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A Startup’s Guide to Accelerate Mobile Pages (AMP)

If you care about the Return on Investment (ROI) of your website, you know the importance of mobile page speed.  If you have searched with Google on your mobile phone for a number of top news subjects, including breaking news, elections, sports and other real-time events, you may have seen the “top stories” carousel.  As an example, when I searched for information related to “Yahoo security breach”, I am shown these results on my Android phone.  

A year ago Google created and has been promoting and pushing, its major speed initiative, Accelerated Mobile Pages  — or AMP for short  — very aggressively.  As AMP’s specifications and features evolve, marketers and entrepreneurs can learn to capitalize on improved user experience (UX) and ranking opportunities by staying up to speed with all new mobile web experience ecosystems such as AMP.   


What Exactly is Google AMP? 

Google announced, in October 2015, a new open source project called Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP) that is geared toward enabling content to load instantly for mobile readers.  And, by creating an open source technical standards framework, this gives publishers, platforms, and ad tech companies an enhanced ability to boost page speed and the streamlining of mobile ads (e.g., no interstitials, no pop-ups.)  


How It Works:

AMP accomplishes its lightning fast loading of content on a mobile devices by:

  1. Pre-rendering the content while limiting the use of JavaScript that most publisher sites use

  2. Caching content so Google doesn’t have to fetch page content from the publisher’s server  


For a more technical explanation of the framework and how it works, let’s look at AMP’s 3 main components:   

  1. AMP HTML: A subset of HTML, this markup language has some custom tags and properties along with many restrictions.  But, if you are familiar with regular HTML, you should not have difficulty adapting existing pages to AMP HTML.  For more details on how AMP HTML differs from basic HTML, check out this link: AMP Project’s list of required markup.  This page offers a thorough guide to your AMP HTML page “must” haves.

  2. AMP JS: A JavaScript framework for mobile pages, AMP JS manages resource handling and asynchronous loading.  It should be noted that third party JavaScript is not permitted with AMP.

  3. AMP CDN: An optional Content Delivery Network, this network will take your AMP-enabled pages, cache them and automatically make some performance optimizations.


AMP compliant pages use a subset of HTML, with a few extensions.  AMP pages can be fast and highly interactive with AMP components like Carousel, video and light box.  Pages can be customized with AMP-iFrame to embed components that are not yet supported by AMP.      

See below for a screenshot from Dave Besbris, Google’s Vice President of Engineering.  At a recent SMX presentation, he explained how AMP helps browsers understand the WWB’s rich ecosystem, which is comprised of different media players, analytics systems and ad platforms.    



Although Google has stated that AMP is not a ranking signal just yet, do not be surprised if it becomes a signal in the next year.  Brands that adopt AMP beforehand will have an advantage.  Google’s Doubleclick ad network just published a study that shows the average mobile page loading time is 19 seconds and there is 53-percent abandonment rate after three seconds of waiting.  



We do know that sites with mobile friendly pages do receive an organic ranking boost compared to non-mobile friendly sites.  Google has recently rolled out AMP pages to display right after Google’s scrolling carousel.  Below is a visual which shows the results for a search for “Yahoo’s hack.”  

  


AMP pages are labeled in mobile search results, with a small gray circle icon with a white lightning bolt inside it.      

Inside the Google Search Console, there is now an AMP report that shows webmasters and search marketers the AMP pages of a site which have been successfully indexed or have caused errors (reported by type), when crawled by Google’s bots.   



Who Is Google AMP Made For?

According to Google, there are more than 650,000 domains publishing AMP pages today.  AMP also lists its growing number of supported ad, analytics, CMS, video content platforms and vendors here.  Google has moved beyond just news sites, with adoption, of new commercial and noncommercial verticals.  In fact, Wordpress and Shopify have both adopted AMP. 


Currently, Google AMP is for :



Google has indicated that more applicable content types will be added in the near future.  The new webmaster face of Google, Gary Illyes (Matt Cutts’ replacement), revealed that “the next big thing for Google in 2016 would be AMP, also known as Accelerated Mobile Pages.”  And he said Google “will be pushing it aggressively in 2016.”       


Usually, when Google makes a bold statement such as  “this is important and you should do this”, the search marketing community takes notice and jumps to it - especially since mobile search surpassed desktop search last year.


The Issues AMP is trying to Solve  

1. AMP Is Google’s Answer to Rivals’ Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles

Mobile users have grown accustomed to fast loading content experiences which are delivered by Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. But these platforms often exclude the ability to embed advertisements, an issue that Google is always trying to solve.  AMP was actually born as a direct response to search traffic getting left out of the mobile ad conversation.   

