If you are in UAE, KSA or anywhere in the Middle East and even remotely connected to Digital Marketing, you might have given a thought about what digital marketing initiatives you should take this year for your brand or organization.

There are many studies out there talking about the online marketing trends; but is there any report that any report that is customized for this region? One of the mistakes that many Digital Marketing Managers based in the region do is to copy what is being done in Western World. While drawing inspiration from digitally developed countries is good, one needs to take local perspectives before launching any initiatives. The diversity of digital marketing trends (content marketing, social media marketing, marketing automation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality) makes it even important to select the best fit for your organization.

So, let’s explore the Top Digital Marketing Trends, a list that is customized for this region.


The vintage, original online marketing tactic of using Search Engines to enhance your brand’s visibility, is believe it or not, still not well adapted in the Middle East region. 

Search engine optimization and search engine marketing can be a confusing concept to grasp. Is there even a difference between them?

Both terms are often used interchangeably, which makes matters even worse. It is important to understand the difference between the two terms and that they are different.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO is essentially a component of the larger category, SEM. According to Google’s Knowledge Graph, search engine optimization is “the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.”

The SEO industry is continually changing due to the frequent changes made to Google’s algorithm. But, there is one aspect of SEO that stays constant: SEO is made up of On-Page and Off-Page activities.

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

According to Wikipedia, “Search engine marketing is a form of Internet marketing that involved the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPS) through optimization and advertising.” SEM includes SEO tactics, as well as several other search marketing tactics.

Other than search engine optimization, SEM includes the use of paid search, such as pay per click (PPC) listings and advertisements. Most of the time, SEM strictly includes PPC campaigns and activities, but if you use SEO and paid search, that falls under SEM efforts.

Which is better?

The main difference between these two terms is that search engine optimization is simply a component of search engine marketing. As mentioned above, SEM includes components of paid search, such as PPC and also SMM (social media marketing).

Many marketers debate whether one is better than the other. I would argue that organic SEO is the best approach, but as you can see, true SEM cannot succeed without the use of organic SEO.

Additionally, there are many situations where PPC (a component of SEM) makes more sense than SEO. For example, if you are first launching a site and you want immediate visibility, it is a good idea to create a PPC campaign because it takes less time than SEO, but it would be unwise to strictly work with PPC and not even touch search engine optimization.

Although organic SEO takes longer to show results, in the end it will be less costly and you will establish a search credibility that you might not establish with PPC.


Among the top content marketing trend for 2018 is delivering highly personalized messages. Remember that personalized content is not limited to “Hello $First Name$” messages. With an advanced marketing automation platform, you can create timely and relevant content based on a customer’s history and behavior.

Let’s take the example of Target, the retailer — every Target customer is assigned a Guest ID number after the very first interaction with the brand. That ID is used to store the customer’s demographic information, ranging from ethnicity to job history, and to track buying behavior. And by doing the latter, specifically with those who had baby registries with the store, Target’s marketing analysts were able to form a “pregnancy prediction” score, which allowed them to determine which purchasing patterns indicated a customer was in the early expectant stages.


In 2018, start embracing video content as never before.

Facebook has been prioritizing video content in its feed for a long time and LinkedIn has recently adopted the same approach. The number of people watching Instagram Stories has exceeded Snapchat.

Also, users are willing to consume content in different formats. This is where video marketing comes in.

See for yourself:

  • 79 % of consumers would rather watch a video to learn about a product, than read text on a page.
  • 84 % of consumers have been convinced to make a purchase after watching a brand’s video.

Every social media platform is giving live video features and adding new features to their platforms. Live video is a great way to connect with your audience directly. Live videos will also play a major role in influencer marketing.



The number of companies investing in Live Chat will grow in the future as it gradually becomes an important channel of communication. In 2018, consider investing in Live Chat to improve customer experience on your website.

Custom chatbots in messaging apps will play a crucial role in customer experience. Chatbots allow brands to streamline the process of placing an order which in turn drives more sales.


Last year, the growing power of social media influencers and bloggers was evident by a research from Dubai-based PR agency BPG Cohn & Wolfe which showed that 71 per cent of UAE residents aged 18-40 are happy to take advice online before purchasing.

For a country whose Social Media penetration is the highest in the world (a staggering 99%, as reported by Hootsuite Report in January 2017); this is not surprising. Snapchat stars, YouTubers and Bloggers in the UAE are said to be commanding huge fees to talk about products, with many even issuing rate cards specifying what it costs for individual mentions on Facebook or Twitter.

For some interesting examples, check here.


Criteo, the commerce marketing technology company, released an analysis that explores shoppers’ winding path to purchase across numerous devices, browsers and apps. A primary finding of the research reveals retailers have a greater impact on mobile devices when an engaging app and a strong mobile web presence are available.

Mobile Growth

Shoppers are constantly on-the-move, both physically and mentally—with short attention spans when online. The mobile-first shopper is dictating the digital marketing strategies brands and retailers are executing across all channels.

App Opportunity

Retailers looking to compete with industry giants can design a seamless in-app experience to remove barriers to purchase.

  • Globally, advertisers who generate transactions on all environments (mobile web + in app) see more than 50 percent of transactions completed on mobile.
  • In the US, advertisers see 68 percent of all sales taking place on mobile devices. In-app accounts for 71 percent of mobile transactions for retailers who generate sales on both mobile web and in-app.

Shopping Moments

Daily and hourly sales trends underscore the importance of retailers’ ability to execute campaigns on all screens, around the clock, based on their core shoppers’ behavioral patterns.

Combining Data

Understanding a shopper across all of their devices can unlock where they might be going based on where their journey began.

  • Cross-device data lets marketers understand the winding customer journey. A total of 41 percent of post-click desktop transactions, in total, come from another device.

Combining cross-device data to better understand and target shopper intent allows marketers to capture higher-value shoppers. This is most apparent in the high tech/computing and health/beauty verticals.

Omnichannel Matters

Online and offline sales should not be evaluated in a silo. Rather, offline sales boost shopper knowledge and in turn, online results.

  • Retailers that are successful in combining offline and online data are able to apply more than four times (4X) as much sales data to improve marketing efforts.


The explosive growth of mobile devices unlocks the potential of mobile payments. More and more businesses introduce mobile payment options in their stores with ApplePay and SamsungPay being the two key providers.

According to GlobalWebIndex, mobile payment penetration is shaking up the whole world.

A – Q4 2015; B – Q2 2017


If you are a Digital Marketer in the UAE, KSA or anywhere in the region; do not get influenced by rising trends in other parts of the world. It is vital to know your region’s demographics before launching your brand’s digital marketing strategy. What works in USA, UK, India or Singapore will not necessarily bring you results here. Twitter, for example is predicted to “die a slow death” in 2018. But how can you ignore Twitter in KSA which has highest number of active users in the Arab world and the highest user penetration in the world?

Therefore, think Global but act Local.

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Kiran Borkar

Having been part of the Internet Industry since the late Nineties, he believes Nostradamus goofed up by not predicting how the World Wide Web would change the world.

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