I revisit Google AMP to discuss the latest developments and why it needs to form part of your digital strategy in 2017.
Good afternoon RocketMill. We kick off, as ever, with a countdown conundrum. Yorkshire television haven’t yet been in touch to send me a cease-and-desist letter. So, for one more month you can enjoy a scramble this month. A clue to what I’m going to be talking about today: Insert AMP. And your clue to help you along your way: insert AMP on your website to give it a subtle hint of freshness.
Right, I’ve alluded to it already, I am going to be talking to you about AMP today. I’ve spoken before about Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project – better known as Google AMP. Now, in March there was the first ever AMP conference held in New York, and it alluded to the next steps for the AMP project. And within the last week there have been a couple of key developments, and I think this makes it timely to revisit the AMP project.
Before we go on to the last couple of things I’ve mentioned, you might well be wondering: what is Google AMP? Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project – usually shortened to AMP – was originally designed to provide a super-fast experience for users who are viewing static content on their mobile devices, accelerated mobile pages, and for mobile. And it was, and is, somewhat controversial, putting the needs of consumers before the needs of publishers.
Initial versions of the AMP framework had limited scope for advertising and analytics, not least because the Google AMP project team viewed these as key culprits behind an ever-slower web. And if you look today, the messaging, very different. Today, the AMP project website promises “a greater user experience across many platforms”. Compared to their previous messaging, the differences are subtle, but absolutely critical.
There is less emphasis on the M in AMP, and more focus on the overall experience versus pure speed savings. Notably, the new website with AMP page templates – this is pretty new Ampstart.com – it’s got guides to starting out with AMP. It lets you preview those templates on mobile and tablet and desktop on full screen, so you’ve got some idea of the fact that AMP is matured beyond a pure mobile language and is now something which you can use cross-platform.
So how does Google AMP work? There are four main reasons why AMP is so much faster than a typical web page, starting off with that restricted HTML subset. It only permits a restricted set of standard HTML tags, and it replaces some cumbersome tags such as <image> and <iframe> with heavily restricted equivalents.
Now, the last person to speak about AMP at RocketMill was this young, slender and rather socially awkward whippersnapper. Clearly a victim of the hairspray shortage of summer 2015. Now, joking aside, I collaborated with several of the team here to help us become one of the first agencies to launch an AMP website. And, amazingly, it still validates – I’m pretty peeved about this, frankly. I wanted to show you how early adopters have come back to find their code no longer works – with a couple of nips and tucks it passed, so I’m pretty disappointed frankly.
But anyway, the content on this page highlighted the fundamental issues of AMP at its launch in late 2015. It was difficult to implement Google Analytics and advertising, and it generally kind of felt like a platform for early adopters; keep an eye on it and let the early adopters put it through its paces.
Well today there are over two billion AMP pages in the wild, according to Google, from more than 900,000 domains, so it’s fair to say that early adoption has long since concluded. And we’ve consulted with brands, including IDG publishing and reed.co.uk to help them leverage, track, and make the most of Accelerated Mobile Pages.
So, I want to talk you through the latest developments in the world of AMP and why you need to adopt it during 2017.
First up, I’m not going to linger on this but AMP, of course, offers enhanced visibility and organic search. So, since February 2016, the top stories section of topical search results has been a carousel of Accelerated Mobile Pages. You can see a few of them here: Time using it, The Atlantic and so on and so forth. They’re all very, very speedy, and as you flick between the articles they load pretty much instantly.
And a little more recently, AMP results have been highlighted in organic search results with – standard organic results, that is – with a lightning bolt symbol. And then, of course, a speedy experience as soon as you tap through to the page. You can see that little lightning bolt.
But just three days ago, at the time of speaking, Google announced it was rolling out the benefits of AMP to its search and display ads. Never have your organic and paid search strategies needed to be more closely aligned. Firstly, Google are launching a beta called AdWords plus AMP, allowing you to direct users to Accelerated Mobile Pages from AdWords search campaigns. Google had explicitly stated that by providing faster landing pages via AMP, you are likely to see improvements in ad ranks and pricing.