When a publisher uses Facebook’s Instant Articles, the pages load very quickly because they are all pre-rendered. You simply click and there it is!  

Many people have been getting used to this type of experience.  Previously, Google did not have any control over the speed of a publisher’s page loading in the search results.  It is of utmost importance for both Google and vendors to make sure that people are still using Google and visiting the more than 2 million websites that are part of Google’s Display Network.

So, when a mobile Search Engine Results Page (SERP) click leads to a website that is really slow and gives a poor user experience, it’s almost like the user could blame or associate the experience with Google.   

Now with AMP, webmasters have a solution to get speedy loading content served to searchers of which does not exclude Google’s advertisements.  Advertisers now have a new framework for developing fast loading landing pages which bring us to our second problem deemed solved.    


2. AMP Is Google’s Answer to Dealing with the Ad Blocker Epidemic

AMP is also a response to the widespread popularity of Ad blocker’s extensions and plugins.  Ad blockers are a pretty big problem for Google’s Adsense network and all the publishers that serve Adsense ads.  Neither Google nor publishers make money on ads when users block ads.  According to the latest data reports, 16% of U.S. Internet users block ads.  The latest Apple mobile operating system supports ad blocking in the Safari browser.  With Apple’s move to block ads, including Adsense, Apple has the intention to speed up the internet on its phones, and this is leaving Google hanging in the wind. 

Google knows that it needs to give their mobile web users a super-fast experience or users will ultimately stop making and trusting the Google search engine as their go to content discovery engine.    

Many people think that the rise and rapid adoption of ad blockers are a symptom of a degraded mobile user experience, which was caused by broad overuse of annoying advertisements.  It’s no coincidence that Google representatives first announced the AMP project to the publishing community at the Google Adsense Keynote speech at Pubcon Las Vegas last October 2015.   

Placing your ads on AMP pages is easier than ever with support ad platforms.  Ad Tech, AOL, OpenX, Doubleclick, Outbrain, Taboola and Adsense are all advertising platforms that now working within the AMP framework.


The SEO Toolbox for Page Speed Optimization

There are several ways to optimize the speed of your website, and all should be examined by your in-house technical SEO/developer or outsourced agency.

If you are interested in getting started with AMP, then take a look at the AMP Project’s Get Started tutorial.  Search Engine Land has also recently posted a quite comprehensive toolkit for AMP. AMP tutorials cover everything you would need to know to create an AMP page, such as how to configure analytics, how to include iFrames, media and third party content, and guidance on making your page discoverable and finally how to validate (test) them.         

Startups have a number of effective tools for cranking up site speed apart from the AMP initiative.  Some other initiatives to consider are selecting a mobile platform (responsive, dynamic or mobile site), optimizing it for crawling and indexing, mobile UX optimization and testing and tracking.      


Conclusion    

People crave speed, and they expect it everywhere. From 4G mobile networks to electric cars and same day or hour deliveries. As the pace of the world picks up, slower mobile sites will begin to get left behind, losing more and more users and revenue. 

What exactly is the future of mobile search? Are progressive web apps, (which use new technologies to combine mobile sites and native apps ) the answer for enterprise companies?  

Is this AMP project going to be the around forever?

This all depends on how much non-Google-dependent sites adopt and get involved in similar endeavors or directives. The AMP swiping carousel UX, or “tinderization” of mobile search, could be the future whereby users swipe through results instead of clicking.  As a note, this is already happening with the AMP viewer interface.  


 


According to Adam Greenberg, head of Global Product Partnerships at Google, the company as of now, will show AMP pages over app deep links in the search results to users, even if the user has the app already installed.  At the latest SMX East conference, some SEO experts voiced criticism about AMP’s adoption and life span.  Mike King of Ipullrank says “as an SEO or developer I feel like Google is saying you guys can’t code so here is a subset of HTML and CDN, so we will take all of your control over, and we have your content. So now we have the ability to not even crawl it anymore because you gave it to us.”  

“PWA’s (Progressive Web Apps) are different because you are creating an application that is very much centered around speed, just like Angularjs allows you to have really fast apps.”  says the director of Bing’s Webmaster Tools.  “PWA is blindingly fast and looks like a regular website … it just might crush AMP and apps all together”     

What is the best mobile solution for your company?

It all depends on what type of startup business and industry you are in.  What we do know is that everyone needs to be building mobile first experiences for users.

Have any startups in the SG community started using or building in AMP? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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