B2B Content Marketing in the Middle East

(a report by Alexandra Tohme, February 2016)

Up to 70% of buyers complete their research and pre-buying activity online, yet B2B brands operating in the Middle East are struggling to be found. The regional B2B publishers fare no better, with 53% of them witnessing a significant decline in site traffic during H2 2015.

This report examines the digital presence of B2B brands in the Middle East and the difficulty of the traditional brand - distributor relationship when it comes to online search and discovery.

It also looks at the major B2B publishers in the Middle East and examines the trends in digital content consumption across various publisher titles.

Top 10 Highlights of the report:

  1. Local buyers overwhelmingly favour Whitepaper style content that contain regional case studies but it is not being supplied
  2. Buyers cannot easily find local agents and distributors online or engage with them
  3. 1 publishing house controls almost 50% of the B2B content market
  4. Only 40% of B2B websites surveyed had enough traffic to be audited
  5. 53% of sites witnessed a decline in traffic during H2 2015
  6. 6 out of the bottom 7 worst performing sites in terms of declining traffic belong to one publishing house
  7. Sectors where an increase was seen in traffic were Advertising, Media, Production and Broadcasting
  8. Only 26% of site traffic comes from the UAE
  9. The USA and India are key sources of traffic to B2B websites
  10. Increased activity on Social Channels positively correlates with site traffic

(Best viewed on Desktop, however you can read this on your mobile in horizontal mode)


Digital Capability of Local Distributors

Website design and function

A qualitative review of the websites of regional conglomerates that act as agents or distributors of international brands reveal:

  • That many still employ Flash (rendering large parts of the site non viewable on certain browsers),

  • A lack of responsive design (meaning a mobile prospect is unable to interact properly)

  • A failure to present contact and support information upfront.

A 2015 KoMarketing survey reported that 54% of respondents indicated that the lack of thorough contact information reduced a vendor’s credibility and thus would cause them to leave a website. More specifically, 64% wanted to see this information on the homepage.

Search and Discovery

A typical scenario involves a hypothetical buyer searching for local distributors of a construction machinery brand named Komatsu.

The organic search results lead to the global brand site, whilst the “local” geo targeted result on the right hand side of the results page appears to have its own website. 

In fact this also leads to the global brand site komatsu.com

Google Search Results for "komatsu"

Site Navigation

Once on the main site, there is the ability to enter in your location, which returns the following page (see image)

Unfortunately for the buyer, there is no clear link to the website of Galadari Group.

Komatsu Global Dealer Directory

Searching for Galadari Group back in Google and landing on the website, we see the following:

Galadari Group Homepage

I can see Komatsu on one of the images of the homepage so I click on it. It reveals a page which now slides right and gives me just a phone number

Galadari Trucks & Heavy Equipment Tab

If I however use “Komatsu UAE” as a search term, the first search result leads me to a different page of the global site

Note the missing URL and no mention of Galadari Group here

Komatsu Middle East (Inside page from main Komatsu.com)


Having clear and easy to find thorough contact information goes a long way in establishing credibility and trust with potential buyers. Make it easy for them to send an RFQ. 

Digital Strategy not matching Buyer Journey

From these 2 exercises we can see that way in which Komatsu and their local distributor have approached their digital strategy does not match the buyer journey. 

The time taken to find the right contact Information is somewhat shortened if the prospect was to type in “brand name” + “country” however, the landing pages do not contain enough information for the customer to move further down the funnel. 

Buyers don't call straight away. They want more information on how you can solve their problem. In our example, how important is Komatsu to Galadari? Is there a large team behind it? Who are the key clients they've supplied to? Where are the case studies and examples of how Galadari and Komatsu provide professional service? What other actions can the buyer take such as signing up for a newsletter or get invited to the next event?

A Tweet to SAP MENA 

A tweet to SAP MENA 

Social Media and Content

In some cases, global brands will generate territory specific microsites to support their marketing activities. However, these tend to be populated with case studies from the vendor’s origin country, (usually North American or European) and bear little relevance to the local clientele.

As far back as 2011, IDG research found that 81% of professional IT buyers in the GCC find whitepaper content either “useful” or “extremely useful”.

