August 26, 2016

7 Things You Needs to Know About Google AMP

What exactly is AMP? Who needs to implement it and why?

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This year, more people than ever are accessing the web from their mobile devices. Unfortunately, the mobile web still has a lot of problems: long load times, broken page elements, or sites that just plain don’t work.

AMP is the latest project from Google, the idea is to fix problems like these and improve the overall mobile web experience. But what exactly is AMP? Who needs to implement it and why? What are the potential pitfalls? We can help answer all of these questions.

1. What is AMP?

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”) Project is an open source initiative that came out of discussions between publishers and technology companies about the need to improve the entire mobile content ecosystem for everyone – publishers, consumer platforms, creators, and users.

Today, the expectation is that content should load fast and be easy to explore. The reality is that content can take several seconds to load, or, because the user abandons the slow page, never fully loads at all. Accelerated Mobile Pages are web pages designed to load as fast as possible.

7 Things You Need To Know About Google AMP

Rudy Galfi, Google’s AMP product manager, said at a recent marketing conference that the median load time for AMP-coded content is 0.7 seconds, according to SearchEngineLand.com. In comparison, the median load time for non-AMP pages is 22 seconds, or “the time it takes for you to leave the site and never come back,” Galfi said.

On February 23, 2016, Google officially integrated AMP-powered web pages into its mobile search results. AMP-coded pages appear in a mobile search results “carousel,” and they feature an AMP icon that looks like a thunderbolt, as well as the acronym “AMP.” This can help your site rank higher if you adopt the AMP format, but we’ll get back to that later.

2. How Does Google AMP work?

The AMP HTML framework piggybacks on existing web technologies “AMP-HTML is simply HTML5 with a set of specifications (requirements and restrictions),” Google’s Galfi told SearchEngineLand.com. “The optimization is powered by JavaScript, styling can be customized via CSS3, and pages are cached.”

This means AMP works on almost any browser or device. From your Apple iPhone to your Samsung Galaxy, the AMP framework uses technology that is already supported by most devices. This ensures that your browsing experience is the same across all of these devices, and keeps load times to a minimum by keeping the structure of the page very simple.

3. Should you use AMP on your website?

For now, if your site is focused on news stories and blog content you should definitely look into AMP. These articles are served to Google search users as AMP pages in mobile search results.

7 Things You Need To Know About Google AMP

However, AMP is also useful for other types of websites, such as ecommerce. The AMP results carousel, which is attractive to shoppers, and other components are well-suited to online shopping and browsing. For example, eBay recently announced that it was adopting AMP, and the technology now powers their mobile shopping experience. They also announced that about 8 million AMP-based “browse nodes” are in production.They continue to add new AMP pages every day, but popular queries like camera drones and Sony PlayStation are already AMP enabled.

AMP is an incredibly important part of a balanced marketing strategy for publishers today, given the project’s close ties with search engine results and advertising impression rates. The ability to develop AMP-based product pages could create a huge demand in the ecommerce sector. Every year more and more people use their mobile devices to shop online, having an AMP enabled site could give you a huge advantage in speed and accessibility over your competition.

4. Why did Google create AMP?

Web users want rapid search results, above all else, so Google wants to give users speed. If they can offer superior speed for content accessed via their search results, it will help secure their place on the mobile web. Google has never been a company to rest on it’s laurels, so it’s not surprising they founded a project like AMP to ensure their relevancy in an increasingly mobile world.

5. What does AMP mean for SEO?

AMP is not officially a search engine ranking factor, and sites that use AMP will not “get a massive boost in search ranking,” according to Richard Gingras, senior director of news and social products at Google, who spoke to AdAge.com. “All of the other (search engine ranking) signals need to be satisfied as well,” according to him.

However, “speed matters” when it comes to search engine ranking. “If we had two articles that from a signaling perspective scored the same in all other characteristics but for speed, then yes, we will give an emphasis to the one with speed because that is what users find compelling.” Again, this is Google emphasising the importance of speed to web users, and since AMP pages are some of the fastest loading on the web right now it makes a lot of sense to use the framework as part of your overall SEO strategy.

AMP can also indirectly affect where Google places pages in search results. If an AMP page gets more clicks and fewer bounces because it’s faster to load, Google determines that the page is valuable to users, and it’s likely to get higher placement in search results. A recent SEO Powersuite survey of 385 SEO professionals found that 50 percent of respondents expect AMP to “significantly affect” their mobile search result rankings.

6. Are there any potential problems with AMP?

Like any big update, AMP takes some getting used to, the initial setup can be especially painful and time consuming. However, if you think of where SEO was a few years ago, and how most web technologies have evolved, it makes a lot of sense to become an early adopter.

Not even 5 years ago manually hand-coding meta tags and other elements was the norm. Today, SEO plug-ins prompt users with exactly what they need to do to improve ranking, without having to know anything about SEO. There is already a fantastic AMP WordPress plug-in that does a great job of getting your initial implementation of the framework up and running, although at this point further refinement will likely have to be done by an experienced web developer.

The main drawback to AMP is understanding the limits of the framework. One of the reasons AMP is so fast is because it restricts how you can code your pages in significant ways. For example, you have to use a Google-supplied JavaScript library, which is very limited in what it can do. You can’t implement forms unless you use iframes, and even then, they must be below the fold. Even something as simple as site navigation can be complicated to create due to the limitations of the platform.

7 Things You Need To Know About Google AMP

It’s kind of like going back to the early days of HTML websites. It may not allow your specific branded site design to translate perfectly into an AMP page, or give you all the functionality you’re used to having on the full version of your site. You pretty much have to build a whole new version of your site, but with this version you make site speed and content the top priorities instead of design or layout.

Another problem is that when readers share a link to an AMP page that they clicked on through a Google search, the link points to a Google.com URL, rather than to the original site, as pointed out by Wired.com earlier this year. This could negatively impact site traffic numbers, creating potential challenges on the analytics side. It’s impossible to be 100 percent sure where a publisher’s content will be loaded from. There are also complications with visitor identification and data collection due to tight cookie restrictions.

7. Is AMP really the future of the mobile web?

This is always a difficult question to answer, AMP’s future is still uncertain as with any emerging technology. It has big implications for the mobile web, but it all depends on if it becomes widely adopted as a standard.

However, that hasn’t stopped some of Reaction’s clients from adopting AMP early! Android Headlines, one of the top Android news websites in the world, reached out to us about updating their site to Google AMP. We were happy to update their platform to use AMP for all news posts, and they are already seeing the results in Google. In fact, the images of AMP pages and results in this blog post are all examples from their website.

This doesn’t mean everyone needs to follow Android Headlines example, not everything Google pushes for is adopted by the web as a whole. For instance, the Authorship markup, which required publishers to implement code changes and new requirements, is now irrelevant and some publishers feel like they wasted time and money. AMP could stand a better chance at becoming widely adopted since it’s less proprietary than some of the alternatives, like Facebook Instant Articles or Apple News. As a result, publishers may be more willing to develop AMPs. Combine that with the resources Google has put into promoting AMP as a new online standard and you have the potential for a big shift in the landscape of the mobile web.