Arabic Content Not Matching Arab World’s Online Growth

McDonald's - Arabic content
Photo by Evan Dench on Flickr

Arabic-speaking Internet users are expected to reach 197M in 2017, but Arabic content isn’t keeping up. Many MENA (Middle East/North Africa) eCommerce retailers are still using English on their websites. There are particular challenges associated with doing business in MENA and localizing a website for Arabic content requires proper planning.

The Arabic alphabet reads right to left rather than left to right which provides complications for standard eCommerce software providers and it often requires expensive customization which many companies can’t afford. There are a few platforms that support it but not enough in comparison to the number of users.

Additional Arabic font challenges abound as do the logistics and delivery issues created by ongoing MENA political instability. Companies also face the importance of not providing religious or cultural offense with a clumsy translation and numerous dialects require additional localization along with ‘arabizing’ technical and business words with no direct lingual counterpart.

The Spike In Arab Online Growth

Arab online users grew by 5,300% from 2000-2013.

According to Emirates 24/7 News:

  • 39% of the Arab world uses social media and to absolutely no one’s surprise, a big chunk of that is young people
  • Also to no one’s surprise, Facebook is the most popular social medium, with 156M Arabic-speaking users
  • Twitter claims 11M users in the Arab world, the largest percentage of those being 29% from Saudi Arabia. In 2014, Arabic speakers were responsible for almost half a billion tweets.
  • The United Arab Emirates lead the Arab world on LinkedIn with 32.5% of the region’s users. They also lead on Instagram where Arabs constitute 7.1M users.

Arabic Content and the Prevalence of English

The Arabic language struggles for relevancy in an increasingly English-oriented region. As in India, where English is often the preferred language of the middle and upper classes because of its perceived sophistication and its popularity as a global business language, there is a focus on teaching English to Arab children in both private and state schools. Nevertheless, Arabic is the fifth most-spoken language in the world and is one of the United Nation’s six official languages. Basic Arabic itself counts 300M users and if you include all the Arabic dialects that number swells to 420M.

Related: The problem with the Arab world’s love affair with English

Literacy in the Gulf States is nearly 100% but that’s increasingly in English, not Arabic. Fluency and use of English is closely linked to where one falls economically. The more money your family has, the more likely you are to speak English at home.

English content aimed at the Arab world only targets a certain percentage of Arabic speakers and Arabic content reaches all the rest. Thinking there is no use targeting people with your marketing message who aren’t rich enough to speak English is like only targeting that smaller percentage of Westerners that can afford luxury yachts or expensive sports cars. That strategy only works if you’re selling high-end luxury goods.

Arabic content for eCommerce

Why translate your website into Arabic?

If your data analytics show increased interest from the Arab world, it’s most likely from the English speakers. Non-English-speaking Arabic visitors, or ones for whom it’s not their preferred language, aren’t finding your website because there’s no Arabic content with proper SEO optimization to drive them there when they type Arabic words into Google.  We’ve similarly covered why your website remains invisible to many ESL-speakers in your own country as well as overseas in several different blog posts.

Nelson Mandela statueSpeaking another person’s language says, “I care.” It’s reaching out, bridging a divide. Saying Marhaba!  with a website localized for Arabic sets a more polite, friendly tone as opposed to  a default English website. Customer loyalty is the direct result of taking that extra step to provide the best possible customer experience.

It’s the bottom of the wave for Arabic-localized content growth, particularly for eCommerce. You can get a jump on your competitors by localizing now, and win the hearts not just of Arabic speakers overseas but the ones living right here as well.


Yappn Corp is an enhanced machine translation company that can say, “Hello, how’s it going, eh?” in Canadian and 105 other languages. For more information please contact or call us at +1.905.763.3510 x246.





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Written by Nicole Chardenet, Sales Development Rep at Yappn

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