And secondly, in the same blog post, Google announced that many Google display network adverts would now automatically be converted to the faster AMP ads format. Now, this is relevant across departments. AMP ads load five times faster than a non-AMP equivalent, they can be included in non-AMP pages so you can experience these speed benefits even if the content they’re embedded in is using standard HTML. And the goal is to provide an AMP ad experience which is faster than, or at least as fast as, an equivalent page with standard adverts blocked by an ad blocker plugin. Again, that ties back to that cross-device idea, concept of AMP, that came up earlier in the presentation.
So, you can see AMP is spreading its wings and growing beyond its core original goal of a fast mobile web.
Now, your AMP landing pages may, of course, have seen benefit from some of the newest front-end features announced at AMP Conf in March. So, coming soon, these include new ways of displaying images. They include parallax scroll effects, they’re ideal for editorial content, but no doubt in time you’ll be able to leverage the underpinning animation framework which powers the parallax effect for a richer AMP advertising experience.
And there is also now inventory binding, showing live stock levels based on product attributes: a clear commitment to making AMP work for e-commerce. And let’s not forget Accelerated Mobile Pages were originally designed for speed above all else, and despite a flurry of new opportunities in AMP, this core goal hasn’t been forgotten.
The AMP project team aspire to halve the time to what they call the First Contentful Paint – that’s basically the first time the page is rendered, it might not have the images, it might not have the videos, but it’s kind of usable, it’s got the text there – from its current average of 800 milliseconds to about 400 milliseconds.
Now, by comparison, according to the HTTP Archive, the average web site is now 2.929 megabytes. That is 23% larger than the retro video game Doom, and it would take about 1.6 seconds to load that average page over a UK average 4G connection. And if you’re on 3G – I live in the sticks and I’m lucky to get 4G, I’m lucky to get 3G frankly – but if you are on 3G, you will see about four seconds to load that page. So that’s ten times faster, guys.
How are they doing this? By something called foreign fetch service workers. I’d love to tell you how they work, but we’re running out of time. And they’re going to be rendering pages server-side in the AMP cache.
Now all joking aside, those last few points, basically they’re doing some really clever things with caching and placing service workers – which are for things which power notifications on the web and on apps and so on, they’re placing those above the caches rather than on a page level, which means they’re just basically caching and caching and caching upon caching. And in that last point, they’re going to be rendering pages server-side so that, rather than making a request and then getting a chain which builds a page, they’re going to make a request and just get the page. It’s really, really clever stuff and it’s going to make these pages pretty much instantaneous.
And, of course, what’s the point of running a website for business if you don’t know how many people are seeing it, how they’re using it when they get there? And the Google Analytics team have announced a raft of improvements to the accuracy of performance data for Accelerated Mobile Pages.
So, in a nutshell, if the same user visits your site twice – once via an AMP page and once via a regular web page – they will now only be counted once in Google Analytics. I know that’s happened twice before – I think I’ve worked on clients here that that’s happened kind of…one comes to mind where we saw that being repeated four times. It could be really, really inaccurate until you really nail down your GA setup. That’s now going to be much, much easier.
Regrettably, as we all know, Google Analytics data can’t be edited after the fact. So, you can expect to see decreases in user and session counts here as those users are aggregated to give a more accurate, but ultimately lower, figure. And, indeed, an increase in time on site and pages per session as those metrics again before more accurate.
Google expect to roll this out to all Analytics accounts within the next few weeks, though at present it only affects publishers whose AMP content is served on the same domain as their non-AMP content. So, if you use an AMP cache, for the time being, you won’t benefit from that change. But expect to see that soon.
So, to conclude: from humble beginnings, the AMP project has expanded to a cornerstone of everyday organic search. And its success within the publishing industry has prompted expansion into paid online advertising and e-commerce. Tracking how users interact with Accelerated Mobile Pages is becoming easier and easier as time goes by.
Guys, AMP is here to stay, and it must form part of your digital marketing strategy in 2017. Thank you.
And we must conclude with the conundrum. Who got it this month? Did anyone work out what ‘insert AMP’ was? I’m seeing a sea of blank faces. This month your conundrum was ‘spearmint’! Sorry guys, better luck next time.