The following opinion piece is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.
Google is leading an open source project called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) that seeks to improve the mobile user experience on the web, especially for news content, by delivering much faster pages. Google will begin actively factoring AMP-powered pages into its search results, specifically for news, this week.
Much can be said about this initiative and its effect on publishers and consumers alike. Because my company, 10up focuses on publishing, an open, ethical web is core to our DNA, and the future of the open web is very important to us. Because this impacts high-profile clients, our team recently published a comprehensive analysis.
Here are some highlights from our analysis:
An Optimal Mobile Experience is Key
To keep up with the evolving mobile web landscape, developers are building mobile-first sites that provide lean, fast, enjoyable experiences to better retain their audience. Because Google recognizes its customers’ preference for performant sites, it factors page speed into its search algorithm, boosting speedy sites in search results.
In spite of these incentives to minimize page weight, most websites are still heavier than ever.
And that’s where the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project enters the picture, touting noble intentions to improve the mobile web experience by providing standardized guidelines to help developers build lightweight sites. AMP HTML versions of web pages trade complex functionality and capabilities for lightness, simplicity, and a focus on content, resulting in near instant load times.
Google’s main goal of this initiative appears to be geared towards improving news and media consumption on mobile devices. Publishers opting to offer AMP’s lean presentation may increase the chances of being rewarded with increased visibility in mobile search results for news, including Google’s News Carousel: the highly coveted positioning at the top of mobile search results.
While it’s already in beta testing with some of the largest news organizations, AMP is poised to become a standard feature for content-centric websites.
Get AMP’d Up
The AMP team offers a preview of Google’s AMP-powered mobile search experience; visit Google’s demo on your mobile device and enter a newsworthy term, like “election.” The results in the Google News carousel will be populated with AMP versions of articles (notice the “AMP” badge).
Highlights of the AMP experience include lightning fast page loads, and easily readable, lightweight content with a reduced presentation.
From our testing of beta publishers, many are driving visitors to their “full” site from their AMP stories. Much like an RSS feed or Flipboard subscription can entice subscribers to click through for the full story or additional content, publishers can capture more mobile readers and pull them into a fuller, responsive web experience.
The Million Dollar Question: Who Needs AMP?
Because AMP is providing a faster mobile experience and Google will be favoring faster sites more than ever, publishers in the competitive news space, need to quickly prioritize AMP HTML. The Google News carousel—a prime spot for inbound traffic—deserves the investment necessary to compete for placement, especially considering that some competitors may plan to implement AMP immediately.
Publishers serving up niche content with less competition in search results should move quickly, but take the time to strategize how to best leverage AMP. Integrating a solid advertising and branding strategy that will drive readers into the full site experience, is key. For publishers and news organizations, it isn’t a question of whether to deploy AMP support or not—it’s only a question of how soon.
Websites not delivering news (by Google or consumer standards) should hold on AMP but carefully monitor Google’s strategy. While less competitive sites may not fully benefit from AMP’s guidelines immediately, these organizations should still embrace the “spirit” of AMP by focusing on optimizing their mobile experience. As the platform evolves, we’re actively watching for signals that Google may begin prioritizing other verticals, possibly factoring AMP into its “general” search results.
How to Implement AMP HTML
Implementing AMP HTML requires a separate presentation layer (front end code base) with unique, standalone HTML and CSS. Developers should prepare for AMP’s release in late February 2016 by reviewing the complete AMP spec on GitHub. AMP’s well documented code is available on Github and includes a mix of current web best practices and custom code.
Some content management systems are introducing modules to help publishers ease into adoption. Specifically, WordPress has an open source AMP plugin from Automattic readily available in the WordPress Plugin Repository. We are collaborating with Automattic to refine the plugin’s experience, abstracting it for some additional use cases, removing dependencies outside of WordPress core, and adding some customization options for branding and basic styling.
Some Key Takeaways
- News outlets and publishers, particularly those seeing substantial inbound traffic from Google, should adopt AMP HTML quickly. Others should wait and see how AMP—and Google’s use of AMP—evolves over time.
- The ability for the AMP project to benefit the broader web is net positive. It focuses on the consumer experience and content accessibility, while making sensible allowances for independently monetizing content and presenting a more open path than emerging news consumption alternatives.
- Because 10up fully supports an open, ethical web, we favor AMP’s openness and that the codebase is fully available in GitHub: which means we can even collaborate on it. Also, the lightweight results will benefit users in low bandwidth areas.
Concerns about AMP include:
- Ostensibly equating AMP with better search results (through speed), Google opens the door for a perceived greater importance for its AMP approved web tools, like Google Analytics and its ad network.
- AMP’s requirements pertaining to ads, images, and page weight are all ambiguous at this point. This lack of precise spec definition means publishers will have to continuously experiment with sizing specs to see what works best, and learn as AMP evolves.
- Google’s focus on page speed as the top concern for mobile users could have detrimental side effects, as to “make weight” developers have to sacrifice other engaging features like immersive commenting systems, social sharing options, and other JS-dependent functionality.
Despite our concerns, AMP is much more open than existing lightweight news alternatives (e.g. Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News). Conflicts of interest are possible among well supported open source projects (e.g. Automattic/WordPress, Acquia/Drupal), but we think the project’s use of Github offers transparency and empowers us to monitor (and contribute to) proposed improvements, while watching for signs of bad governance.
AMP’s fast delivery will shape consumer expectations, and will likely force existing mobile code strategies to catch up on speed. There will be continued conversation about monetization trade offs and the cost of speed. A faster web is a more accessible web, and AMP is an exciting, opinionated project that ambitiously proposes a more open path for a faster web, or at least, a faster news experience on the open web.
John Ragozzine is the Lead Communications Manager of 10up, a full service web agency focused on outstanding content management experiences. John also spent several years working in project management where he planned, and oversaw development of fully responsive websites for high profile enterprise-level clients. John also writes about PM, Front-end Dev, UX, and other web topics at @_ragozzine