Google AMP – Hype Or Hope?

Google AMP

With Google changing the game again and releasing their AMP pages, the internet has been turned over, people have begun taking sides -- both for, and against -- and a lot of people are left wondering exactly what it means for their business.

Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest shakeups in the SEO industry that has happened in the last few years, but Google is promising that the Accelerated Mobile Pages program will both change the web and make accessing your favorite pages even quicker.

Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way we consume content and access information, but with the rise in popularity, a large number of web developers and publishers were having issues with the different screen sizes and operating systems, when it comes to accurately displaying the pages on their site.

responsive vs unresponsive web design

Previously, fully responsive designs made big pushes to help standardize the mobile industry, but as technology rapidly evolves, keeping up with the changing times presented more problems than what developers were able to keep up with -- specifically, Google.

Then, in February 2016, Google released their AMP update that allows publishers to build lightweight web pages that look great and function flawlessly across a wide range of devices.

As time goes on, Google is promising to release even more updates to the AMP protocol, allowing publishers to implement new ad types for increased monetization, along with new content types to help make their stories and articles more attractive, and stand out against their competition.

The best, most basic way to describe AMP is that users are being served pages that are stripped down versions of the full desktop version, and they’re delivered from Google’s own caching servers rather than (sometimes) unreliable servers that publishers host their sites on.

A lot of publishers are torn, though. On one hand, the new AMP pages load lightning fast, in less than 1 second in most cases, but also provide a stripped down user experience, meaning that a large majority of most major website’s functions have been removed.

While it is still too soon to tell exactly what’s going to happen with AMP, especially with Google’s history of releasing products that have eventually failed and become phased out, one thing is certain: Google and Facebook are going head to head against each other to change how we access the web where mobile devices are concerned.

Enter Facebook Vs. Google

With each major advertising company vying for more of a “land grab” when it comes to digital real estate, these evolutions only make sense. Each company wants to become the internet itself, and the more real estate they control means the more money they can make.

Facebook Instant Articles was well received, mainly due to the fact that Facebook allows publishers to gain access to data and keep 100% of the revenue they generate from ads on their articles. This is a huge difference from Google, who offers between 40% and 60% of ad revenues as incentive.

Facebook Vs Google

The key differences between the two are based in how they handle code that is being loaded every time you open a web page. Facebook utilizes Javascript, where Google intends to kill off Javascript and other slow loading aspects of most web designs.

They both do away with third-party scripts. That means all of your existing ads, even your Analytics, will fail to load in Google’s new AMP pages. Facebook Instant Articles provides you internal data that you can use, while Google is still working on a solution.

Where most developers are having issues with the new AMP protocol is that there is little to no control over the pages themselves. AMP strips out a majority of code, including CSS, images, videos, and other assets, choosing to render what they want, rather than what you’ve designed into the page.

While it’s easy to see why Google and Facebook are both doing this, it presents problems with AMP-only or Instant Articles-only code tags that subvert HTML code that has been utilized on the web for years.

Both platforms are attempting to make their own code subsets, which will require that developers keep up with the changes rather than simply using what already works. This can present a lot of problems down the road.

Publishers, so far, have been losing because of the battle between these two goliaths.

On one hand, traffic numbers are increasing with the change in the search results pages, while on the other hand, ad revenues are dropping when compared to fully responsive and mobile-specific web designs.

Advertisers losing money because of AMP

How It (AMP) Works

The open-source AMP HTML framework meshes with existing HTML code, but strips down a lot of the “slow” parts of HTML and allows publishers to create lightweight versions of their webpages.

AMP HTML is exactly the same as HTML5, with a few key differences.

First, the optimization is powered by Javascript and styled with CSS, but the pages are cached by Google’s servers so that it reduces load on web hosting servers and provides a way for Google to quickly serve up the page when a user requests it.

Caching is essential to AMP. Without it, visitors would still be relying on web hosts around the world to serve up the pages, rather than Google’s servers being able to track visitors by their location and serve up a pre-cached page from a server closest to them.

AMP pages are completely separate from a mobile optimized or fully responsive website.

What is Google AMP

Google still puts emphasis on the desktop version of your site. Both the mobile and AMP versions of your site will be annotated as alternates, provided you use the proper markup.

When a mobile user searches for a keyword on Google, Google will serve up AMP pages first and foremost, while the standard search results will contain the preferred version of the page, depending on what the publisher has chosen.

While there are major restrictions on the types of ads and trackers that publishers can use on their AMP articles, they still have multiple different solutions for monetizing their content. As of right now, both DoubleClick and OpenX are compatible with AMP. Both are two of the largest advertising networks on the internet today.

​Should You Implement AMP?

AMP has been rolled out to help news publishers, but is relevant to many different types of businesses.

