Google’s AMP project: what will be the impact on publishers?

Last Wednesday, Google announced the rollout of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a new project that will have long-lasting consequences for content publishers and search marketers. 

It’s a logical extension of Google’s growing mobile-first approach toward serving content, meant to help users find information with less friction.

It’s no secret that Google has been pushing content publishers to increase site speed for improved user experience. Combined with Google’s efforts to keep users within its ecosystem, AMP addresses both points with an elegant solution.

Explain AMP like I’m a five year-old (with a basic understanding of search marketing)

AMP allows content publishers to streamline content templates with an open-source framework named AMP HTML. 

It is meant to simplify cumbersome HTML, CSS and JavaScript elements, resulting in a stripped down page that only includes the most vital content (text, images, videos, and of course, site ads). 

Websites that opt into this framework benefit from speed improvements since the content templates share common elements and components, leading to a 15 to 85% performance improvement, according to Google.

From the search engine results page, users can click through to a list of AMP-compliant partner sites. Doing so will load that content almost instantaneously, as Google will also pre-render content above the fold for AMP listings. 

Once a user clicks through, there is a persistent blue bar at the top with a call to action to return to the Google SERP.

A Google Accelerated Mobile Pages result from the demo…

amp-view-on-browser

How the same article appears in browser when clicking a result…

amp-view-on-mobile

Why this was an inevitable evolution for Google

Google seemingly takes every opportunity to remind publishers that faster websites are better for users

Google cites a 29% drop off when mobile users reach a site/app that’s either too slow or that doesn’t provide the right information up front. And the AMP site quotes a 58% drop off for pages that take 10 seconds to load.

Back in 2010, Google officially announced on its Webmaster Central Blog that site speed would become an organic search-ranking factor. Earlier in 2015, Google began testing ‘slow’ warnings next to websites that took too long to load.

Toward this end, Google has released several tools for site owners to audit and fix performance issues, including PageSpeed Insights and the Mobile-Friendly Test.

Combine this with their testing of a ‘Reader’ mode in Chrome for Android, and you have the precursor to Accelerated Mobile Pages. Compared to Chrome for Android’s experimental Reader view, you can see many similarities:

Google AMP view of the article…

amp-view-on-mobile

Google Chrome for Android’s Reader View of the same article…

google-chrome-for-android-s-reader-view

And with the 2013 Hummingbird algorithm update, Google solidified its focus on providing answers rather than simply search result listings. 

Featured snippets have been rolled out for many conversational ‘question’ searches and head terms. However, a lot of questions can’t be answered in a small paragraph (using Google’s examples, questions like “What did NASA find on Mars?” or “What’s happening in Syria?”). This is where Accelerated Mobile Pages come in.

How will AMP impact organic search?

Like the Google News box when it debuted, the AMP module disrupts the search experience by appearing at the top of the SERP and pushing everything else down.

The most immediate impact for publishers that don’t opt into AMP will be a decrease in impressions and clicks, even with a top organic position. Since the AMP module appears at the top of the SERP (for now), organic results are pushed below the fold. 

Throw paid search ads into the mix, and scrolling is unavoidable to get to traditional organic listings.

For publishers that are opted into AMP, traffic will likely increase for short-tail terms where the module is likely to be activated.

It is also worth noting is that any links within the article text still work in AMP view and will open in a new window. If the goal is to drive users to the full site experience, it may be prudent to front load links.

How will AMP impact paid search?

This is a little trickier to answer. 

With the query examples that Google provided (fashion, mars, Syria, NYTimes), it’s likely that AMP will only appear on general terms that will have fewer paid search advertisers on them.

Since the most likely user action after reaching an AMP article is to click back to the Google SERP, this may provide additional opportunities for paid search impressions, depending on if a page load refresh occurs.

How will AMP impact local search?

On the demo site, the AMP module appears above even when the query has high local intent.

AMP results for the query ‘pizza’ displaying articles…

amp-search-results

Regular mobile search result for ‘pizza’ with paid ads and the local pack at top…

mobile-search-results

While this may not be the final experience when AMP is rolled out publicly, Google will definitely have to work to weigh user intent when its algorithms determine how and when the AMP module is displayed. 

It’s a safe assumption that Google will use click behavior to determine when AMP content is most relevant for users and recalibrate its algorithm accordingly.

Implementation considerations

For smaller websites, opting into the AMP framework is easy if your CMS is supported or is nimble enough to support integration. 

On my personal blog running WordPress, it was a simple one-click install via the AMP plugin. To access the accelerated pages, all you have to do is append /amp or the query string “?amp=1” at the end of the permalink URL. For example, http://ad-shark.com/blog/seo-sem/sejsummit-ny-recap-seo-content-analytics/amp instead of the permalink http://ad-shark.com/blog/seo-sem/sejsummit-ny-recap-seo-content-analytics/

One of my blog posts on mobile…

blog-post-on-mobile

The AMP version of the same blog post…

amp-version-of-blog-post

The most jarring aspect is how bare the page looks. Additional design work and CSS styling obviously needs to be done to preserve branding and design. Publishers will also have to make sure all media are AMP-compliant in order to show (including ads).

For larger sites, dev teams will have to work to integrate the framework into existing content management technology. Luckily, Google has uploaded all relevant framework files to github.

Another thing to keep in mind is that third-party JavaScript code is disabled in the AMP framework. 

There’s a shortlist of analytics companies that have partnered with Google (and are whitelisted) included Chartbeat, Parse.ly and Adobe Analytics. That means if you’re not using Google Analytics or one of those for tracking, you may be out of luck.

Preparing your brand for AMP

In summary, AMP takes the guesswork out of improving site speed and has the potential to completely change content consumption behaviors for mobile searchers. 

Development resources aside, there are few reasons for why publishers should not opt into AMP. Otherwise, there is a high potential for missing out on a significant portion of traffic (especially with mobile searches officially overtaking desktop as of May 2015).

Implementation is relatively simple, and Google has provided all relevant material for the open-source framework in a central location to encourage adoption.

Once rollout is public, Google will likely be testing out placements for the AMP module, so expect fluctuations in both paid and organic impressions and clicks. 

How AMP plays with other organic Google modules (News, local pack, etc.) should be a major focus for the immediate future, especially for brands that rely heavily on traffic from any of these sources. Perhaps prepare for the worst-case scenarios just in case. 

It’s likely that paid listings that drive Google’s search revenue (AdWords, Shopping, etc.) will take priority and not be pushed down by AMP, but that too is to be determined.

For more information, webmasters should visit the AMP Project.

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