It’s time to take Google Amp seriously

By 17/10/2016 Blog, SEO, Web Design
google-amp-mobile-guide

Everything You Need To Know About Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages.

This month, Google celebrates the one-year anniversary of the launch of Google AMP. But even 12 months on, few webmasters know much about AMP, let alone why they need to start thinking about them seriously.

What is Google Amp?

Launched in October 2015, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open-source project that was instigated by Google themselves. The focus of the project was clear, and that was to improve the mobile web for users around the world. More specifically, AMP is about delivering content to mobile devices in a much more optimised and user-friendly way.

The main emphasis of this optimisation is speed. While we will touch on the difference between responsive design in websites and AMP shortly, the simple fact is that the majority of websites are designed and built primarily for desktop. This still remains the case today. By being responsive, these sites are scaled down to fit your mobile screen.

While many publishers get the layout, functionality and feel of these mobile pages just right, fundamentally it’s never going to be a perfect solution from a usability point of view. The operations which the website must perform to scale the page down to mobile, the functionality and design it suppresses, means that mobile pages – on average- are slow to load.

Navigation can also be poor, while too much emphasis is placed on branding and styling of mobile pages. The small mobile screen often becomes overly busy, confusing users and making the consumption of content unnecessarily tricky.

And so AMP was born to be the solution to this problem. To facilitate the quick delivery of content to mobile devices without complexities in appearance, without filling the page with unwanted distractions and without carrying a large amount of supressed code.

Many of the biggest digital media publishers in the world are now on-board with AMP and embracing the format. They include WordPress, Reddit, EBay and Pinterest. Not to mention, Google themselves.

If you want to see what a Google AMP page looks like you can view this post in AMP format here: http://www.redalien.co.uk/blog/time-take-google-amp-seriously/amp/

How does it differ from responsive design?

We’ve already touched on some of the shortcomings of responsive website design that has led to the foundation of the AMP project. When considering those points mentioned above, it’s important to keep in mind that HTML, as a code, was developed long before responsive websites became a ‘thing’. Therefore, much of the code is heavy and unwarranted on mobile.

AMP scales back on the HTML that is used, simplifying it down to a much more streamlined set of code for publishers and webmasters to utilise. Some tags are banned completely from being used in AMP altogether, others have been replaced with simple versions. Whereas the original HTML language was created for desktop websites (broadly speaking), AMP HTML is what that code would look like if originally developed only for mobile.

JavaScript is also something used heavily on modern-day responsive websites, often without issue at desktop level. However, AMP aims to reduce the amount of JavaScript used on mobile as it can often increase load times and stimulate sluggish performance.

Another difference from traditional responsive design is when it comes to styling. While CSS has become much lighter recently, and the additional of LESS CSS has helped this, all styling with AMP must be done in-line. This essentially means that no externally linked style sheets can be used.

With all this said, it is important to know that AMP is itself designed to be responsive; mobile responsive that is. AMP documents should look good and perform well on all mobile devices.

Why itgoogle-amp-news‘s beneficial for sites to start implementing AMP?

So why should web developers begin thinking about using AMP, and how will they benefit from doing so? There are several reasons.

Firstly, have a scan over your latest traffic metrics on Google Analytics, and then compare with this time last year or perhaps a couple of years ago. The one thing which you will see consistently rising is the number of users viewing your site on mobile. Many publishers are seeing in excess of 50% of traffic – often much more – coming from mobile devices, and so streamlining the performance for these devices has to take centre stage

It therefore makes sense for you to ensure that this growing user base forms a key part of any development work on your site. Optimising performance on mobile devices is key. AMP documents will produce a much better load time and a better user experience. In fact, page load times with AMP are around four times faster on average than traditional responsive websites.  You will often hear web design companies talking about designing for ‘mobile first’ and if they aren’t they probably should be.

This is vital, not least due to some recent Google research shows that 53% of users will leave a site if it fails to load in three seconds or less. With around 7 billion mobile devices now being used around the world, can you afford not to service this market in the most optimised way possible?

Will Google AMP improve website ranking?

While it is yet to be considered a ranking factor by Google, it’s widely expected that AMP will become one in the near future. Google have previously introduced the mobile-friendly tag in mobile search results for responsive sites, and so it looks to be a natural progression for Google to consider AMP pages as being a positive ranking signal.

Google have been talking about creating a new search index specifically for mobile users in the next few months to provide fresh and improved content .  A separate desktop index will continue to be maintained but will not be kept as up to date as the new ‘primary’ mobile index.  Google’s Gary Illyes, recently confirmed to Search Engine Land website ‘the mobile index will be rolled out within months’.

This means that Google could perform its SEO ranking algorithm purely based on mobile content as opposed to having to dip into the desktop algorithm.  This essentially could see us provided with a different set of results to desktop searches.

Not only is it a Google-led project, but as any SEO Strategist knows, usability plays a key role in organic search in today’s digital world. The AMP concept was founded purely with mobile performance and usability in mind, so it seems a shoe-in that it will soon be considered important from a ranking point of view.

There are other benefits too. Visitor stats for those websites which have implemented AMP pages are showing a real upward trajectory. Google have revealed a 73% increase in the number of monthly unique visitors, thanks to AMP. Publishers have also reported reducing their bandwidth usage by up to ten times.

AMP simply cannot be ignored.

The future is bright with AMPfuture-of-google-amp

So just a year into the AMP programme, the progress so far has been incredible – and the numbers illustrate this.

Those publishers we have already mentioned above, in addition to global media powerhouses such as The New York Times, CNN and The Time Online, have already ensured their content is optimising on mobile by using AMP documents. This is a trend that will continue. In total, more than 700,000 domains around the world are now publishing AMP pages.

As a result of that, cumulatively there are now more than 600million published pages using AMP on the web.

Around the world, it’s estimated there are at least 8,700 developers already engaged with developing AMP. As an open-source project, this is going to continue to grow and the product will get stronger and stronger. For mobile users, this means that their experience of content consumption on mobile will continue to improve.

If you’re big on content, then you almost certainly will be big on your mobile traffic. The on-going development of AMP is only going to help you improve your mobile offering thanks to improved user experience and performance.

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About Zak Jacobs

Zak Jacobs is the Director of UK search engine optimisation Agency Red Alien. An experienced digital marketing professional, passionate about online integrity, user experiences and optimisation strategies. Connect with Zak on Google+ here or Twitter here