CAIRO: Sharply rising internet usage in Egypt is leading to an increase in regional online ad spend.

According to the nation's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the number of Egyptian web users grew from 300,000 in 1999 to 13.9 million in 2009. 

Data from Nielsen, a research firm, also shows that 51% of Egyptian surfers are part of the taste-making 15 to 24-year-old age group.

Online currently accounts for just 1% of current Middle East ad spend.

However, this total is predicted to rise to 5% in Egypt by the end of the year.

Should this forecast prove correct, 2010 expenditure would reach LE 178m ($32.5m, €22.6m).

Despite these trends, significant challenges remain for the region's online advertisers.

Hussein Freijeh, Middle East advertising director at search giant Yahoo, said just 1% of total web content is in Arabic, of which around half is Egyptian.

He advised the private and public sectors in Egypt to work together to boost the amount of domestically-generated online content available to surfers.

In turn, this would give advertisers extra impetus to promote their wares online.

Freijeh added: “We have to start thinking as media owners and investment owners. What can we do to take content and target it for our consumers?

"Do we really have the means and the platform to create [sophisticated online ad campaigns] here?"

Meanwhile, Wael Fakharany, Google Egypt country manager, said he was optimistic for future online ad growth.

The expert believes the search firm will "triple or quadruple" its business this year.

"We visited 229 clients [in 2009]. Some of them took online advertising slightly, some of them experimented and then stopped and some of them jumped on the bandwagon," Fakharany added.

Rising internet usage could also lead to a proliferation of ad-backed online publishing start-ups.

Aline Kazandjian, an Egyptian editor and former contributor to the Los Angeles Times, said she was unsure about the success of the web magazine she is planning to launch later in 2010.

"I must tell you though that I'm not too optimistic," Kazandjian added.

"I'm afraid that advertisers don't believe they can get enough exposure through a website."

Data sourced from Business Today Egypt; additional content by Warc staff