The research further found that 64% of those prefer local content and 67% struggle to find local content.

The problem is further exacerbated on social media. Local Twitter or Linkedin accounts can often be the first point of contact in a potential buyer’s journey, but sending local prospects to a foreign site with no local contact information and no relevant examples means marketing resources are being wasted.

SECTION 2: Digital Capability of Regional Publishers


“Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into fulfillment conversations.” (2012, “The End of Solution Selling, Harvard Business Review)

What happens when buyers put off engaging with a vendor or a sales-person until the very last step of the journey, when their decision is almost made? Marketing teams now have to assume some of the role and revenue responsibilities of sales teams.

This sentiment was echoed by Pascal Lendermann, Head of Digital Transformation at Cisco for the EMEAR region who last year wrote; “The primary responsibility for the Cisco marketing organization has shifted from brand awareness to revenue generation”.

Therefore, the role of B2B marketers is to better influence customers when and where they are doing research, driving more focus on MQLs (marketing qualified leads) as a key metric. 

One measurable way top B2B brands are doing this is through the use of content marketing, comprising blogs, whitepapers, case studies, webinars, ebooks, sponsored content on Linkedin and more. For extremely large and well known brands, much of this content can be hosted on owned channels, minimizing the costs of paid distribution.

The B2B publishing industry has an important role to play in extending the reach of this content to a highly targeted audience, and needs to adapt to the new digital buyer.

How do regional B2B publishers fare in an online world?


  • An audit of the B2B magazine titles from 6 of the largest publishing houses based in the UAE was executed. (n=67)

  • Publishers included: ITP, CPI Group, Mediaquest Corp, Motivate, BNC and Alain Charles

  • The associated web address was mapped to each magazine. (n = 65)

  • Using SimilarWeb.com, website traffic was noted down for the period July 2015 - December 2015 (n = 26)

  • The top 3 countries driving traffic to the sites was noted

  • The top channels driving traffic to the sites were noted 


  • 2 magazine titles did not have an associated web address
  • Only 40% of the sites had enough traffic to be registered by SimilarWeb
  • None of the websites belonging to BNC and Alain Charles had enough traffic to be registered on SimilarWeb
  • ITP has 48% share of the overall magazine market (32/67), when looking at websites only, it has 38.5%

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Publisher share of websites

In several cases one website was the the “hub” for multiple magazine titles. 

For ITP’s 32 magazine titles, it provides only 11 websites meaning each website caters to an average of just under 3 magazines.

(see the following graph)

One disadvantage of this method, (one digital hub servicing multiple print titles) is that the web content is not structured accordingly. 

The user has no easy entry point to each magazine title from the homepage of the site.  If a publisher finds that creating individual web properties for each title is not cost efficient, every effort should be made to clearly highlight where the relevant content is housed on the hub site. 

This will also help the publisher to determine which print title converts better to online viewership.

Number of Magazines per Website

Smart Tip for Content Marketers:

Work with a publisher to create different landing pages for your campaign on a site that has multiple magazines associated

For each magazine, print the separate landing page URL in a small half page ad encouraging the reader to visit you online. Reward? A localised case study he can download that's relevant to his industry

Outcome: you'll quickly know which type of audience is your most valuable segment. 

Declining Visits to Websites

The blue line on top represents AMEinfo.com, and has dropped from 2.1 million monthly visits in July 2015, to 970,000 monthly visits in December 2015 (59% decline)

The second line below it in red, shows arabianbusiness.com which has remained fairly level, registering an 8.2% decline in traffic.

Monthly Website Traffic

Web traffic is mostly going down

Individual Sites Growth and Decline Rates

  • Only 23% of sites registered a growth in traffic during this time (6 out of 26)
  • A further 23% registered no growth at all
  • The majority, 53%  witnessed a decline (14 out of 26)

CommunicateOnline.me had a 566% growth from 9,000 monthly visits to 60,000 monthly visits. 

CampaignME.com had a 233% growth from 6,000 to 20,000 monthly visits.

