Taking the Veil Off the Arabic Web

What do you think of when you hear a phrase “the Arabic World”? Picturesque sand dunes, unbearable heat, camels, dazzlingly beautiful architecture, mysterious women wearing black abaya, exotic culture, historical Islamic values, honor and reputation… Actually an average person can’t boast strong knowledge of Arabic speaking countries. It seems as if the residents of this isolated secretive world zealously preserve their privacy and moral purity from the rest of the dissolute population. The statement is ungrounded, of course. Indeed, the Arab community has slight conception of privacy as due to their curious national character and large families living together they are absolutely devoid of solitude since childhood. Moreover, Arabs are very relaxed about time, they use to “go with the flow” and always dispose time for a good chat. They are really generous hosts and always serve much more food than their guests can actually eat.

Surely, our today’s interest towards the Arabic world is based on something more down-to-earth than their weird culture. Did you know that the area includes 25 countries and territories with aggregate population of nearly 400 million people? We can geographically outline the Arab world from the west coast of northern Africa (Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria etc) across to Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.

– Quite impressive, isn’t it?

With present fast global development of e-Commerce, the Arab world looks like virgin soil attracting smart merchants. However, cultural gap often becomes an insuperable obstacle on the way to the desired market as the time-tested western web standards can be absolutely unacceptable and even insulting for Arab society.

For instance, representation of human form is considered a sin against Allah, forbidden by the Qur’an, so it’s better to replace it with rich ornaments, patterns and geometrical floral arabesque.

Here we can formulate the first design guideline for Arabic web:

  • 1. Mind cultural peculiarities working on the visual presentation of your design.

The next substantial difference is that unlike English, Arabic scripts are read from right to left.

  • 2. Usage of horizontal navigation bar on top of the web page is more suitable for the adapted version of your site.

Unfortunately, most of the Arabic speaking sites treat the language as the secondary one. From our viewpoint such situation is not absolutely fair with respect to native speakers the website is oriented on. Though, the majority of Arab website owners require English language support as well.

Continuing our talk about calligraphy, we can’t avoid the issue that the fonts applied for Arabic are unfortunately limited to the default Ariel, Verdana and Tahoma.

  • 3. Make sure that the fonts you use are legible in Arabic and the user won’t have to download them to view the website content. Please also note that the script and language itself might need more space to convey the information, breaking the design harmony if this is not foreseen.

According to statistical data, the overwhelming majority of Arab internet users are young people between 20 and 40. Relying on this fact we can suggest that they share similar interests of the given global age group.

  • 4. According to the above mentioned priority is given to social and MSN platforms as well as e-Commercial and gaming projects.

Even if you don’t plan to make your website accessible for Arabic users right now, the application of Unicode UTF-8 lets you insert necessary updates in future as this character encoding tool is flexible enough to allow certain additions from extended Latin alphabets.

Even when you have thoroughly studied all Arabic tastes and preferences, there is still no guarantee that the targeted audience would find your site among the diversity of web content.

  • 5. Make use of SEO; verify your keywords not only on Google but on local search websites like Arabo, for example.

Notwithstanding the dependent status of Arabic women, they at times are much better educated than men.

  • 6. Don’t you think that creating female interest oriented websites (i.e.: health, beauty, cooking tips, celebrity news, community forums) is not a bad idea when your goal is to conquer the Arabic web?

In a nutshell, if you provide exclusive, quality, timely, sharable content tailored specifically to the needs of Arabic speaking population, your website has all chances for success as the competition is objectively weak now-a-days.

  • 7. If you want to boost the traffic of your Arabic speaking website, take care of its mobile app as total portable device craze has overflowed the countries of our particular interest together with the rest of civilized world.

We hope that the Arabic world seems a little bit friendlier now, all the more, that general familiar UI usability rules are completely applicable there.

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In the end of our entry, we would like to say a few words about colors, which are utterly important for web design.

  • – As you know, green is a sacred color of Islam.
  • – Many Muslims are dressed in white clothes on Friday prayers.
  • Black is the color of chador and cloaks worn by the devout women and clergy respectively.
  • Blue is a protective color and the most famous mosques are painted blue.

Here are several examples of Arabic websites; browsing them you will be able to make your own observations concerning specific features of their designs.

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Written by

Allison Reed

Allison is a professional SEO specialist and an inspired author. Marketing manager by day and a writer by night, she is creating many articles on business, marketing, design, and web development. Follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook.


  • Necolas Hamwi
    March 19, 2013

    What an excellent post!
    As a web design / development company in Dubai (aratech FZCO), We’ve been struggling with the cultural experience details of Arabic websites. The main challenge that arises in Arabic website, we believe is readability. As you have pointed Arabic fonts on the web should flow right-to-left and be readable. Unfortunately, support for Arabic fonts is lacking, even in the largest web fonts libraries like Google Web Fonts.

    We end up using the basic font of “Tahoma” for all Arabic texts as it’s the only available font with a decent readability.

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