The Arabic Web: Numbers and Facts

The Arabic Web: Numbers and Facts

14th May 2012

The Middle East and North Africa have around 65 million web users nowadays, showing that Arabic is now the 7th  most spoken language in the digital sphere. Lee Mancini who has 10 years of experience within the Middle East, from Sekari was happy to provide us with insights into the size and scope of this market taking culture, language and region into account to shape effective SEO tactics.

General statistics

Some interesting statistics on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

  • Within the last 2 years internet penetration has grown on average by 228%
  • 51% of the Saudi Arabian population is under 21 years old and a further 37% are under 14 years
  • The largest muslim populations can be found in Indonesia (203 million), Pakistan (174 million) and India (161 million)
  • Google searches have now reached the 100 million count, the global count on the other hand is 4 billion
  • 13% of all Google searches within MENA are now conducted through mobile devices
  • In Saudi Arabia alone mobile search is growing at 200%
  • However, we must keep in mind the whole of the Arabic speaking region not just the Middle East
  • There are currently 280 million Arabic speakers in the world
  • 45.9 million internet users search in Arabic
  • Whilst 9 million search in Arabic outside the MENA region
  • Still Arabic online content constitutes only 1.5% of global totals

Social Statistics and Trends

  • 80% of internet users in MENA spend more than an hour each day updating their social networking channel
  • Facebook is the most popular website in MENA followed by Maktoob, and Wikipedia
  • The average online user’s age is 25 years, showing a rather young society of online users
  • Youtube has now reached 100 million video playbacks in contrast to 2.5 billion globally
  • Within Egypt the most searched for word was ‘games’ (written in Arabic), then ‘Facebook’ followed by ‘pictures’ (written in Arabic again)
  • KSA, YouTube (spelled in Arabic) was the most searched for
  • Interestingly 60% of Saudi Facebook users are using the social network in Arabic
  • Whilst 84% of Facebook users in Maghreb use it in French
  • 89% of United Arabic Emirates Facebook users use Facebook in English
  • Alone in  December 2010,  1.1 million people joined Facebook
  • Whilst nowadays 36000 new Facebook users sign-up each day within the MENA region
  • 44% of Facebook users login at least once a day
  • 75% login at least once a month

Search in the Middle East

  • Google now has domains for 15 Arab countries featuring integrated Arabic language options for the search interface and searches (e.g
  • Egypt is the second country in terms of the number of search queries after Saudi Arabia
  • The United Arabic Emirates are the third fastest growing country in regard to search queries

With so much change and new technologies available to the Arab population it does not come as a surprise that the increase in internet connectivity has resulted in a type of search revolution, and I would now like to take a look at the most searched for words as a result of that:

  • The most searched for words were tyrant, dictator and oppressor
  • Topics relating to the 25th January uprising came at the top of the list in terms of search queries
  • As a result the revolution of the 25th of January and Tahrir Square were the top searched
  • However, generally speaking the most searched for words are: job vacancies, uprisings in the Arabic countries, as well as online selling and buying

Not all Arabic!

Keep in mind though that it’s not all in Arabic

  • 539 million people living in MENA are English speaking
  • UAE 80% of the search volume is in English
  • Whilst 66% of MENA searches are conducted in English
  • 54% of Google searches in MENA are now made in Arabic, 34% in English, 8% in French
  • 70%-80% of web users search in Arabic in Egypt and Saudi Arabia
  • French is still widely spoken and altogether accounts for 73 million in MENA (Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria, etc.)

Mobile more important than Desktop

Mobile has the potential to surpass desktop

  • UAE and Saudi have more mobiles per capita than any other country
  • The average mobile penetration rate is 96% whilst globally it is 82%, with 50% of all mobile traffic coming from Symbian devices

Break up of the region

The region is broken up into many small countries with relatively small search volumes in each country. In addition to that the search volume is broken down into 2-3 languages namely English, Arabic and French. Meaning that it’s difficult to justify a localized website for every country in every language. However, Google requires local country indicators for all 15 country search engines in the region.

So how can we influence local visibility?

Google still prefers cc TLDs, which provide the most obvious signals about the audience a site is targeting. However in some countries such as Saudi it is difficult to apply for an official cc TLD’s. Other cues include the following:

  • Where the site is hosted ( in many cases sites prefer to host outside the region)
  • Local links pointing to site
  • What language the website is hosted in (only effectual with Arabic search but not English in various regions)
  • Local address information
  • Google webmaster tools geo-targeting setting
  • However many options do exist whereas cc LTDs usually works best, but sub domains and sub directories can be effective too
  • What works in Europe might not necessarily work in the Middle East
  • It’s crucial to provide local country content (whether it is cc LTD, sub-domain or a sub-directory for both English and Arabic


What digital marketers wanting to operate within the MENA region have to consider

  • Be in touch with local marketing managers as they will be able to shed light into the types of languages spoken, keywords and your target audience’s search patterns
  • Do your keyword research, keeping your target audience in mind, behavior is varies across countries and languages
  • In Arabic there are often various words for the same meaning
  • Know your translator: Egyptian Arabic is different to other forms of Arabic
  • Local Language and English speaking: most Arabic countries teach American English at school

This clearly indicates that a lot of things will change in the years to come offering digital marketers to enter the ever growing Arabic web.

Image source: Guardian


Written By
Clarissa is a bilingual Strategic Marketing MA graduate with rounded experience in a number of key marketing disciplines including social media, project management, research and business development. Clarissa is Marketing Graduate at Linkdex.
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