Mobile devices are dominating the market when it comes to internet use. More an more people are going online with smaller devices.
Over the past few decades, web technologies have been growing allowing us a much richer experience when browsing sites. However this has often been in conflict with mobile devices due to limited bandwidth and fuzzy connections.
For a while now Google has been making noises about improving the mobile web, and back in late 2015 it started making progress with an idea that might revolutionize what we see from our mobile devices: AMP.
What is AMP?
AMP, short for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is a web technology that allows sites to serve super fast web pages to mobile devices.
Often these pages load in under a second. That’s crazy fast, especially as most web pages load much slower than that.
AMP allows these amazing load speeds by applying certain technologies to specially created web pages.
How does AMP work?
Google’s direction with AMP was to take existing web technologies and change them to provide a faster web experience.
What AMP does differently is in how it implements them.
The HTML used for AMP pages is severely restricted than the norm, some things like forms are simply not allowed.
Because AMP uses a “fork” of HTML the tags are also different , so instead of using the img tag for an image you’d use amp-img.
AMP pages are cached on Google servers to allow for faster retrieve times.
How does AMP affect SEO?
Kissmetrics grabbed some data from Gomez.com and Akamai.com and found that about 50% of users would like to see web pages load in under 2 seconds.
It doesn’t mean that the sites do of course, so AMP’s speed increases will be welcome by a lot of users.
Site speed is of course a ranking metric too. 2 sites with the same content but different speeds, the faster one will rank higher.
As such having AMP content could help your content rank higher in the search engine results page.
Of course, Google has stated that sites following AMP will not be automatically higher in the ranks than a non AMP site, but few small players can reach the site speeds necessary to get the ranking bonus.
Positives of using AMP
AMP is still a relatively new initiative but because Google is the mastermind behind the project, big business and savvy marketers are flocking to become AMP ready, fearing rank slippage otherwise.
Possible higher rankings
As mentioned earlier, speed is a ranking signal and AMP sites are super fast, so rankings could increase.
That being said, this may become moot once a large number of people have AMP versions of their sites, as everyone will be on a fairly level playing field.
Do a search in Google on your mobile device and some of the first results to show up are AMP powered sites.
While this may change in the future, especially as more people adopt the system, right now AMP sites have a slight advantage by simply being more visible in search results.
This is also helped by the very visible carousel that contains AMP results and the lightening symbol next to each one.
Unlike proprietary systems, open source allows anyone to contribute to the project and shape the project.
AMP is open source which means that it has a lot of transparency. So far on Github there have been over 4,000 pull requests (submissions for code changes) to AMP.
While some of those will come from Google employees working on the project, there’s nothing to stop you or I from filing a pull request to change something.
Negatives of AMP
Google’s mantra of “do no evil” should be ever present when looking at their products, as the company is becoming more and more synonymous with the web in general.
As such, it’s good practice to check the downsides of AMP.
Due to the reduced HTML output, certain elements like forms are not available. This is bad news if you’re looking to capture leads via AMP pages.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from using a Call to Action to direct the user to an non AMP page that has your sign up form, it just means an extra barrier to overcome.
E-commerce sites might suffer
As it stands AMP focuses on content, whether that be news or blog articles. If an e-commerce site has a limited or non-existent content side AMPing the site will be effectively useless (though any e-commerce site worth it’s salt should have a blog).
In order to make web content lightning fast to access, Google has restricted a lot of things and this might make some sites much plainer than they look on a desktop computer.
That being said, I’ve viewed a lot of AMP sites recently and they don’t look ugly: there’s still adverts being thrown in, still embedded videos and of course still CSS!
If your site can cope without sliders, lightboxes and the so on, then this isn’t really and issue. In some ways it might help you pare down your site to the bare minimum.
When you click an AMP link you’re not actually visiting the site, instead you’re being served a cached copy of the page from Google.
The URL even shows that you’re still on Google:
If you put that link into your desktop browser it will redirect you to the actual page, but on a mobile it doesn’t.
This might not be a big deal to some, but others are turning away from AMP due to this, as users cannot as easily share the direct link. There are also some concerns over what would happen to a bookmarked link when it’s been cached like this.
If your site uses a CMS such as WordPress then this might not be too much of a concern as there are already a bunch of plugins that can turn your content into AMP pages.
If your site is based on something else, or you’re not satisfied with the current offerings, then you may end up needing to pay for a developer to make sure that your AMP content is created correctly.
Incorrect mark-up can mean Google will reject the page, so getting it right matters!
The Ever Evolving Web
While AMP is part of the web as we know it, it’s also something that’s distinct from it. As well as that it’s also controlled by Google. Sure the project is open source but the reality is that the steering will still be done by Google, towards the direction that Google wants it to go.
Due to the severe restrictions put in place to allow for faster loading content, this means a lot of choice is being taken off the board.
People, marketers especially, will no doubt jump on board so as not to be left behind but is this really the right direction for the web?
It’s becoming increasingly uncommon to see sites that have dedicated mobile versions of themselves, as more and more developers and designers realize that one site that can morph to fit any screen size is a better alternative.
Why then is Google effectively taking us back to that situation? Surely we should simply be looking to other solutions such as progressive loading rather than duplicating content?
That being said, sites that use a lot of static content can get some serious speed increases on mobile by using AMP, so it’s definitely something to consider for sites that require less bells and whistles.
However this plays out it’s clear that it’s here for now and that marketers will, and perhaps should, take advantage of it. If for nothing else, just for a sense of security in not being left behind when Google’s ranking algorithm changes to put more weight on AMP content.