog headlights. Hence the importance of doing your own ideation process, so keep these things in minds while you’re brainstorming content:
- According to your business needs, define the purpose of your content, what do you want it to do: contribute to leads, sales, or generate awareness?
- Create the type of content that your business needs and not content that everyone else seems to be doing. Maybe you need a page that covers all the information about your product, or maybe you want to create interactive guides to funnel visitors towards filling an online form for counseling. What’s great about content is its extreme versatility, there’s no one way to do content, but there’s a way to do the right content for you.
- Make data-driven decisions when you can. Do the appropriate keyword research to see what people are looking for, and see what your competitors are doing. Also, look at the performance of your current content and let it guide you; which content is doing better? Which type generated more leads in the past year? It’s always better to build your decisions on real data and start from what worked best and tweak it and test additions and variations along the way. You might end up with an entirely different product of content by the end of the year, but content built on concrete data is definitely more ROI-friendly than content built on guessing and estimation.
- Do the ideation in the local language. This one is very important. It is, of course, more budget-friendly to just come up with the initial idea and translate the final content into other languages later. However, it pays off a lot to have native speakers during brainstorming that can evaluate the proposed ideas from the local language speakers perspective. Different slang, different cultural themes, and cultural sensitivities are all factors that significantly affect the content and its impact on its intended audience.
- Don’t plan content exclusively for social media. The problem with exclusive social media content, like Facebook photos and tweets, is that its impact stays within the confines of social media and the site that it was created on. The solution here is, instead of creating content for social media, create content that has the potential to do well on social media. Any content that has high-value and that’s optimized well has the potential to do well on social media, but not the other way around.
Phase 2: Content Creation
Once the ideas are decided on, content creation is a pretty straight-forward process. There are some challenges, however, that are related to optimization. Any online content nowadays is directly competing with thousands of pages in the search results, and it has to be written for search algorithm robots as much as it’s written for human users. So keep these things in mind during content creation:
- Optimize your content within the known SEO guidelines. Publishing any content without search engine optimization will put it at a great disadvantage on day one. SEO guidelines cover the titles, headings, meta descriptions, and the content itself. The challenge here is to keep the content as natural and dynamic while optimizing it at the same time: too much optimization and you risk making flat boring content – too little and you risk your content being buried into oblivion in search engines.
- Develop your online tone of voice and know your audience. This tip goes without saying and most brands think they have their tone of voice set before developing any content, but the issue is that offline tones of voice don’t always translate well when they go into online mode. What we mentioned before about optimization is also an influential factor. Don’t assume that just because you have a defined tone of voice for your press releases, that it’ll work out the same way for online content. Sometimes the tone of voice you have needs slight adjustments for the digital age, and sometimes you have the right tone of voice but the type of content you want doesn’t fit it; light-hearted infographics won’t mesh well with a formal tone of voice and an audience of large-scale investors for example. Learn how different tones of voice affect the user’s engagement online, and develop one that fits your audience. What’s generating buzz on social media might not be the best content to produce for your own audience and vice versa. Your tone of voice needs to be digestible enough to be edible online, but not so much that it loses its identity or starts addressing the wrong audience. Finding the right tone of voice might take some time and experimentation but it’s worth it.
- Localization, not translation. This follows the advice we shared on the importance of ideation in the local language. If you initially wrote the content in another language, it’s often better to avoid literal translations. Nothing is wrong with literal translations, but if you want impact and engagement, you would want to include the nuances of the language you’re using, you’ll want to use examples and ideas that originate from or are closer to the local culture.
- Quality over quantity, but also quantity. The Arabic digital landscape is surprisingly still very lacking. This is a problem pointed out by many Arabic content creators, as there are more than 180 million internet users who browse the internet primarily in Arabic, yet Arabic content only accounts for about 3 % of the global online content. This presents a huge opportunity for anyone who is willing to develop quality Arabic content. There’s a big gap lack in both quality and quantity of Arabic online content in nearly every field, so if Arabic is still low on your list of priorities, now is the best time to pick it up.
Phase 3: Content Publishing
The biggest mistake you can do is deciding on your content and creating it before knowing where to publish it. All the tips on content publishing could as well be included in the ideation phase; that’s how important they are, but for the sake of simplicity I’m including them in a paragraph on their own. When you reach this phase, stay mindful of the following:
- Decide if you want to publish your content on owned, affiliated, or outreached media. There are three main types of places where you can publish your media: 1) websites and blogs that directly own – these are usually the easiest but might have most limited reach compared with 2) Affiliated platforms. Affiliated platforms can be anything from sister company websites to niche online magazines that publish your content for a retainer and the likes. This category widens your reach, but you might have less control over the content and it can get expensive. A third category is 3) Outreached platforms. These third-party platforms can range from a small blog with a few hundred readers to an international news site with millions of unique visitors every day. This category is the hardest but also yields the most rewards when done right. It requires a dedicated outreach campaign and you have the least control over your content, but the payoff is usually worth it. We’ll talk about outreach more in the last part.
