What is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Speed is now one of the most important ranking signals for Google and other search engines. The shift in habits to a world where more than half of traffic comes from smartphones and tablets has forced search engines to increase dramatically the role of speed when considering the best experience for the user.

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, is one more step by Google to ensure that we access the information we want as fast as possible. An AMP is a version of a page that has been stripped down to the basics:

  • AMP HTML is a subset of HTML. It reduces the number of elements you can use while adding some new ones.
  • AMP JS is a Javascript framework focused on handling and loading resources. No other Javascript libraries are allowed in AMP.
  • AMP Content Delivery Network is an optional element that you can use to deliver your content even faster thanks to its cache.
  • CSS is also limited to certain elements.

This means that you’re making a trade-off between flexibility and speed. You won’t be able to implement a fancy design, you’ll have to remove certain navigational elements like related articles, and you won’t be able to add certain analytic tools or ads.

One thing to remember is that AMP pages are a version of your content. The AMP pages have canonical metatags to specify which page is the canonical version of an AMP page, and that version is the one that has the SEO benefits, even though the AMP version is the one shown to the users.

The main benefits of an AMP page are:

  • Significantly reduced loading time
  • Reduced bounce rate, due to the increase in speed
  • Increased visibility on carrousels in SERPs
  • Improved rankings in mobile

What is the role of AMP in Google News?

The AMP format has been widely adopted by publishers. 20% of all Google search results are AMP pages. For publishers, that rate increases to 25%, 78% when considering rich results like Top Stories and News Carousels.

Google News automatically renders AMP articles to users if they find a valid AMP version. Google News will show one version or other of the article, depending on the device and other characteristics.

Another benefit of AMP articles for publishers in Google News is the possibility to appear in rich results in the search results page. That’s one of the tools that Google is using to drive adoption. AMP pages can appear in:

  • Top stories carousel, which is exclusive to content in Google News
  • Other rich results in Google search, like carousels or visual stories
  • Rich results in mobile search

What are the SEO benefits of AMP for publishers?

There is a direct correlation between implementing AMP and an increase in organic traffic. A study by Perficient Digital showed an increase of almost 14% in organic traffic for publishers and more than 23% increase in the SERP click-through rate.

The biggest reasons for this positive impact are:

  • Increased visibility on the SERPs due to Google favoring AMP articles for rich results and premium placements like the Top stories carousel. Google has also started to roll out AMP features in other search areas, like image search.
  • Improved user experience due to the increase in speed when loading the site. This and the forced streamlined layout of AMP articles which facilitate access to the content reduce bounce rate and increase time spent on the site. The improved experience and the reduced bounce rate both are positive signals for ranking in Google.

Google AMP for Publishers: what you need to know

Google denies that implementing AMP is a ranking factor. But while it may be the case, the implementation of AMP has side benefits which do have a positive impact on rankings.

However, as adoption rates among publishers continue to increase, this effect will certainly be mitigated. So for AMP to become a competitive advantage over your competitors, you would need to implement it sooner rather than later.

It should also be noted that AMP implementation alone can’t substitute for an effective and comprehensive SEO strategy. If your site is already on a downward trajectory in organic traffic, implementing AMP is not a solution.

Some of the reluctance to adopt AMP came from the feeling that it meant to depend too much on Google. AMP was a project created and controlled by Google, and, while it was optional, most AMP pages were served from Google servers with Google URLs. Google has taken some steps to address these concerns. AMP is now an open-source project separate from Google, with an advisory committee in which representatives from The Washington Post, Akamai or LinkedIn. Google has also fixed the URL issue, and now all AMP articles will have the URL of the original article, instead of a Google URL. These benefits users, as they are reassured they are what they want to be, and publishers, as they regain the branding benefit of their own URLs.

