Search, display or influencers – which advertising platforms work best for your UAE business?


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Traditional marketing methods like TV and radio can be costly and limiting for many small businesses. But thanks to the internet age, even those with the tightest of budgets can create an effective marketing strategy with a larger reach and measurable results.

Think Google Ads and Facebook – the two giants in the digital advertising world. In 2021 Google generated USD $209.5 billion, and Facebook USD $114 billion through online advertising. When you consider a staggering 98.98% of the UAE population is active on social media, online advertising offers businesses in the region a tremendous opportunity to promote their brand to a wider audience without spending a fortune.

Here’s what to consider when promoting your business online, and which of the top five platforms could work best for you.

Choosing the right digital platforms for your business model

While online advertising can be far cheaper than old-school advertising methods, you’ll still need to work out a feasible budget and create an effective marketing strategy. Before you start spending, consider which platforms could be a good match for your business model.

Think about:

Your target audience – which demographic are you aiming at? Who will be interested in your business? What’s their age group and location?

Social media – which platforms does your target audience spend most time on?

Your business goal – are you looking to launch a new product, drive current sales or increase brand awareness?

User intent – do you want to target active users: those who are actively searching for a specific brand, product, service or business; or passive users: those who are simply scrolling and not searching for anything in particular?

Your budget – how much are you willing to pay per view/click?

Once you’ve got a good idea of your marketing strategy, you can start looking at which platforms could work best for you.

1. Google Ads

Just about everyone in the UAE with an internet connection uses Google for their online searches. Many people tend to click on the first results they see, rather than scrolling down.  No wonder then that most businesses based in Dubai use Google Ads for their paid search advertising (SEM).

Google Ads works by placing paid ads above organic results when someone is searching for a specific product, business or service. While it’s always best practice to use good SEO to improve the organic ranking of your website, SEM could help boost your visibility and give you a competitive edge.

Average cost-per-click (CPC):  USD $1-$2

Type of ads: search/display

Typical user: active users specifically looking for something based on their search terms

Good for: driving targeted traffic to your specific business, generating visibility of your brand

2. Facebook

Facebook ads are primarily targeted at passive users – those who aren’t specifically looking for anything. The idea is that they’ll see your ad as they scroll down through their feed. The Facebook platform collects a whole bunch of data on user demographics such as age range, location, likes and dislikes, then offers advertisers targeting options to match up them up with their ad content. Around 79% of the UAE population has a Facebook profile, providing Dubai-based businesses with a ready and waiting homegrown market to tap into.

Advertisers can choose the type of format they want to use: photos, videos, carousels, stories and even interactive ad options. This type of display advertising can take more time to convert as customers aren’t actively searching for your business or product. That said, it’s a good platform if you want to increase awareness of your brand and expose it to users that may not have heard you before.

Average cost-per-click (CPC): USD $0.97-$1.72

Type of ads: display and video

Typical user: passive users based on interests, behaviour and demographics

Good for: increasing brand awareness, businesses with a very specific niche, audience engagement, new product launches

3. Instagram

Owned by Facebook, Instagram boasts a healthy 68% of the social media network market in the UAE. Favoured by the younger crowd, Instagram is fast-becoming one of the preferred social media platforms in the Emirates.

Like Facebook, Instagram ads allow you to publish images and videos in a range of different formats. You can also use both Facebook and Instagram data to target your audience more precisely and gain valuable insights into your buying persona. If your business caters to younger, female customers, Instagram is a good starting point, as the platform tends to appeal more to these demographics.

Average cost-per-click (CPC): USD $0.50-$2

Type of ads: display and video

Typical user: passive users based on interest, behaviour and demographics

Good for: brand awareness, launching new products, businesses that target younger customers such as Gen Z and Millennials

4. YouTube

Along with Google and WhatsApp, YouTube is one of the most popular online platforms in the UAE. It’s also one of the most affordable online advertising options. With around 88% of the Emirates population using the platform, the potential reach for small businesses in the region is massive.

YouTube pricing is based on cost-per-click and cost-per-view, and it costs most businesses as little as USD $10 per day to run an advertising campaign. The cost will also depend on the type of ad format and exposure time you choose: from simple display ads that appear to the right of the featured video, to skippable ads that last for 5 seconds, and non-skippable ads that the viewer must watch before viewing their chosen content. You’ll also need to bid against competitors for an advertising spot. However, you can easily manage your budget so that your bids never go above your maximum bid limit.

To make the most of your YouTube budget, narrow down your target audience so it’s precise as possible, and ensure your video ads are high-quality and not too long.

Average cost-per-click/view: USD $0.10-$0.30

Type of ads: display and video

Typical user: passive users based on demographics, interests, past interactions and keyword searches

Good for: brand awareness, product launches, directing leads to your website landing pages

5. TikTok

Still considered a bit of a new kid on the block, TikTok is enjoying rapid growth in the MENA region and is a firm favourite with younger followers. The platform’s popularity has boomed in the last year, with the region’s top influencers doubling their follower numbers over 2021. TikTok offers plenty of potential for businesses looking to target the young, tech-savvy population of the UAE.

Ad formats such as in-feed videos are seamlessly integrated alongside native content, without disturbing the viewer’s enjoyment. Because of this, the watch-through rate is high. However, you’ll be required to spend a minimum of USD $500 on a campaign, so it’s not the cheapest option around.

Partnering with a TikTok influencer whose follower demographics match those of your target audience could be a more cost-effective option. Of course, it also depends on the popularity of your chosen influencer and how enticing your videos are.

Average cost-per-click: USD$0.02/USD$0.50 per mile (1000 views)

Type of ads: display and video

Typical users: passive users based on demographics and interests

Good for: brand awareness, new product launches, businesses aimed at a younger (under 30), predominantly female market

Can your UAE business benefit from online advertising?

The UAE is one of the most tech-savvy populations in the world – it’s also one of the youngest. For businesses aiming to reach the Gen Z and Millennials audience, online advertising is a must.

If done correctly, digital advertising offers a more cost-effective way to promote your business compared to traditional media. Online platforms also make it far easier to target your ideal audience.  Results can be viewed daily, and changes can be made quickly to improve the user experience.

Whether you opt for search, display or a mixture of the two, these platforms offer you the potential for business exposure and growth that traditional advertising just can’t match.