Everything from eCommerce organizations to large brands are able to utilize the AMP project to increase their search traffic and make their website more friendly to the growing mobile user base.

For instance, eBay has been one of the earliest adopters of the AMP project, showcasing nearly 8 million different search results for everything from camera drones to Sony Playstation related queries. After implementation, eBay reported a nearly 15% increase in their traffic, based solely on AMP related searches.

The commercial incentive alone is enough for many different companies to begin implementing AMP pages. As more companies begin to adopt the technology, it is going to become a standard online, almost requiring other companies to follow suit. Being one of the companies to adopt AMP early on is providing big benefits to their bottom line.

Given how Google is prioritizing AMP pages in their search results, adoption has been strong. Companies that are battling for mobile ad dollars are relishing how easy it has been to send more of that coveted traffic to their own pages, versus allowing their competitors to continue taking a larger piece of the pie.

Google AMP ranking signal?

The biggest pushback has come from Google attempting to keep AMP publishers inside of their own advertising network, which has caused a drop in revenue for some publishers. Only time will tell if ads are more successful in the standard mobile web, or if AMP revenues will continue to increase as the technology evolves.

Because the technology is so new, many developers have been scrambling, trying to figure out how to make it work. As time goes on, though, AMP is going to become a more influential factor in how web pages are created and displayed. This isn’t another one of Google’s failed programs.

Google spent years trying to force mobile responsive websites, and even released algorithms that were designed specifically to show mobile responsive versions of pages over the desktop versions, in a wide variety of search results.

With their latest push, all of the testing they put into getting publishers to adopt mobile responsive designs has paid off, and isn’t going away anytime soon. If you are a publisher in today’s internet landscape, regardless of your industry, you want to look into incorporating AMP into your design.

It’s smart business, and will open the gates for you, as an early adopter, to be first to market in your specific industry.

Why It Works

Mobile devices tend to bring with it mobile networks. And mobile networks can be unreliable and slow. Google listened to exactly what searchers are wanting, and attempted to deliver exactly that: fast loading web pages, regardless of the connection speed or device.

If Google is able to offer the fastest results, and searchers don’t have to wait around for pages to load, they are going to maintain the lion’s share of the internet traffic and keep themselves ahead of the market.

Google also has incentives to keep people on the mobile web. They currently own 5 of the 9 most popular mobile apps, where their current market share is far less certain. Mobile app developers are always evolving to meet with the times, so Google had to follow suit or get left behind.

What AMP Means For SEO

As of right now, AMP is not a direct factor in how your website ranks in the search results, and you aren’t going to be punished if you don’t adopt the AMP technology.

You also aren’t going to see a massive boost in your search rankings if you happen to implement it, either.

Before you can rank highly in the search results, you have to satisfy all of the other algorithm requirements first. This hasn’t changed, even after the AMP movement.

However, speed matters now, more than ever. If there are two articles that are exactly the same across the board, as far as the other ranking signals go, and one is able to load faster than the other, the page that loads quicker is going to get preferential treatment in the search results.

AMP is also able to indirectly influence where pages land in the search results, based on ranking factors that are baked into the current algorithms. For instance, if an AMP page generates more clicks with fewer bounces, Google is going to assume that the page is valuable and end up ranking it above other pages that may have bounce rate issues.

Most SEOs in the industry expect AMP to have a significant impact on the way search results are handled, especially those that are being queried from mobile devices, or are specifically tailored to mobile related keywords.

Pitfalls To Be Aware Of

With every other change in technology, you can expect a wide range of benefits, along with a few pitfalls that you’ll need to navigate your way through if you want to come out on top.

Now that the technology has been rolled out around the globe, more developers are coming forward with automated methods for implementing it into your pages without dealing with potentially breaking something.

To give you an idea, think of where SEO was at just a few short years ago. You had to hard-code everything into your pages, from the meta tags to canonical tags, and more. Now, plugins such as All In One SEO and WordPress SEO make life easy. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Google AMP and WordPress

AMP plugins for WordPress websites function the same way. If you’re using WordPress to manage your website, implementing AMP onto your pages is fairly straightforward, and can be accomplished by installing the official plugin.

If you’re on another platform, or happen to hard-code your pages, you will need to implement the AMP tags on a page-by-page basis.

Implementing AMP onto your pages will essentially set your website design back about 10 years, but it also gives you a fresh slate and a new platform to develop your website around. This time around, though, instead of focusing on the visuals and usability, you’re putting site speed as the #1 priority.

One of the biggest pitfalls of the AMP technology is that your pages aren’t actually hosted on your website anymore.

They’re created on your website, but Google caches a version of the page and serves them up to visitors from a Google.com domain, rather than your own domain and URLs.

