Featured image photo credit: https://musicoomph.com
As we move into 2018, we get a lot of questions about Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Is this something our clients need to be implementing? What are the pros and cons of doing so? Will it be worth the effort to do well?
Tyler wrote a great primer on AMP a while back, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but put simply, AMP pages use a combination of stripped-down HTML, streamlined CSS, and AMP-specific HTML tags to create faster-loading versions of pages for mobile devices. For more on AMP for Google Search, read Google’s AMP developer guide.
What’s New with AMP
- It’s not just for news anymore: When AMP debuted, it was chiefly meant for publishers and news sites. Since then, AMP results have become more and more prevalent in all kinds of SERPs.
- Increased functionality: Because AMP is designed to present a stripped-down version of page code, early iterations of the platform didn’t have much in the way of design capability or options for interactive features. This meant that AMP pages were fast, but could often be ugly or just very, very plain. With new customization options and some added functionality around interactivity, it’s now possible for an AMP version of a page to look a lot closer to the non-AMP version.
- Better tracking: AMP results are served up directly from Google’s cache; users move deeper into your site by clicking links from there. Initially, that meant that traffic from AMP pages displayed as referral traffic, rather than as organic search traffic, in analytics tools. However, there is now a workaround for that.
- URL display solution: I’m sure I’m not the only brand marketer who doesn’t love that the display URL in AMP results is from Google, not the actual website. Google has said that they are working on a solution for this, however, and hope to have something in place by the end of 2018.
- Device-agnostic: The most important thing to remember is that AMP results aren’t only being served up for mobile search anymore; increasingly, they’re showing up for desktop searches as well. If you have a responsive site, you’ll need to make sure that your AMP pages are also responsive, or risk a negative experience for desktop users.
Will AMP Help My Site Rank Better?
AMP is not a ranking factor in the traditional sense; Google is not currently taking into consideration whether a page is AMP or not when determining which pages to rank for a query. That said, Google does have an AMP Top Stories function, in which a carousel of AMP stories appear above the regular results for certain queries. For those queries, AMP would be the only way to rank in the “Position 0” slot in the Top Stories carousel. Many news-related queries are showing a mix of AMP and non-AMP results in the Top Stories section, however, so your mileage will vary from query to query.
It’s also important to remember that while AMP isn’t a ranking factor in and of itself, user experience indicators such as website speed, stickiness, and click-through rate from search are widely regarded to be ranking factors. AMP is one way to improve these things, and therefore improve rankings. Of course, this isn’t the only way to improve these things (more on that later).
Should I Implement AMP On My Site?
There’s a lot of upside to implementing AMP, including:
- It can make your website really fast — largely by forcing you to eliminate extraneous code and features, as well as adopt specific speed-oriented development practices.
- Users who click on your site from Google’s SERPs get your content nearly instantaneously, since Google can deliver a cached and preloaded version from their CDN.
- Like we just discussed, AMP pages are eligible to show up under Top Stories in Google’s mobile results.
- An increasing number of major non-Google sites are starting to show/deliver AMP versions of pages when available. Notable examples are Twitter and Bing.
Some possible downsides to AMP include:
- It requires that you either develop a new mobile theme for your site, or retrofit your existing theme to be AMP-compatible, which may be more trouble than it’s worth.
- Much of AMP is designed to put “content first”; it might or might not be a good fit for eCommerce applications or other pages that aren’t content-forward. However, this is starting to change.
- Even though Google Analytics is now doing a better job of tracking AMP visits, it still requires some setup to get working properly. If you’re not confident in your Analytics setup skills, you’re risking some messy attribution.
If you have the time and resources to implement AMP properly, customize it to match your brand’s look and feel, and set up attribution correctly, there’s no reason not to implement AMP.
Don’t Stop with AMP
When thinking about the future of AMP, I think it’s important to keep in mind why Google introduced it in the first place. To serve their users best (and thus preserve the enormous market share that keeps them in business), Google needed mobile search results to load faster – and it was clear that website owners weren’t making their sites fast enough…well, fast enough!
Site speed is important, and only getting more important. The web is becoming increasingly mobile-centric, and users don’t have much patience for a slow-loading site when they’re on their mobile devices. We’re still waiting to see how the recent ruling on net neutrality will play out, but it’s likely that some consumers may be facing throttled internet speeds in the not-too-distant future; to continue reaching those customers, businesses will need to think about mitigating that slower connection speed by making page load times as fast as possible. Google itself has indicated that site speed will be incorporated into the mobile algorithm as a ranking factor later this year.
Implementing AMP will help your pages load faster from search engine results pages, but it shouldn’t be the only step you take toward faster page load times. The goal should be for your site to load as quickly and as smoothly as possible, regardless of the device being used to view it, or the channel that brought the user there.
As I said earlier, there’s no reason not to implement AMP right now, if it’s feasible for you to do so well. That said, it’s entirely possible that AMP won’t be around forever, or even long-term. Even if AMP is only a factor for the next year or two, the benefit you get from those faster load times will likely make it worth your while, but the best way to future-proof your website is not to over-rely on AMP to shorten page load times. Instead, use tools like GTMetrix to find the factors that contribute to longer page load times on your site, and then work to shave down those load times as much as possible.
If you’re interested in how big brands are using AMP these days, I recommend this session on how AirBnb implemented AMP, from the TechSEOBoost conference at which Mike and I co-presented in November: