Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), an open source initiative with the goal of speeding up the mobile web, officially launched today. The open-source program promises to reduce load times and optimize news articles for mobile reading. “An AMP page is four times faster and 10 times less data,” said Richard Gingras, senior director of news at Google, in an interview with Re/code. “It’s instantaneous. It’s there right away. And that’s really powerful.” Google reports that hundreds of publishers have already incorporated the AMP code into their articles.
AMP works like this: when a user launches Google search in a mobile browser, AMP stories appear at the top of the results. They are labeled “AMP” and are designated by a green lightening bolt. Users can scroll horizontally through AMP stories and new articles will generate as they scroll. The pages are simplified, limiting things like embed codes and Flash, which can slow down load time. This could have a huge impact on publishers’ traffic as more consumers are accessing content via mobile as opposed to desktop.
Publishers seem receptive to Google AMP with big media sites like The Guardian, Mic, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal all signing on for the launch.
Some publishers are AMP-coding all of their articles because they view this as the future of mobile traffic. In an interview with Digiday, The Atlantic's VP and digital general manager Kim Lau said, “We’re going to put everything fully there. If you don’t participate, are you putting some of that audience at risk? We know faster pages are going to do better in mobile search; why would we not do everything we can do make it faster?”
“We’re doing a sort of audit of our current pages, trying to understand what is natively supported in the AMP framework, what translates into the new system as of now — with the expectation that not everything is — and what do we expect might be supported in say, six months."
Several tech companies have also integrated AMP into their platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, and WordPress. WordPress support is a particularly important win for Google AMP as 25% of websites are hosted on WordPress. As of launch, WordPress sites automatically support AMP, and self-hosted WordPress sites can install a plug-in to enable AMP.
Many have noted that Google AMP is an effort on Google’s part to compete with Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News, which also host publishers’ articles for optimum mobile viewing. But unlike Facebook and Apple, Google’s AMP code is open to other platforms, meaning Google does not host the content directly. Additionally, Google does not take a cut from publishers running content on AMP, like Facebook. Mark Bergen of Re/code explains why publishers and Google may be more natural allies in the fight for mobile readership: “For Facebook (and certainly for Apple), mobile publishing is tangential to the core business. For Google, it’s critical. AMP is a central part of Google’s maniacal mission to clean up the mobile web and boost search revenue on mobile.”
One way Google hopes to boost revenue is by improving the ad experience and limiting the growth of ad blockers. Publishers can run ads through AMP, but there are some important guidelines that emphasize quality creative. “The digital ad industry’s rap sheet includes irritating and unsafe ads. We’re requiring all creatives to utilize the HTTPS protocol,” writes Google product manager Nitin Kashyap and director of global partnerships Craig DiNatali. The goal of limiting “irritating” ads is likely a response to the growing use of ad blocking software, which over 45 million U.S. consumers use.
Ultimately, the big question mark surrounding Google AMP is how publishers can best monetize it. While the code supports some native ad displays as well as paywalls, it also limits programmatic buying by eliminating header bidding. It will be interesting to see if improved UX and increased traffic alone can make up for some of the advertising limitations AMP imposes.