Need for Speed: Tips for Keeping Up With Google AMP
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), an open source, HTML5 specification developed to make online content faster and more engaging for mobile users, launched in February 2016. In the short time since its rollout, Google has increased the functionality and visibility of AMP content. No longer confined to a single carousel at the top of the page, AMP articles appear throughout search listings, capturing more real estate and greater user attention. Google has also expanded the types of AMP stories it features, increasingly ranking evergreen consumer and B2B AMP articles.
While the expansion of AMP means new opportunities for publishers to prominently display their content to mobile users and earn more traffic, it also means that some publishers are at risk of being left behind in the mobile web speed race. “It’s no longer a nice-to-have,” says Adam Sherk, VP of SEO and social media at Define Media Group. “It’s become a must-have.”
With mobile accounting for an increasing amount of publishers’ web traffic, and AMP becoming the de facto method for discovering mobile content in search, Sherk recommends that publishers invest the time and resources to optimize Google AMP articles. He suggest publishers align their HTML5 structured data markup with the AMP specification and develop AMP versions of all their articles.
Sherk’s insight on AMP is excerpted from a webinar he spoke on titled, “Why a Mobile-First Approach is Essential for Digital Publishers.”
The AMP Opportunity Is Growing
Today AMP articles are displayed throughout mobile search, making AMP content more discoverable than before. Now individual search results can have their own AMP carousel, which highlights news items from the same publisher site. Google AMP articles can also appear in the standard “blue link” listings on mobile search results, and typically earn a more prominent listing. And increasingly, adds Sherk, Google is ranking the AMP versions of news stories as well as evergreen consumer and B2B content.
Some have criticized AMP for taking traffic away from publishers, since AMP content is cached and displayed on Google, rather than on the publisher’s website. But Sherk explains that Google does provide the publisher with credit for all AMP traffic. Publishers can link the AMP versions of their articles to their analytics platforms, ad management tools, and paywalls. In addition, Google has made it easier for mobile readers to share the AMP articles they’ve read and link back to the original article, rather than the AMP version.
Google continues to put more support behind the AMP specification, and the result has been a significant boost in traffic for publishers who have incorporated AMP. The Guardian, for example, attributes 60% of its Google mobile traffic to AMP. Guardian developer Natalia Baltazar shared that stat at the recent AMP Conf and added that AMP pages are 2% more likely to be clicked than non-AMP pages.
“When AMP first started, we recommended it as something publishers should test,” says Sherk, “Now we recommend this as priority one to improve search traffic. The opportunity cost for not getting involved in AMP is becoming too great.”
How to Optimize Content for AMP
In order to develop AMP versions of articles, Sherk says publishers must incorporate HTML5 structured data markup into the code of their web pages. AMP provides an open source specification for this markup, and it informs Google search bots about an article’s headline, article description, primary image, and author. This type of information helps Google understand an article, and feature it in the right searches, but it is also allows the bot to display an AMP version of the article in Google search results. The purpose of the specification is to display the simplest version of the article -- often eliminating or simplifying complex graphics and features -- so that it loads faster for mobile users.
Because AMP is an open source project there are several free tutorials available online to help publishers integrate the right structured data into their pages. Publishers can visit the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project website to learn step-by-step how to build an AMP HTML page and stay informed on the latest AMP updates.
Sherk also advises publishers to use Google Search Console, a free tool that identifies errors in publishers’ structured data that would prevent articles from being populated in AMP. “Critical errors” that the Console identifies must be corrected in order for an article to be featured in AMP.
While WordPress offers an AMP plug-in that makes it easier for publishers to incorporate AMP HTML into their content, updates to article pages can easily invalidate the AMP version of an article. The Guardian’s Baltazar said that adding a Facebook Messenger share button, for example, invalidated the AMP version. Additionally, when journalists embed non-AMP-friendly elements into an article -- like a SlideShare or large video file -- they can prevent the AMP version from being featured on Google.
Managing these types of issues requires a dedicated team (The Guardian has a staff of 11 that oversee AMP articles). But that level of investment can be worth it, maintains Sherk, especially when the alternative is to not have your content discovered at all.