In an e-commerce
sector that is increasingly competitive in the Middle East, online
retailers of all sizes are seeking to enrich their content,
improve their logistics, and
offer multiple payment
gateways in order to defeat industry challenges and
Sometimes, companies go to lengths to compete for eyeballs, and yet, a recent SEO battle proves, companies are ultimately more invested in building consumer trust than in taking each other down if it has negative consequences for the ecosystem.
worldwide, it's not uncommon for brands to sometimes use
their competitors' keywords to draw traffic. And in the Middle East
and North Africa, where competition is made fiercer by
a limited number of online shoppers, online retailers aren't immune
from the practice.
This reality was made transparent recently, when a Google search for 'Sukar,' the flash sales site now owned by sister site Souq.com, turned up a result for Namshi, a Dubai-based fashion retail site launched by Rocket Internet, and one of Sukar's direct competitors; Namshi had, for a period of time, designated a URL with the words "sukar-clothing-site."
According to Namshi’s marketing team, the website ranked as the number one unpaid search results (especially in Saudi Arabia) for over four months when “Sukar” as a keyword was added in both English and Arabic.
At a certain point, Namshi stopped using "Sukar" as a keyword, however. “At the request of Souq’s management, we agreed to stop targeting the word ‘Sukar,’ in order to maintain friendly ties between the two companies,” explains Amr Abu El Aynayn, the Online Marketing Manager at Namshi.com.
Yet the practice of using
competitors' names as keywords is not uncommon, Abu El Aynayn says.
"It’s a marketing approach known worldwide,” he says, explaining
that Namshi as well has had "competitors targeting the word ‘Namshi’ in
their Google paid ads."
"There’s nothing we can do about [the] paid ads. As for unpaid visits to the website that result from users’ search words, we have been doing our best to protect our Google ranking,” he explains.
Sukar Marketing Manager Sonia Likhal agreed that targeting keywords in the e-commerce industry is common, explaining that the Sukar marketing team is currently cross referencing words searched for by users with websites’ content. “At Sukar.com and Souq.com, we use global brands as keywords, but what also helps is that our content includes more than 200,000 products,” says Likhal.
Shifting customer behavior plays a major role in the process as well. Five years ago, it was more common for people to search for products on Google using words like ‘buying’ or ‘shopping,’ she says. Now, they are more likely to search for global brands and products by their names. “We are investigating consumers’ preferred brands in our business strategy,” says Likhal.
Likhal justified the decline in ‘Sukar’ Google search results as a something very common in online marketing, as a result of continuous updates made to search engines’ algorithms on one hand, and the constant change of consumer behavior on the other. The decline happened “when we were making improvements to the website’s design and content, and we soon got our ranking back,” adds Likhal. “We experienced just a slight impact on sales, but this isn’t a big deal since the results of brand name targeting never last.”
This case of SEO
competition between Sukar and Namshi is hardly surprising in the
grander scheme of tactics e-commerce sites use to compete with each
other, but it does reveal the lengths to which companies could go-
as well as their recognition that fighting dirty isn't always best
for a company's brand.
It also demonstrates that a good SEO approach is a must even in the site's early stages, but that adapting to shifts in the e-commerce climate and taking a long-term view is essential.