What is AMP?

AMP (pronounced A.M.P not “amp”) stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. The title is fairly descriptive; they are pages that are designed to be fast-loading on mobile devices. The idea of AMP is to produce a lightning quick experience for internet browsers on a mobile device. The free, open-source framework allows you to build pages that work like a stripped-down version of your main pages, that function without the speed-taxing elements that impact load time. When a standard webpage has an AMP alternative available, a link to the AMP version is placed on the page via an HTML tag and this is what is served to the mobile device user.

The AMP framework allows developers to build pages using three core elements; AMP HTML, AMP JavaScript and AMP Cache. The AMP HTML is HTML that has been extended with custom AMP properties. Most of the HTML used on an AMP page is standard HTML. However, there are some AMP-specific tags that enable performance improvements. AMP JavaScript is a JavaScript library that enables the fast rendering of AMP HTML pages. It ensures optimisations such as preventing third-party JavaScript from blocking the rendering of the page and keeping it out of the critical path. The AMP Cache is a content delivery network specifically for AMP documents. Most AMP pages are served via the Google AMP Cache which stores valid AMP documents and their resources and delivers them in its search results on mobile devices, providing a faster mobile user experience.

Who supports AMP?

Although heavily backed by Google, the AMP Project is not owned by the search giant. In fact, the AMP Project website lists over 160 Ad platforms and 15 CMSs that support it. Other search engines, such as Bing, Baidu and Yahoo Japan are linked to the AMP Project, suggesting that AMP pages will not only benefit publishers in the Google search results, but across other engines also. In September 2018, Bing even announced its own AMP cache with the purpose of providing a faster mobile experience to users of Bing.
CMSs such as Drupal and WordPress have AMP functionality built into them, with AMP being enabled as a default on all pages created on WordPress.com sites. There is clearly a high and growing uptake of the technology, and big players in the industry are keen to back it.

What was AMP designed for?

The purpose of AMP when it was announced back in 2015 was to improve the performance of the internet on mobile devices. At its core, AMP is focused on optimising webpages for quick loading on mobile devices by offering content through lightweight pages. This certainly marries with Google’s apparent quest to make the web a more accessible and enjoyable place for users of mobile devices.

How AMP helps SEO

  • The main benefit of AMP is speed. If your website is currently super slow-loading for users on a 3G mobile connection then you will notice an instant improvement in load speed times through using AMP. Google announced in July 2018 that the “Speed Update” was rolling out for all users on mobile devices. This update to the ranking algorithm meant that very slow-loading web pages might be hindered in the search results. Although only a minor ranking factor, the load speed of a page can have other implications on the performance of the page. Recent studies by Google suggest that as a page’s load speed increases from 1s to 5s the bounce rate increases by 90%. Therefore, even if your site isn’t loading slowly enough to trigger the Speed Update, a fast-loading accelerated mobile page will benefit your users.
  • Server performance is also improved through using AMP. If you receive a lot of traffic from mobile devices to your website then AMP pages can reduce the strain on your servers.
  • You get access to AMP-only search features. There are places in the Google search results that are reserved for AMP only pages. If you are a news publisher then using AMP to deliver your articles grants you access to the carousel of news stories that sits at the top of the Google mobile search results.
  • AMP Stories were introduced in early 2018 with a view to generating more engagement with users. Google Google’s AMP Stores are a content format designed to provide publishers with new storytelling options. The format is a swipeable, image-rich experience that delivers content quickly in bite-sized chunks. AMP Stories, although not as widely utilised as initially thought, have the potential to increase search engine visibility with early examples from Google showing the Stories directly in the SERPs.
  • The AMP “lightning” icon in the SERPS indicates that a page is being served through AMP. It is thought that this will increase the clickthrough rate of pages as users will choose AMP page over the standard HTML results knowing it will be a more streamlined experience on their mobile device.
  • Increased conversion rate on e-commerce sites has been cited as one benefit of using AMP. In 2017 Akamai Technologies released a report that claimed a 100-millisecond delay in website load time could hurt conversion rates by as much as 7 percent and 53 percent of mobile website visitors would leave a page if it took longer than 3 seconds to load. Although not a direct benefit to SEO, increased conversion rate is the Holy Grail of many digital marketers and therefore any edge that can be gained in converting visitors is valuable.
  • Assisting GDPR compliance is a surprising benefit of using AMP. Again, while not directly assisting with the search engine optimisation of a website, complying with the European law is a headache that every digital marketer is subjected to and, therefore, anything that makes adhering to it easier is worth a mention. The new component in AMP enables publisher to implement user controls that determine if the user should be asked to interact with the control, capture the user’s decision and make the user’s setting available to the AMP page so as to modify the page’s behaviour as a result.

