Advice for AMP-curious publishers
Disclosure: at the time of the writing of this article, the author was the head of product for an AMP conversion platform company. That company’s technology was acquired by Google on October 9th, 2017.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages project has some big numbers on the scoreboard: More than 860,000 domains are publishing over 35 million AMPs per week, according to stats shared by Google at a recent AMP developer conference, where the company also announced the expansion of AMP to more than a billion additional users in China and Japan. AMP already represents 7 percent of top US publishers’ web traffic, according to Adobe.
As the light, fast-loading mobile format is embraced by leading social platforms, e-commerce sites and content publishers, some digital managers are still trying to evaluate the importance and urgency of AMP with respect to their specific strategies.
The AMP-curious include smaller e-commerce sites, professional sites, blogs, academic publishers, niche content sites and even news publishers in small markets. In general, they like what they hear about AMP’s benefits and are eager to improve search performance — but are also juggling a long list of competing priorities and must be careful about allocation of resources and brain space. Their question usually isn’t whether to implement AMP, but whether it’s important enough to prioritize now.
Any publisher can benefit and learn from AMP at some level; here’s a framework for assessing how meaningful those benefits might be for your site, today.
Will AMP improve your site’s reach?
One reason to implement AMP is to increase traffic to your site — and avoid losing audience to AMP-enabled competitors. This opportunity is significant for certain types of websites and negligible for others.
Today, Google’s Top Stories AMP carousel is the main place where AMP content is explicitly and strongly advantaged over non-AMP content. The Top Stories carousel is an array of AMP-rich results for news-related queries. (Certain types of structured content, such as recipes, are also displayed as AMP carousels, but the Top Stories carousel seems to be unique to news.) The carousel dominates the mobile viewport, pushing down other results. If your content is likely to be surfaced in the Top Stories AMP carousel, then you should definitely be looking at AMP.
Here’s one way to figure that out: On a phone or mobile emulator, perform a Google search using keywords associated with fresh, popular content on your site. Try this exercise with several different pages and queries. If you get a carousel of AMP results from sources similar to your site, then you’ve learned two things: 1) your competitors are AMP-enabled, and 2) you’re missing out.
If you don’t get an AMP carousel featuring content similar to yours, that probably means 1) your competitors might not be AMP-enabled yet, 2) your content is so specialized that Google doesn’t find enough relevant results to invoke a carousel, or 3) Google might not be surfacing your type of content in AMP carousels.
For example, a search for “listeria outbreak” produces a Top Stories AMP carousel of articles about a recent food poisoning event, but a search for “what is listeria” does not. This shows how a health news publisher might gain a competitive advantage with AMP, while a general health information publisher would not have the same Top Stories carousel opportunity.
Repeat this test periodically. Google is continually launching new AMP experiences in search, and publisher adoption is spreading rapidly. It’s better to be among the first AMP-enabled publishers in your competitive set than the last.
Google also surfaces AMP links in core search results (aka text links or blue links). However, Google has repeatedly stated that AMP results are not preferred over non-AMP results in core search. Google will link to the AMP version of a page if the AMP exists, but that’s downstream from the decision to link to the page in the first place. This could change in the future, but for now, AMP won’t impact a site’s performance in core search.
(Other referrers are taking the same “AMP-when-available” approach. Several content aggregators are linking to AMP pages for user experience and performance benefits, but none have announced plans to penalize non-AMP content.)
Bottom line, news publishers with fresh content of broad interest should be publishing AMP in order to be included in the Top Stories carousel and any other AMP-only showcases Google may offer. Publishers with static, niche and non-news content are less likely to see a material increase in exposure attributable to AMP at this time.
But that’s not the only reason to consider AMP…
Will AMP improve your site’s performance?
The real purpose of AMP is to improve site performance — whether that’s measured by interactions, transactions, return visits, ad viewability or eCPM.
This is why eBay, Pinterest, Eventbrite and many other large platforms are building on AMP — and why top news publishers such as The Washington Post and The Guardian continue to invest in AMP innovation. The AMP Project boasts a growing library of case studies and data points showing that cleaner, faster pages work better. LinkedIn reports a 10 percent increase in time spent with AMP articles vs. non-AMP articles in its news feed.
From a publisher’s perspective, the typical AMP implementation involves a header tag in the source code of the standard page, pointing to the AMP version so that Google and other referrers can find the AMP. If your site gets a significant portion of traffic from Google, and if AMP outperforms your current mobile experience, the engagement and revenue benefits could be material. Otherwise, the typical AMP implementation will have limited impact on topline site performance, since only users coming from Google and other AMP-linking referrers will get the AMP version, while most users still get the standard page. (This could change if other major referrers start linking to AMP instead of the standard page.)
Publishers planning a website overhaul might consider going full “canonical AMP” instead of producing AMP pages that sit alongside the standard version. Developers have already proven that AMP can support full-featured responsive websites. (Yes, AMP can work on desktop!) A single, canonical AMP page is easier to maintain and ensures all users get the best possible experience. Another option is to start with a hybrid site where some pages are AMP (e.g., article or “leaf” pages) and more complex pages are non-AMP.
Bottom line, if you’re losing engagement and revenue because your website is slow and cumbersome, fixing that situation should be your first priority — and AMP could be part of the solution.
What’s the cost of implementing AMP?
The other side of the equation is the investment and effort required to implement AMP. For very basic sites on WordPress or similar platforms, this may be a straightforward plugin configuration. For sites with more advanced advertising, analytics and design needs, AMP requires some effort to launch and maintain.
This can be handled internally or outsourced to an expert AMP converter who handles all of the work. Even in the simplest scenario, a publisher should have some sense of what will be required to launch and support AMP, what they hope to gain and how they’ll measure performance.
The AMP standard is barely a year old and evolving rapidly. A publisher’s cost/benefit calculation could shift next week or next month based on choices by Google or other platforms that are building AMP into their products and linking practices. AMP could be ancillary to your strategy today, and central tomorrow.