Add Arabic to Your Online Language Vocabulary

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

If your company is thinking of adding Arabic to its online language repertoire, it’s on the right track. If not, think twice – or you may miss out on major revenue potential. Recent research from Common Sense Advisory on the size and economic opportunity of online language populations shows that Arabic has surpassed Russian, French, and German in total online population. The language now ranks #11 in share of online spending potential, notching the fastest growth between 2011 and 2012.

However, Arabic is also the most underserved language on top global websites around the world. Languages are considered to be “underserved” when they appear less frequently – with less available content – than either the size or economic potential the online audience warrants. In the case of Arabic, more people who speak the language are already online and their number is increasing by the day, but many prominent commercial websites of the world do not yet offer content in this language. Although Arabic-speaking communities may have the potential to transact and spend online, they are not being tapped by businesses that fail to offer content in Arabic.

There are a few reasons – both political and practical – why businesses are not yet cashing in on Arabic, such as the perception of instability in the region. Sometimes companies find it easier to sell their products through local partners. Products and services may be promoted or sold through local channel websites rather than on global corporate sites. Many global companies also still lack the on-the-ground resources to compete with local market leaders that are difficult to unseat.

However, there are many compelling reasons to offer content in Arabic:

·      The Arab Spring has re-ignited the outward glance.In 2002, the Arab Human Development Report found that the entire Arab world was translating only 330 books annually and that the cumulative total since the ninth century was about 100,000, “the amount Spain translates in one year.” Ten years later, efforts have stepped up. As more countries achieve democratic governments, access to products, services, and information has increased. Websites should not lag behind. 

·      Generational shift favors Arabic.In older generations in some countries, education in French was common (or English, in the case of Egypt). Online services have found that business visitors from Arabic-speaking countries may opt to use European language interfaces. However, younger generations are likely to prefer Arabic in most contexts. Expect this generational tide to continue. Early adopters had to use other languages or miss out. Today’s users are hungry to locate Arabic content and services. 

·      Arabic is the fastest-growing critical language.Only 10 other languages pack as much online power as Arabic. Among those 10, Arabic posted the fastest growth in share of world online wallet between 2011 and 2012 – even outpacing Chinese. 

People may currently be reading about Gucci bags, Lancôme perfume, Las Vegas casinos, and Apple mini iPads in English, but offering that content in Arabic will motivate them to actually buy those goods online. So, should you offer Arabic? Every company needs to consider a broad range of issues, but global brands can no longer afford to ignore this economically vital language. At the very least, you need to keep your eye on its growing importance on the web.

Vijayalaxmi Hegde is a research associate at market research firm Common Sense Advisory.

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