- Understand that the publishing platform dictates the type and tone of the content. For example, if you aim to publish your content on third-party websites, it doesn’t make sense to make 100 % branded content or to keep the corporate tone of voice all through, as this would greatly impact the chances of it being published. This is something to be mindful of during the content creation phase.
- Don’t fill your content with links. Assuming that one of the goals of publishing on third-party websites is to enhance your SEO rankings, it’s important to avoid filling your content with links to your own website. One good placed link is enough to give you all the value that a page can deliver, and it runs less risk of annoying publishers, readers, and search algorithms alike.
- Funnel visitors to a page that converts. This applies especially to content you publish on your website. Although not all the content you make will aim to directly convert, it still provides a great opportunity to push your business goals so use it to help in funneling visitors to pages where they can take an action. Whether it’s booking a flight, renting a boat, or requesting an appointment, make the distance between content and conversion pages as short and straightforward as you can. This also means that you have to choose a good placement for the content on your website; if you bury it in the third sub-folder of a secondary subdomain without any trace of it anywhere on the homepage or in the site map, expect it to perform accordingly.
- Link your content together. It might not seem important in the beginning, but once you start producing and publishing more content it’s important to design it in a neat structure on your website instead of scattering it all around. Internal linking between all your content pieces is a great way to boost your site’s structure in the eyes of search engines, but it’s topped by a neat URL and sitemap structure.
Phase 4: Content Marketing
So now you have created an excellent piece of content, and you can publish it on your website but its reach will be very limited, what to do? Here’s where content marketing comes in.
A lot of people think that content projects end once the content is ready, but this means you’ll miss out on the greatest opportunities your content might offer. Doing content is a long-haul project, and most of the benefits will be reaped long after the content has been published. In SEO, new content needs a couple of weeks to a month to be crawled by search engines and affect the website’s performance, but as long as the content is valuable it has the capacity to keep on generating links and value over months and sometimes years after its release.
However, there’s an interesting equation at play here: the more links and visits your content has, the more important it’ll seem to search engines and the more visibility it’ll get, generating even more links and visits. So the initial push that you do for content marketing and outreach will have a good and positive effect on how your content performs over the long run. Here are some of the things to be mindful of for content marketing:
- Have a dedicated budget for outreach. Liaising with digital influencers, bloggers, and websites is a long-term task and it requires consistent effort if you want your content to be published and seen on quality third party pages. These relationships pay off over the long term, as long as your content is genuine and providing value for the publishers. The digital landscape today is in a way that one tweet can be the start of a viral phenomenon.
- Quality over quantity, especially in the Arabic e-verse. In linkbuilding, quantity does not make for bad quality: one good clean link is much, much better than ten links from low-ranking or suspicious pages. This problem is frequently encountered by content specialists in the Arabic digital universe, where there’s an over-abundance in low-quality forums and pages, and a lack of quality websites. However, this makes the case for putting a budget in outreach as discovering quality websites and building mutually beneficial relationships with them is a significant task.
- Don’t hesitate to use paid ads like PPC, display, and social. These channels can improve the performance of content in the short-run, and it’s a perfect complimentary tactic to be used side by side by the long-term approach of organic outreach.
Phase 5: Measure Content Performance
Once the party is over, it’s time to open the presents. Measuring how your content fared is a natural part of a good content strategy. Ideally, your content team should be proficient in analyzing the data of their content and coming up with the right conclusions to refine your strategy and improve future results. That’s one of the reasons why all the members of RBBi’s team including the copywriters are certified in Google Analytics and engaged with this data on a daily basis.
Analyzing the performance of your content goes more than just looking at the raw numbers, though. Here’re a few extra tips to make the most of your performance measurement:
- Document everything. There are a lot of details that cannot be documented by Google Analytics, like the links that you got, the profile of the backlinks you acquired, the number of shares on social media…etc. There are good tools for these that are available online, and they can also be tracked on a simple excel sheet.
- Differentiate between impact and buzz. Some performance experts highly recommend to differentiate between these two types of results: buzz measures social media engagement like shares, comments, and likes, while impact measures the backlinks that link back to your content. The first one provides wider reach but has less value from a long-term SEO perspective, while the second one provides concrete long-term benefits as it directly affects the page’s visibility in search results. Understanding the difference between the two will help you fine-tuning your content and provide you with a better understanding of its performance. For example, you might find out that the reason why a page you thought is successful isn’t converting is because it generated more buzz than impact, or you might discover a page that didn’t fare well on social media but provided good value nonetheless.
- Analyze your performance, tweak accordingly, test, compare, rinse and repeat. This is how data-driven strategies are built and it’s pretty self-explanatory.
So to sum it up, all the internet is based on content, and as the Arabic digital universe opens up, doing content the right way will reap you immense benefits in the long run.