If you’ve done a search on your mobile phone recently (and who hasn’t?) you might have seen Google deliver a pared-down version of a webpage seemingly directly inside of Google. Instead of clicking to another website, you open an accelerated mobile page.
An accelerated mobile page – AMP for short – is a simplified version of another webpage that is replicated in HTML and hosted by Google. The entire point of this is to make consuming content on mobile devices as fast as possible. Instead of waiting for another website to load, the AMP is already cached on Google’s server and thus can be delivered in a fraction of the time.
Accelerated mobile pages started as an open-source project to standardize delivery of content across a plethora of mobile devices and networks. Since the mobile industry is fragmented across multiple phone makers (Apple, Samsung, Huawei), multiple mobile browsers (Safari, Chrome), and multiple types of mobile networks (3G, 4G, whatever connection you can get in a mountain valley) content pushed on websites can have extremely different user experiences, varying from fast and easy to sluggish and clunky. Add in those annoying data-privacy pop ins and there is a lot to be said for trying to improve the user experience.
AMPs were also designed to help better deliver ads on mobile webpages, which is after all the gas that keeps many websites running. When you combine calling a server to deliver a webpage with a separate call to deliver an ad, you can end up with choppy sites, ads that don’t get seen, or pages that don’t load. AMPs standardize ads as well as page content, so that they can be delivered rapidly directly in the AMP.
It’s not just content-based websites, service-based websites can also create AMPs with similar functionality to their regular websites to enable people to start using their services faster. Shaving a few milliseconds off of delivery time might not seem like it would be a big help, but when you have millions of visits per day (or hour) that can add up, and have an impact on your bottom line.
How to make AMPs
AMPs de-couple elements from the design. Images and text are brought together automatically in the same format in order to deliver content faster. This is one of the common criticisms of AMPs, that all content looks essentially the same no matter who the publisher is. You can have inline CSS, which gives you a bit more control over personalization, but considering that web fonts are also files that have to load, it’s a good idea to stick to the simplest fonts possible – another reason why much AMP content looks the same.
WordPress has plug-ins that automatically generate AMPs. You can also code them by hand. If your CMS doesn’t offer an automatic AMP option or plug in and you are publishing content daily, this can be really tricky. Various services are available to help you with this, and the advantage of using a third party service is that they are constantly updating their processes and styles to be as efficient as possible.
Common criticisms of AMPs
AMP started as an open-source project, but it is highly dependent upon Google and in many circles has been criticized as handing control and user experience even more into the arms of the search giant. Google already decides who lives or dies based on updates to their search algorithm, and since they cache and deliver AMPs they have even more control over who sees what.
Plus, the effort to standardize content for faster delivery means that Google also controls more than ever how web content is designed. Websites that don’t conform 100% to Google’s requirements to AMPs risk having their content not delivered to the people who are searching for it.
As a marketer myself I don’t particularly like AMPs. I find that the trade off of standardization for better delivery times doesn’t make up for the loss of branding that comes along with it. Standardization is already happening across websites, where more and more websites look more and more alike in an effort to capitalize on best practices. But when that happens, the publishers behind the content become even less important.
It’s easier than ever for a fake news site to mimic a journalistic giant, for example, and the visual cues necessary to know if you’re getting your information from a reputable source or a website that someone hacked together to smear a politician are being rubbed away. I’m all for faster delivery times but I feel like that is going to be a mute point once 5G rolls out and websites naturally become easier to deliver.
Should you use AMPs?
The answer to the question of if you should use AMPs for your website varies depending on what the goal of your website is.
If your business relies on getting clicks to your website and delivering ads, then yes you should absolutely be using AMPs. There is a real loss between the total number of clicks that happen on search engines and the number of people who actually see your mobile pages with all of the content and ads loaded. Someone viewing an AMP counts as a visitor to your site, and the ad is much more likely to be delivered. Ad tech platforms that are delivering on AMPs see an overall increase in deliverability and therefore revenue, like The Times of India.
What’s more, if you’re not using AMPs you risk falling behind your competition who are using them. SEO cannot be ignored, and any technique that helps gain the upper hand on you is going to be exploited by your competition. AMPs are still relatively new, and if you can master them, it could give you a big advantage.
AMPs can also be a big help to e-commerce sites by letting people view product pages faster. Since e-commerce managers are obsessed about optimizing every step of the purchase funnel, reducing the loss of people who search for a product and who actually see the product page load can have a positive impact on sales.