CampaignME.com was the only site to have a significant source of traffic from Social channels. 28% of traffic came to the site from this channel, and is probably responsible for part of the increase in overall visits, as people find content worth sharing.

Interestingly, 6 out of the 7 sites experiencing the most decline, belong to Mediaquest Corp.

Use the "Filter by Publisher" button to see which publishers have the best and worst performance

4 out of the top 5 growth sites are in the "Advertising, Media and Production" sector

Split of traffic, by channel

The following graph sorts the websites in the same order as before, those sites with the biggest decline in traffic to the left.

These 7 sites (on the left of the graph) have 2 things in common, they all belong to Mediaquest Corp, and, with the exception of SMEAdvisor.com, they all have very high percentages of referral traffic. 

The raw traffic data for SMEAdvisor.com suggests they were running an event related campaign for a 2 - 3 month period between August and October last year after which traffic dropped off very rapidly (⅓ drop off from October to November and a further ⅓ reduction from November to December). High search queries were probably catalysed by event campaigns driving people to look for the site online. 

Usually referral traffic can keep website traffic stable, especially if people are linking to a piece of evergreen content. In the case of Mediaquest, it might be that their titles are heavily linked to each other, thus, if one site suffers a decline, they may all suffer a similar decline in traffic. 

If this is the case, it has implications for advertisers who might simply be getting duplicated audience across those titles rather than a different set of eyeballs each time. 

Use the "Filter by Publisher" button to see trends for each publisher. 

Mouseover each column to see the percentage split.

*check out campaignme.com for the only occurrence of Social Traffic

Traffic by channel

Split of Traffic by Channel

Traffic by Country of Origin

Only the top 3 countries supplying traffic for each site was recorded. 

Some surprise appearances from:

  • Japan (top source country for ArabianOilandGas.com)
  • Vietnam (3rd top source country for digitalproductionme.com)
  • Yemen (top source country with 36% of traffic for utilities-me.com)
  • Sweden (appearing twice in the top 3 for CommsMEA.com and SatelliteProME.com)

Note that the UAE is a top 3 provider of traffic for all but one of the sites, SatelliteProme.com, which doesn't have any Middle East country at all in the top 3 source countries.

Kuwait does not register in the top 3 of any site.

Despite there being a Construction Week Qatar magazine, the associated website ConstructionWeekOnline.com doesn't record any Qatar traffic in the top 3. 

Mouse over each column to see the percentage split. 

Top 3 Source Countries of Traffic per Website

"Due to the rapidly developing region, Hioki is always looking to partner with new distributing agents to expand our presence, and within the past few years, have signed up with a number of local companies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other up-and-coming markets to further promote our company and product lines"

(Naomasa Kurasawa, Hioki Middle East, October 2015)

Hioki is a Japanese brand of electrical measuring instruments that supplies to various sectors including oil and gas, power and water. 

What is the approximate country split of traffic for a B2B website?

A weighted average was calculated for the top 5 countries.

Given that most publishers are headquartered in the UAE and many key buyers are here, it was surprising to see an average of only 26.7% of visits to B2B sites originating from the UAE.

Both Saudi and the USA can be expected to generate the same amount of traffic to a regional B2B website at just over 8%, and India slightly outperforms Qatar.  

A weighted average of site traffic by country


Online B2B content is particularly useful for non regional businesses to assess the market, and start reaching out to potential customers. For new entrants, content marketing rather than simple advertising can help introduce the products and services to buyers, ahead of attending a local trade show or exhibition. 

Publishers should adapt to these new audiences by creating more tailored content and implementing audience acquisition strategies in the territories highlighted by the data. 


B2B Brands:

As we have shown, B2B brands need marketing functions to deliver more revenue on their activities. The current options for marketing teams operating in the region are limited. The reach of B2B publishers is declining both on and offline. Press releases and interviews do not directly impact the sales funnel. Presence at events and exhibitions happen infrequently throughout the year. Only the top 100 B2B brands can afford the cost outlay for advertisements and sponsorship. So what should CMO’s do?

“I basically ignored press releases and really focused one hundred percent on storytelling, my stories have real protagonists who are trying to solve real problems and reach real outcomes.” 

Tomas Kellner, GE Reports’ Managing Editor.

Global brands who are used to content marketing have well developed templates and a wide range of content to draw from, however this doesn’t mean it’s a home run when it comes to operating abroad. As we have seen, the wealth of content is only really useful when its locally relevant. Better alignment with local distributors and agents to capture feedback from customers and turning those insights into content will be key.

A deeper understanding of the types of content local buyers consume is equally as important. Where more developed markets may engage with longer form text-heavy content, local clients may more readily engage with videos and webinars. Hearing a well known industry executive talk about solutions employed can drive credibility amongst the target audience better than printed collateral.

The local distributors and agents must prioritize getting found online, particularly when it comes to answering queries from people searching for brands they represent. Some brands are represented by more than one distributor, and those that don’t focus on online visibility will lose market share to competitors. The customer experience does not start at the point of sale, it begins at the point a customer searches for information.

This will require a major overhaul of existing digital assets and an investment in content to ensure search engines index the right pages. Collaborating with brands to create and host content relevant to the buyer will keep online prospects engaged for longer and affords opportunities to gather useful data about buyers that can help future marketing campaigns at a brand and distributor level.

“For customers who have no relationship with a brand, they are more likely to purchase via a well-known marketplace."

IBM Blog, February 2016

Another way to raise visibility is to consider the use of online marketplaces.  ProTenders.com is one such regional marketplace built specifically for the Construction industry that allows companies to easily create a user friendly profile and ranks very highly in search results pages. As a SaaS based solution, it has an associated workflow tool that digitizes the bidding process allowing companies to search, compare and execute tenders all online.  Annual subscription fees are vastly cheaper than traditional methods of advertising.


Publishers are facing a bigger dilemma as declining revenues and readership from print usually mean less dollars to “invest” in overhauling their digital presence. The figures may highlight tough cuts that need to be made in terms of non performing titles, certainly from the print portfolio. Any changes that are to be made, should be closely tied to a measurable ROI however it can be difficult to assess just how much changing the layout of a webpage for example will translate into revenue. At its core, the publishing industry is subsidized by advertisers and better content and better formats will keep ad money coming in.

One way to efficiently experiment with better formats is to consider creating digital directories for certain industry verticals. Given the increase in traffic for the Advertising, Media and Production titles, we may reasonably assume that this will be well received by both users and advertisers. These industries are made up of of many supply chains and businesses need to focus on streamlining that process to contain costs for clients, rather than spending resources finding the participants.

Agile Creativity

Indeed, B2B publishers are best placed to create these types of directories as they have access to the players, a wealth of content and the credibility of the audience. Benefits of well structured directories are better data and macro trends that can help B2B brands reach their preferred audience quicker. If there is a sudden spike of searches for Video Cameras in March, clients can use that information to quickly produce campaigns and distribute them on the publisher’s content platform as well as elsewhere, thus generating a revenue stream for the publisher.

Any investment in digital by publishers should be done from a data first perspective, ideally centred around what data would be of most value to B2B brands. Publishers will find that there is a limit to how much they can charge for an ad unit online and the amount of units they can place, but as data gets more granular, brands have deeper pockets.

Publishers who hold multiple titles can benefit as they should be able to structure their content in a way that answers the following hypothetical B2B brand request:

“Give me access to people who read news about our competitors in the IT industry, and have also shown interest in the Hotel sector. We will send this segment a Whitepaper that talks about our reservation technology that can generate a more personalized service."

Finally, properly understanding the marketing requirements of B2B brands will help publishers to improve ad formats and the underlying technology that can deliver them, from video players to native mobile ads. Without a clear commitment to the B2B brands and their online buyers, publishers will lose more ad revenue to social platforms which offer best of breed targeting and ad format solutions.

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If you'd like to see all the stats for each website, simply click on one of the "Website DataCards" below


Alexandra Tohme is currently a consultant for businesses wishing to improve their digital performance. She has worked across the UK, UAE, Qatar and Lebanon in various industry sectors covering Advertising, Business Information, Financial Services and Ecommerce.

She regularly writes for trade magazines and speaks at conferences on advertising strategies and digital tools. 

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