This means that you may notice your website traffic drop significantly in your Analytics, while you’re actually serving up more pageviews to each visitor. It’s a bit of a conundrum, with developers working out new ways to track the visitors that are accessing through the AMP servers, rather than directly firing off your own Analytics pixel.

Tight cookie restrictions also make it hard to track what your visitors are doing, and serve them up fresh content based on the results of their browsing history.

How To Capitalize On The AMP Movement

While the future of AMP is uncertain, one thing is certain: Google has devoted a large amount of resources and manpower to making sure it doesn’t fall victim to the same circumstances that have plagued their other usability rollouts: namely, Google+ and authorship.

AMP has big implications on the mobile web, but its survival will ultimately be determined by how well it is accepted by the publishers and whether it is adopted as the industry standard, or not.

AMP is going to stand a better chance at becoming the industry standard since it doesn’t have nearly as many requires as authorship did, for instance. Authorship required a Google+ account, along with implementing code onto the pages of your website. Once Google+ began to fall, authorship went right along with it.

The decline of both technologies means that web publishers are going to have a harder time getting themselves to actually implement AMP on a large scale.

That’s your opportunity to get in before they begin to roll it out.

If you’re able to become one of the first in your niche or industry to utilize AMP, you are setting yourself up to capture a large amount of traffic. Google may also give you favor because they will have grown to trust your website for longer than newer websites that are taking longer to implement the technology.

How To Implement AMP

Now for the good bits -- actually implementing AMP onto your website so you can take advantage of the new technology, and open your site up to the influx of visitors that Google is currently giving preferential treatment to.

AMP works based off of three different frameworks.

AMP HTML: This is the subset of the HTML5 code, minus the bloatware that’s typically associated with code-heavy designs. If you’re familiar with HTML itself, you will have no problems implementing AMP HTML. To get you started, here is a link that outlines all of the HTML tags that are accessible on AMP based pages.

AMP JS: This is the Javascript framework that is used for mobile pages. Third-party Javascript is not currently permitted in the AMP framework. The only Javascript currently used is based around handling resources and ensuring asynchronous loading.

AMP CDN: The AMP CDN is an optional content delivery network that will take your AMP based pages, automatically cache them, and make minor performance optimizations to ensure they load quickly and do not contain broken or unsupported elements.

The biggest complication when it comes to implementing AMP onto your pages is the fact that you have to maintain two different versions that users will actually see.

Because AMP limits the amount of resources you load onto the page, you’re not going to be able to use things like lead generation forms, comment sections, iframes, or other elements that most designers use, especially those on WordPress.

You will probably also have to rewrite your template to accommodate sizes restrictions. For instance:

  • Your CSS must be in-line on the page and smaller than 50KB in size.
  • Custom fonts can be used, but they must have a special AMP-font extension to properly load.
  • Multimedia, like videos and images, must be handled differently, as well. Images need to be loaded using the amp-img element, while animated GIFs must be loaded using the amp-anim element.
  • Amp-video elements allow you to load locally hosted videos via HTML5. To load videos from a separate platform, like YouTube for instance, you’ll need to use amp-youtube.

As of right now, there is also support for various addons, like slideshows, carousels, and image lightboxes, as well as social media embeds for major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and the now defunct Vine.

While the tags aren’t necessarily difficult to use, they are going to require you to take extra steps while you’re planning your website’s design. You’re also going to need to modify the original version of your page to include the following tag, essentially a canonical tag for AMP based pages:

<link rel="amphtml" href="http://www.yoursite.com/blog-post/amp/">

Implementing advertising onto your AMP based pages is slightly more difficult, especially as ad blocking software and plugins become more popular every day.

AMP also has issues displaying your Analytics code, because it is based off of Javascript. Instead of using Analytics, you’ll need to use a couple different AMP specific tags.

  • AMP-Pixel: This is the tag you’ll need to use in place of a standard tracking pixel. You can also implement a number of different variables to give you stronger tracking and visitor tagging.
  • AMP-Analytics: This is slightly more advanced than the standard amp-pixel, but is likely to be what you will implement on your site if you want a greater level of configuration and more control.

If you aren’t using Google Analytics specifically, the amp-analytics tag is likely to be what you’ll end up using. You’ll need to place it in the <head> section and then configure it using JSON markup in the <body> section of your website.

You can learn more about the Analytics implementation from the AMP Project website itself by clicking here.

AMP Meets WordPress

While everything I just covered may seem overly technical, implementing AMP onto your pages, especially through WordPress, is actually fairly simple.

As of right now, Automattic/Wordpress is developing a plugin that’s frequently updated, making your job a lot easier.

