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SEO expansion in the Arab world

Arabic is the official language in 23 countries and is spoken by almost 320 million people around the world, from Southwest Asia to Northwest Africa. It’s also the liturgical language of over a billion Muslims around the world, as it’s the language in which the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam, was revealed. The importance of Arabic SEO cannot be underestimated, considering the geographic span of the Arabic-speaking world.

Internet penetration is growing rapidly in the Arab world, with an estimated 56 million Arabic-speaking Internet users. This figure is expected to jump by 46.4 per cent in just two years, raising the total number of Arabic Internet users to 82 million by 2013.

Moreover, most Arabic-speaking countries belong to big league economies, making Internet e-commerce and on-line media in the Arab world a significant market segment with huge potential for Arabic search engine optimization (SEO) and Arabic search engine marketing (SEM).

Despite this, the Arabic content that exists online does not exceed 1% of the total online content. Most international companies do not localise their English websites or target Arabic Internet users using their own language, falsely assuming that English is widely spoken in the Arab world.  But that is not true. Recent research shows that approximately 65% of Arabic Internet users do not read English. In fact, most Arabic Internet users prefer to search using Arabic keywords, especially when the search query is related to regional topics, cultural-related words, local news or events, and regional products or services.

Although there are several Arabic search engines, like Ayna, Ajeeb and Naseej, most Arabic Internet users still prefer to use English search engines with their own language.  A recent survey by Arabic SEO experts showed that Google receives around 100 million search queries a day from the Arabic world, with about 13% of these queries coming through mobile phones — more than double the same figure last year, indicating a rapidly growing mobile phone web browser market in the region.

The research, which was carried out in March 2011 during the Arab.net conference in Beirut, also showed that between 70% and 80% of all search queries from Saudi Arabia and Egypt are made in Arabic. In the Arab world generally, around 54% Arabic Internet users search the Internet in their own language. English represents only 34% of the total search queries, followed by French with 8%. Other languages used by Arabic Internet users on search engines are mostly Asian and make about 4% of the total search queries.

Regarding search topics, the survey showed that entertainment and arts come first, making 20% of all search queries, followed by topics related to the Internet (12%), news (9%), Gaming (7%), Sports (6%) and computer and electronics (3%).

The survey clearly shows that the Arabic Internet market is much larger than many people outside the region believe. In addition to the growing number of Internet users in the Arab world, the Internet will soon speak Arabic.  An Arabic domain name pre-registration service, launched in 2010, will solve many problems associated with domain names and Arabic SEO keywords in the future.

Egypt will launch the first Internet domain name to use the Arabic script following last year’s decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to allow non-Latin top level domains. Many other Arab states are following Egypt’s lead, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, further boosting a major emerging market that is still waiting to be tapped via the Internet.

This article was written by our Arabic SEO expert Dina Awadallah.