What should one be doing online in the Middle East? It’s always been a mystery, to me at least, that companies aren’t more active in the digital space in the region. Well, the researchers at Northwestern University in Qatar and the Doha Film Institute have come up with some findings that underline how organizations are missing the boat when it comes to the Arab consumer and the internet.

Firstly, let’s look at Arabic language content on the web. The researchers used a number of methods to understand how much Arabic content was online. One of the most interesting means used was to look at the 50 most popular web sites in Egypt, Qatar, Saudi and the UAE based on Alexa rankings to understand if Arabic was used and, if so, whether Arabic was the primary or secondary language. The results may, or may not, surprise you.

As the report itself states:

Despite a rapid increase in the number of Arabic-speaking Internet users, Arabic content remains one of the most under-represented languages online in terms of its share of the world’s websites. Even in predominantly Arabic-speaking countries like Egypt, a third of the top 50 visited websites are either not available in Arabic or do not include Arabic as the “default” or primary language.

It’s not all bad news however, according to Klaus Schoenbach, associate dean for research, at Northwestern University in Qatar. He believes that content generated by users, particularly on social media, makes up for this corporate shortfall.

The findings do not necessarily suggest that Arabic content is low overall. Relative to the approximately 6 percent of Arabic speakers in the world, it is true that there are a disproportionately low number of Arabic websites on the Internet; however, by some metrics Arabic has a disproportionately high representation in social media. One possible reason for this could be that much of the Arab world came fully online during or after the rise of a social-dominated Internet, which replaced the original website-based Internet.

Still, the question remains. Why are businesses not focusing more on Arabic? Isn’t this a huge (and easy) opportunity to get right?

The second obvious challenge is spending online. Right, let me ask you lot. Who uses the internet? Did you use it today? Did you use it for a couple of hours? You probably answered in the affirmative to all of those questions. And yet, ad spending online in the MENA region is only 10 percent. To quote from the research:

Advertising on digital media is continuing to grow both globally and regionally. Worldwide, total digital advertising spend has sustained high growth over the past five years at an 18 percent CAGR. While MENA only represents 0.3 percent of global digital ad spend, it has grown at a phenomenal CAGR of 39 percent, by far the biggest growth rate in the world and almost double the rate of most other markets. Digital ad revenues were worth USD 550 million in 2015, contributing to about 10n percent of the region’s total ad revenues. But while MENA’s digital share of ad spend is catching up, it is still far behind advanced markets, where digital ad spend typically holds a 30 percent share.

Considering the ubiquity of online usage across the Gulf, including via mobile, the question one must ask is obvious. Why isn’t more being spent online? Consumers are online, so shouldn’t marketers be online with their brands as well?

The report is well worth a read for anyone interested in media across the region.

Enjoy our installment from Alex of Arabia, a blog featuring commentary on the media and marketing industry in the Middle East. Read older posts here .