AMP case studies

Condé Nast was one of the first publishers to implement AMP. One year after implementing AMP on Vanity Fair, the CTR on search results went from 5.9% to 10.3% and the average position in SERPs went from 5.9 to 1.7. Almost 80% of their search traffic in mobile came through AMP pages. During that time, Condé Nast used the lessons learned on the Vanity Fair pilot to deploy AMP pages on another 14 brands.

The AMP website has lots of case studies of AMP implementation that highlight the benefits for publishers. One of them is from The Washington Post, one of the early collaborators in the AMP project. After implementing AMP, loading times were reduced by 88%. The cascading effect from this increase in speed was seen in other business metrics, as the return rate of mobile users went from 51% to 63%.

Google AMP for Publishers: what you need to know

Asahi Shimbun is the second-largest newspaper in Japan. A large part of their traffic comes from mobile, so they decided to take advantage of the speed benefits of AMP to improve their position in the SERPs and their user experience. They also implemented advertising modules included in the AMP specification to monetize their AMP pages. They achieved an improvement of 240% more page views and a 344% increase in ad revenue.

Grupo Expansión is the largest online media publisher in Mexico. Their AMP content is 80% faster than before and time spent on site doubled. This had a visible impact on their ad revenue, as CTR on ads were 150% higher than on non-AMP pages.

AMP monetization

The AMP framework has evolved over the years to allow more flexibility in the way publishers can monetize their content. Now AMP supports a wide range of ad formats and technologies, and more than 150 ad networks support integration with AMP pages. AMP also supports paywalls and provides an accessible framework to regulate access to content for subscribers, metered users and anonymous users.

Google AMP for Publishers: what you need to know

But the technical limitations AMP imposes to gain loading speed means that you can’t push your inventory to more than a few ad networks. AMP pages can’t use external Javascript libraries, so the calls to ad vendors have to go through a technical solution called Real-Time Config. RTC allows for just 5 calls to external vendors. This includes DMPs, viewability, audience tracking, ad networks… so a publisher will have less than 5 bids per item on their inventory, while for non-AMP pages publishers use from 7 to 10 bids to maximize CPM.

The solution to this drawback is header bidding, which is a programmatic advertising technique that allows the publisher to offer inventory to multiple ad networks before making calls to their ad servers. With header bidding, you use just one of the call outs allowed under RTC to manage everything under a header bidding wrapper.

To improve monetization of AMP pages Google included the Fast Fetch feature in 2017. Fast Fetch will request the ads earlier and render them only when they are likely to be viewed by the user. So, for example, an ad at the bottom of the page won’t be rendered unless the user starts scrolling down. This allows for much faster loading times.

AMP allows the implementation of video ads, both instream (inside organic video content) and outstream (a standalone video ad in regular web content), as well as rich media ads.

The AMP project recommends the following when implementing ads on AMP pages:

  • Use the same number of ads on AMP and non-AMP pages.
  • The first ad should be below the fold to improve the user experience.
  • Avoid heavy ads and interstitials.
  • Implement new formats like Sticky Ads, Flying Carpet ads, or ads in carousels or lightboxes.
  • Ads can be AMP pages too, and the AMP project recommends them for their benefits in performance and user safety.

Not just for news: AMP for emails, ads and stories

AMP is not just a way to render blazingly fast news articles. As it’s a subset of HTML it can be used to develop any kind of website, even an eCommerce site.

Besides that, the AMP project has launched three other specific formats to use with AMP.

AMP Emails

The use of AMP in emails, restricted to a small subset, allow you to create interactive, dynamic emails. Some use cases are for example showing updated prices in the email, saving items to your account, or respond to an invitation to an event. All of this directly from the email, without the need to visit another website.

Although AMP emails are only supported by three email clients, Gmail, Mail.ru and Outlook, they represent almost 40% of the global market share. And with Google and Microsoft backing the project, this project could mean a gigantic revolution for email.

AMP Ads

The use of AMP HTML to create ads has two distinct benefits. The first is the speed, as they load up to 6 times faster than regular ads. The second benefit is the control they give to the publisher as they make sure their ads are free from any malware. Both also contribute to better user experience.