How AMP hinders SEO

  • Branding is hampered through use of Google-specific URLs. A large frustration many publishers using AMP have noted is that their own domains are not displayed in the search results. As the pages are largely served through Google’s own cache, it is a Google cache AMP URL that is displayed in the search results rather than the website’s own domain. Google has recently, as of November 2018, opened a developer preview of a fix they are working on for this. This will only be available on Google Chrome 71 or higher, so currently if you click on an AMP URL from Google Search you will be shown the AMP URL by default.
  • The “lightning icon” used to denote that a page is an AMP is not as widely recognized as digital publishers might hope. The “pro” of AMP increasing clickthrough rate from the SERPs only works if users are associating the lightning symbol with AMP and are aware that AMP is supposed to be delivering them a better user experience. This is a lot of expectation to put on users considering AMP has not be widely publicised outside of the digital marketing arena. Without educating searchers of the benefits of AMP pages and how to spot them in the search results, is naïve to assume they will be familiar with them. At the time of writing this article, I appeared to be in a Google test that stopped the AMP symbol from displaying in the mobile SERPs at all, which again would nullify this “pro”.
  • The success of your AMP pages is hard to track as the platform doesn’t automatically work out of the box with analytics tools like Google Analytics. There is a need to configure your AMP pages to be tracked alongside your main domain in Google Analytics. Possibly one of the biggest hindrances to an effective SEO campaign is not being able to track performance. Although it is possible to hook up your AMP pages to be tracked in Google Analytics (Google even gives developer guidance on how to do this) many publishers do not know that they need to do this and may suffer from an unexplained drop in traffic to their website upon implementing AMP. On the face of it, AMP pages would actually be detrimental to the perceived success of an SEO campaign.
  • Website functionality can be stripped down as a result of the more limited JavaScript library from which your webpage can draw. Recent introduction of the amp-bind component has addressed this slightly by allowing web developers to add custom interactivity beyond AMP’s already accessible components. For instance, on an e-commerce page amp-bind can enable more complex filtering and sorting options as well as changing the user interface if a product is out of stock. On the whole though, by the nature of AMP reducing custom code, an AMP page will likely produce a different user experience to the main site’s pages. This can be confusing to users accessing the site across multiple devices as well as making it difficult to implement the jazzier features the website employs.
  • Google’s crackdown on AMP teaser pages in February 2018 specifically targeted websites that tried to get around the disadvantages of AMP pages whilst benefiting from their increased exposure in the SERPs. Publishers received the benefits of being displayed in the news carousel at the top of the Google search results by using AMP teaser pages that contained a portion of the article in them but required users to click though to the standard HTML pages to view the remainder. If Google determines that the AMP page does not contain the same content as the standard page it will direct users to the standard page instead, meaning the page will no longer appear in the coveted carousel position. Publishers who violate the new Google policy will also find themselves in receipt of a manual action notification in Google Search Console. The crackdown on teaser pages could seriously hamper the SEO efforts of publishers if they have spent time and money converting their pages to AMP but are no longer receiving the benefits of it.
  • Possibly one of the biggest hindrances to SEO that AMP pages bring is the drain on money and resources. For some, AMP implementation is not difficult, but when you factor in CMSs that are known for their complexity (naming no names) then you could see a serious demand on your development team to make the AMP implementation work. There are many plugins that claim to be able to easily make AMP pages but as an SEO I’m always nervous to simply trust a third-party plug-in to do something that I would normally ask a highly skilled developer to implement.

Conclusions

So in summary, AMP has many positives but whether your website would receive the full weight of those is really a cost-benefit analysis. For publishers looking to be contenders in the highly competitive “news” industry, appearing in the carousel at the top of the search results might be beneficial enough to warrant the implementation. However, if your reason for choosing AMP is just to increase the load speed of your webpage the time and resources might be better spent optimising the speed of all your pages.
AMP implemented well still has its drawbacks, and how much you rely on functionality to convert your visitors will impact on whether making the switch is worth it for you. Unless you are after the increased exposure that AMP can bring, I would recommend using the time and development resource to improve the overall user experience of your pages on mobile and desktop.