Daniel Ayers

Over the course of recent client projects for global football brands, we noticed a sudden increase in website traffic from Sudan; enough to put sessions from the North African country in the top five locations for several major football sites.

And while Sudan (pop. 38m) might not be foremost in many club or league international expansion plans, India and south-east Asia probably are, and this phenomena is representative of any connectivity-poor territory.

These four anonymised screenshots from different Google Analytics profiles show a jump from ‘hundreds’ of Sudanese sessions on February 16th, to ‘tens of thousands’ on February 17th.

Screenshot 2016-03-24 12.36.16 Screenshot 2016-03-24 12.36.39 Screenshot 2016-03-24 12.37.04 Screenshot 2016-03-24 12.37.38

The other commonality across the charts is a subsequent decrease in daily sessions over the following 35 days.

So: what caused the sudden influx, and why isn’t it sustaining?

There are two particularly remarkable features of this traffic profile: it’s massively mobile (98-99% across these examples), and massively on the Opera-Mini browser (97-99%).

Part of the influx comes from 4G mobile internet arriving in Sudan. There were several reports in 2015 of Zain Sudan, the largest local telco, investing heavily in their mobile network; they signed a 4G license in February this year and now offer mobile data packages of up to 42 mb/s starting from 1 Sudanese Pound per day (approx 12 English pence).

The Opera-Mini browser is particularly popular in areas with a developing mobile data infrastructure, because it delivers very fast page load speed. It achieves this through a similar approach to Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages programme: by blocking a lot of javascript and some css code (although evidently not the Google Analytics js script…).
Additionally, we suspect that Opera-Mini’s geo-reporting into Google Analytics is probably skewed a little by the way they route traffic; so potentially not all of the sessions which show as Sudan are genuinely from the country. But the type of user they represent is likely to be very similar.

We’d recommend you install it and check your site. The chances are that your mobile site uses a ‘hamburger menu’ for navigation*. Without javascript, this probably won’t work. Bye bye navigation.

Now, there are already good UX reasons for not relying solely on a burger menu anyway; we always advise clients to retain 2 or 3 key section tabs as a permanent part of their mobile site design. The Opera-Mini experience just adds to that argument.

On top of this, any design elements reliant on javascript – carousels, overlays, galleries, lightboxes, expanding sub-menus – probably won’t work. Video embeds probably won’t work. Comments plugins will be buggy. The site will be just about usable, but certainly not user friendly.

Hence why the initial influx of users is not sustaining. And you probably don’t have a digital commercial partner in Sudan, but maybe you could now. If your site worked for them.

So, what should you do?
1. Test your site on Opera-Mini and see how it does
2. Speak to your web developers and see what they can do about it (outputting pages in Google AMP format would be a good start)
3. Speak to us at Seven League and find out how we can help you stay ahead of the rate of change in digital; we’re not (just) the unusual web traffic guys, and this is merely a micro-example of how our insight and advice can help you accelerate your own digital expertise.

* Yes, including ours…

[Article edited post-publishing to reflect the further finding that geo-reporting in Google Analytics of Opera-Mini traffic is not fully representative of users]

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