Google AMP: The Need for (Mobile) Speed


A little over one year ago, Google unveiled Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): an open-source framework hoping to give users a better mobile experience.

The AMP project was created to help publishers deliver high-quality content on an increasingly mobile web. While everyone understands that ads are necessary for online publications to make money, slow-loading mobile pages were frustrating users and actually losing publishers their readership.

Every time a webpage takes too long to load, they lose a reader—and the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions. That’s because advertisers on these websites have a hard time getting consumers to pay attention to their ads when the pages load so slowly that people abandon them entirely.

Source: Official Google Blog, “Introducing the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, for a faster, open mobile web,” October 2015.

We’ve written about the scourge of vexing online ads and ad networks (and the subsequent rise of ad blockers) previously. And while AMP wasn’t created to specifically target ads, I personally think ad networks, autoplay ads, and ads that either block or take over your screen are the biggest enemy facing online journalists. It’s an incentive for readers to go somewhere else rather than read your content.

In short, AMP works by serving mobile pages that run “a narrow set of web technologies”; as WIRED columnist Klint Finley writes: “These standards are a lot like traditional HTML, but pared down to what Google considers to be the bare minimum.” Most extraneous JavaScript and CSS (styling) is stripped from AMP pages. This ensures mobile pages load as quickly and with as little overhead as possible. It also means that AMP sites will lose some of the “look and feel” that make them unique from other sites.

AMP also addresses user frustration from annoying ads and analytic tracking software. AMP does not allow user-written JavaScript, only AMP-supported JS code. AMP only allows certain analytics providers and has pre-approved code/standards for adverts, forms, paywalls, etc. (You can still manually include this code, but you might fail Google’s validation testing for AMP.) Advertising Age explains more AMP restrictions facing publishers:

While AMP pages load much faster, many revenue streams for publishers won’t be available. Interstitial ads and site takeovers aren’t allowed. Elements that are script-based, widgets that suggest other reading and video that visitors have to watch before they get to the content they’re seeking are also off the table.

Source: Advertising Age, “Official Launch Date for Google AMP Confirmed,” February 2016.

Why Did Google Create the AMP Project?

Industry experts believe Google is following Facebook’s lead to get into the online publishing world after the social network launched Facebook Instant Articles.AMP is able to deliver incredible mobile results by pre-rendering and caching many of the elements used by AMP pages. When users visit your site via a mobile search, AMP pages will be loaded from Google’s cloud servers (specifically Google’s AMP Cache), not your own server. To encourage publishers to adopt AMP, Google announced that AMP pages would appear in the news carousel at the top of mobile search results.

This has understandably made some journalists a bit uneasy about the amount of influence this could cede to Google. Google is actively rewarding AMP users with greater visibility in mobile search. If Google is serving this content, then Google (theoretically) can control which content is seen and which isn’t.

Google first introduced AMP pages in mobile search results under the “Top Stories” carousel this past February. Last month Google confirmed AMP in mobile organic search results by the end of the year. A number of major publishers have already adopted AMP for mobile, including The GuardianThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, among many others.

While AMP’s primary focus (right now) is to accelerate news sites, the future of AMP is boundless. Will AMP become a mobile ranking signal? We already page speed is a ranking signal, but will webmasters need to adopt AMP in order to stay competitive? Google has clearly prioritized mobile. We all know about “mobilegeddon” and how Google forced webmasters to adopt mobile-friendly design in order to rank well in search (for the betterment of the web, I believe). Google recently announced the creation of an entirely new “mobile index” (separate from its current index) within months. Google also confirmed this new mobile index would be its primary index, and would be updated more frequently than the other index (presumably used for desktop search queries). I’d say time will tell before we realize the full impact of AMP.