Step 1: Install The Official Plugin

To get started, you’re going to need to download the official AMP plugin for WordPress. As of right now, it’s not currently available through your WordPress dashboard, so you’re going to need to browse over to the GitHub repository and download the .zip file. You can find it by clicking here.

Install it like you would any other plugin. Once installed, you’ll need to add /amp/ after your article URLs, or if you’re using standard permalinks, you will need to add the ?amp=1 tag.

Step 2: Validate Your Settings & Tweak To Perfection

Once you’ve got the plugin installed and configured, you’re going to need to wait around for the Google Search Console to pick up the AMP version of your pages. This isn’t something that happens very quickly, in my experience. If you do happen to fix or change something, it could take a few days before the Search Console reflects the changes.

I recommend using a combination of the Search Console and the Chrome validation process.

To use the Chrome validation process, you need to visit one of your AMP pages in Chrome and then add “#devleopment=1” to the end of the URL. Now, hit Control + Shift + I to open Developer Tools and browse to your console.

If successful, you will see a message that says “validation successful”. If not, you will receive a list full of issues that you’ll need to address. In most cases, you’re going to have to go through each of your AMP pages and validate them individually using this method.

Depending on how you’ve formatted the articles, you may need to also make some changes to get the pages to actually validate. The most common problems I experienced during the validation process were the height and width attributes attached to images, and correcting older YouTube embed codes.

Step 3: Install Analytics Functionality

If you want to actually track the performance of your newly founded AMP based pages, you’re going to need to implement some form of tracking. One of the most popular tracking platforms is Google’s Analytics.

Unfortunately, Analytics doesn’t work out of the box.

Google Analytics and AMP

Enabling amp-analytics is fairly easy to do, though. You’re going to need to be in your WordPress dashboard, and browse to the Plugin editor: Plugins > Editor. Then select “AMP”.

Finally, browse to the amp-post-template-actions.php file.

You’ll want to add the following lines of code to that file:

add_action( 'amp_post_template_head', 'amp_post_template_add_analytics_js' );

function amp_post_template_add_analytics_js( $amp_template ) {

$post_id = $amp_template->get( 'post_id' );

?>

<script async custom-element="amp-analytics" src="https://cdn.ampproject.org/v0/amp-analytics-0.1.js"></script>

<?php

}

add_action( 'amp_post_template_footer', 'xyz_amp_add_analytics' );

function xyz_amp_add_analytics( $amp_template ) {

$post_id = $amp_template->get( 'post_id' );

?>

<amp-analytics type="googleanalytics" id="analytics1">

<script type="application/json">

{

"vars": {

"account": "UA-XXXXX-Y" - add your account ID

},

"triggers": {

"trackPageview": {

"on": "visible",

"request": "pageview"

}

}

}

</script>

</amp-analytics>

<?php

}

Make sure to change the UA-XXXXX-Y to your Google Analytics property ID. Now go back through the validation process on your pages, and your validation should be successful.

So Is AMP Hype, or Hope?

On one hand, a lot of SEOs in the industry are bucking the AMP trend, accusing it of being just another program from Google that is going to end up failing like so many others.

However, this time may be different.

Google has devoted a large amount of resources and manpower to ensuring that it is successful, and when you look at the underlying reasons for it being built, you can see that the internet is already moving in that direction.

Google AMP Hype or Hope

Add to it the fact that Facebook has already released their Instant Articles platform and are offering 100% of advertising revenues to publishers that adopt it, you can see why it’s so important for Google to throw their hat in the ring.

For the most part, there is a lot of hype behind it being rolled out. The publishers that have adopted it, though, have seen a huge uptick in the amount of traffic Google has been delivering to their website.

Based on the traffic increases alone, and the fact that more of the internet is moving towards mobile responsive and accessible design, especially as mobile traffic overtakes desktop traffic, implementing AMP (and even Facebook Instant Articles) only makes sense.

While there currently aren’t any factors related to AMP baked into the algorithms, there’s nothing saying that Google isn’t going to place more emphasis on the AMP pages themselves.

AMP pages are cached and stored on Google’s servers, giving them much more time to scrutinize the content and develop more trust in the websites that are running AMP pages.

If you’re able to keep your content quality up, and implement AMP at the same time, the social and user based signals that your site is sending to Google could be enough to help you rank higher for specific keywords -- especially those that tend to be searched for more on a mobile device than they do on a desktop device.

The verdict is still out on the long-term viability of the AMP project, but all signs are pointing to the fact that it is going to be around for a long time to come. On that basis alone, it is probably a good idea to put in the time, configuring your website, and validating that AMP is functioning properly.

As of right now, your website can only see fresh benefits from the new technology being rolled out. Every web user prefers pages that load quickly, and AMP is designed specifically with that in mind.

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