AMP ad formats include carousels, lightboxes and video parallax. AMP ads are not just for publishers to create ads directly sold, but a growing number of supply-side platforms and ad exchanges are also starting to support AMP.

AMP Stories

Since Snapchat pioneered the format in 2013 stories have become almost ubiquitous in a mobile world. AMP provides a way to create engaging visual narratives for publishers.

The AMP Story format allows publishers to use images, videos, gifs, audio, and text. They can be animated and users can interact with them as well.

Google AMP for Publishers: what you need to know

Publishers like Wired, The Atlantic, San Francisco Chronicle or the BBC are using AMP stories in their publishing efforts.

AMP Stories can be monetized through ads created in the same format as stories.

How to implement AMP on your site

WordPress

The easiest way to implement AMP in a site run by WordPress is to use the AMP for WordPress plugin. The plugin automatically converts your content to AMP where possible and assists you to convert the rest and replicate the functionality of your standard-HTML content.

The plugin allows you to transform your whole site to AMP, select specific posts or pages which won’t use AMP or choose a transitional model to serve both AMP and non-AMP content at the same time.

It also offers options to add extra functionality like analytics or certain interactivity like hamburger menus that are usually provided via Javascript, which is excluded from AMP.

The plugin includes the option to create AMP stories as well.

Google AMP for Publishers: what you need to know

Other sites

For sites that don’t use WordPress the AMP project provides a series of tools to implement and validate AMP content. There is a React framework capable of generating AMP pages and an AMP toolbox to publish and host AMP pages.

Common errors

The most common error when implementing AMP pages is using HTML tags, attributes and CSS properties that are not allowed in AMP.

Another common error is not setting up analytics correctly. If you don’t implement session-stitching, for example, the visitors to cached AMP content will be shown as if coming from an external referral if they keep navigating your site. Google Analytics offers specific instructions on how to implement their analytics tags in AMP pages.

Failing to correctly replicate basic functionality on the AMP pages, for example, a poor implementation to menus, call-to-actions and other navigational elements, could lead to a negative impact for users and your metrics.

Structured data

Implementing structured data is crucial for the success of your AMP content. Without the correct metadata implementation, your AMP pages won’t appear in rich snippets in the SERPs, like carousels, top stories or visual stories. Other platforms, like Twitter, will also make use of this metadata. 

Testing implementation

Depending on your implementation, you could have already validation tools included in your set up, as is the case with the WordPress plugin. In case you don’t, validating your AMP content is necessary to ensure your content is valid for Google search. Google provides several validation tools, and errors in your site will appear on your Google Search Console too.

Analyzing AMP results

When evaluating an AMP implementation you need to consider three different aspects.

First, you need to evaluate performance improvements. Google offers two different speed testing tools, PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse. One thing to take into account is that neither tool will reflect performance gains obtained through caching and prerendering so that the actual performance gains will likely be bigger than the ones measured by those tools.

A second facet to measure is the impact on search rankings of this increased speed and user experience. Using a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs you can monitor your SEO performance to evaluate the impact of AMP implementation. These tools would allow you to see your position in the SERP, the click-through rate of your articles and if they are shown in any rich snippet.

The third aspect is the business impact. With your analytics tools, you can measure the performance of your AMP content in terms of time on site, return rate, the click-through rate on ads and revenue.

Conclusion

The fact that a growing percentage of traffic comes from mobile devices makes loading speed and a clean user experience two critical aspects of success. AMP pages solve both issues at once.

Converting your content to AMP, if implemented correctly, will provide a positive impact on your readers’ user experience and your search engine rankings and visibility in rich snippets. Both actions will have a clear and measurable business impact on increased ad performance and revenue.

As a publisher, you should consider at least experimenting with AMP. The ongoing support from big players in the web ecosystem like Google, LinkedIn or Twitter and from media companies like Condé Nast or The Washington Post means that AMP adoption will continue, especially as new formats like stories and email are being developed. 

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