What are Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) and How do they Affect SEO Strategy?


It’s now two years since Google announced the launch of their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. So how far have we come in the last two years and what does the future look like? Well, for those of you who might still be thinking that the project has not really taken off, here are some figures that were announced by Google’s Ranna Zhou at SMX Advanced in Seattle in June:

  • Over 2 billion AMP pages have now been created
  • 58 AMP pages are created every second
  • AMP has gone social in China – Weibo and QQ are using AMP
  • Global sales giant AliExpress reduced their load time by 36% by implementing AMP – this led to a 10.5% increase in orders and a 27% increase in conversion rate

Some pretty impressive stats but who exactly is using AMP? Well, according to Tech Crunch, who reported from the Google I/O Developer conference earlier this year, a whopping 900,000 domains are now using AMP. It was announced at that conference that Google was expanding the project to include more e-commerce sites as well as covering more ad formats.

So where do we go from here and should you be considering AMP for your website?

What is Google AMP?

Let’s just quickly cover off what exactly is Google AMP for those who may not have heard much about it. Google AMP:

  • Is an Open source initiative to improve the mobile ecosystem
  • Is a pared-down version of HTML enabling pages to load super-fast
  • Is cached on Google’s own cache to speed up load time
  • Loads content before adverts

In a nutshell, AMP allows your web pages to load much faster than regular HTML web pages, helping to improve your user experience and helping to improve your visibility in the search results.

Who is using AMP?

When AMP first launched, the ‘platform’ was only available to publishers. Some of the first to jump on board with the project were The Guardian in the UK and the Washington Post in the USA. A quick look at the AMP Project website shows a compelling case study from the Washington Post with some pretty impressive stats:

  • 1,000+ AMP articles published every day
  • 88% improvement to page load times on AMP pages vs traditional mobile websites
  • Increase in return users on mobile – up from 51% to 63%

Since the early days when it appeared only the big publishers were really benefiting from AMP, Google has rolled AMP out to a number of other publishing channels to great effect. Recipes have been one of the biggest adopters of AMP and now with the latest update, e-commerce sites are also starting to jump on board including Zalando in Europe, Myntra in India and AliExpress in China.

What are Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) and How do they Affect SEO Strategy?

Should my website switch to AMP?

Well, there is no conclusive answer to this question. You must first ask yourself a number of questions which will help you to make that decision. Questions like:

  • What sector is my business in?
  • Where are the majority of my visitors coming from?
  • What is the current speed of my mobile optimised site?

If you already have a fast-loading site, the benefits of moving to AMP may not be worth the time and resources required to implement AMP. If most of your visitors are still coming from desktop, again, it may not be worth the time and expense to implement. If however, you are finding that your site is in an extremely competitive sector where a lot of search traffic is driven from mobile, AMP may well be worth further investigation.

Here are some of the pros and cons of moving to AMP:

Pros

  1. Improves mobile ranking – whilst AMP is not an official ranking factor, site speed is, so by switching to AMP and speeding up your page load time, you will likely see a positive impact on your rankings.
  2. Following on, AMP obviously has a positive impact on your page load time. If you are struggling to achieve the benchmark 85/100 in Google Page Speed Insights score, a move to AMP may be a good move for your website.
  3. It improves your server performance – if you are seeing a large volume of your traffic coming from mobile, switching to AMP will reduce the load on your servers and improve their performance.
  4. Improved UX – a faster loading mobile experience has the knock-on effect of improving user-experience. Sites that have moved to AMP have reported lower bounce rates, more time spent on page and importantly, increased conversions.
  5. Ad visibility – whilst there were some initial teething problems with the Ad delivery, this has been well and truly ironed out. A review of the performance of ads in AMP by Double Click last year showed that, compared to non-AMP pages, ads on AMP have led to:
    • 80%+ of the publishers realising higher viewability rates
    • 90%+ of the publishers driving greater engagement with higher CTAs
    • The majority of publishers seeing higher eCPMs (Impact and proportion of lift varies by region and how optimised the non-AMP sites are)

What are Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) and How do they Affect SEO Strategy?

Cons

  1. AMP has a small set of HTML, JavaScript and CSS – there are limitations to the amount of customisation you can do and stripping back your current site of some of the key HTML, JS and CSS elements can sometimes lead to pages that are not as ‘attractive’ to the end user.
  2. Time – whilst there are plugins available that will strip back your current content and make it AMP validating, there is going to be a time investment needed to get AMP right and get the most out of the move. If you already have a fast performing site on mobile, that time may be best spent elsewhere.
  3. Your content will be cached at google.com meaning some restrictions to the analytics data you can pull out. Whilst Google is working on improving this, there are still limitations so if you really rely on detailed analytics data, then this will require further research.

What are the alternatives to AMP?

If you remain unconvinced about the benefits of AMP to your business, what are some of the alternatives? Well, depending on the current state of your mobile site, there are a number of alternatives open for investigation that may work better for your business.

Here are some potential suggestions:

    • Do nothing! – If your current mobile-friendly, responsive website is performing well, delivering a great UX and loading quickly, there may well be very little you can gain from moving to AMP or any alternative option. We would always recommend a full audit of your mobile site before deciding on any potential new path.
    • Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) – at SMX Advanced in Seattle, we heard from Cindy Krum from MobileMoxie who was a strong advocate of PWAs. Their main selling points include
      • Reliable – loads instantly
      • Fast – respond quickly to user interactions
      • Engaging – feels like a natural app on a device with an immersive UX

      You can find out more about PWAs on the Google Developers Website or watch this cool video.

    • PWAMP(!) – a term first introduced by Google’s Gary Illyes at SMX Seattle, PWAMP is a combination of a PWA built on AMP HTML, JS and CSS. Whilst PWAMP sites may not validate as AMP pages, they are lightning fast and provide all the benefits of a PWA as listed above. They could be the future and one to keep an eye on.

What are Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) and How do they Affect SEO Strategy?

How do AMPs impact on your SEO strategy?

Now we’ve looked at some of the pros and cons of AMP as well as some of the alternative solutions, what does AMP mean for your SEO strategy? Well, if mobile is not at the heart of that strategy already, it needs to be. With Google announcing that the shift to the mobile-first index is likely to happen sometime in 2018, there has never been a more important time to get your mobile website experience in order.

In late 2016, Search Engine Land reported that nearly 60% of searches are now carried out on a mobile device with this number set to rise as we move into 2018. Whilst this number may vary from sector to sector, the trend is only going one way and that’s heading towards a mobile-dominated world. With Google adopting a mobile-first index, it is more crucial than ever to deliver the best possible experience to users on a mobile device.

Is AMP the answer to Google’s move to a mobile-first index?

As we have already established, there are plenty of advantages of switching to AMP but we would advise you to carry out a full review of your current mobile experience and assess whether the time needed to make the move to AMP is worth it, or whether there are improvements you can make to your current mobile site which would put the performance in the upper-percentile for your sector.


About the Author

Gavin Hirst Gavin Hirst is a Brit working abroad. He is a copywriter, SEO and content marketing expert working for one of Auckland’s leading digital marketing agencies, Digital Hothouse in New Zealand. Outside of work, Gavin is a keen golfer and is passionate about the outdoors – hence the move to NZ! Connect with Digital Hothouse on Twitter and keep up to date with all the latest digital marketing news and trends in NZ and across the world.

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