Accelerated Mobile Pages — can it be the year of the mobile again?

Mobile pages are back in the news with the advent of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. So, have we come full circle and what impact will it have on website developers, surely it can’t be the year of the mobile again — can it?

With the explosion of mobile devices at the end of the last decade website owners and search engines started to take mobile seriously. In parallel, a collective groan went out in the world of web development as everyone realised they would need to start designing small pages that didn’t look very good and would be guaranteed not to work when a new sized screen was introduced to the market.

A whole ecosystem around mobile optimisation was born. Specialist vendors in mobile web technologies generated huge hype (and revenues) in optimising for mobile devices. With the shift to responsive web design which started in earnest at the turn of the decade, the conversation around mobile pages for many at least seemed redundant. Apps were becoming more popular and any website owner worth their salt optimised for mobile devices.

Do website owners now need to start designing mobile specific pages again?

What is an AMP Page?

Firstly, let’s look at what exactly AMP is and it probably makes sense to look at the definition as stated by the architects of the project, Google. A full breakdown can be found here: https://www.ampproject.org/learn/about-amp/ but the creation of an Accelerated Mobile Page consists of three different parts. Firstly, HTML tags are replaced with a specific AMP HTML tag to signal to Google that the pages are ‘accelerated’. Secondly, there is a specific AMP JavaScript library that has been created to ensure the fast rendering of mobile pages. Lastly, there is a Google AMP Cache which can be used to serve (and cache) AMP pages.

Utilising these features gives a signal to Google that a page is an AMP. From the user’s perspective, they will see the ‘AMP’ symbol which will signal to users that the page has been optimised for mobile. The premise is that stripping out unnecessary cookies, ad extensions and java tags will decrease the time it takes for a mobile page to load.

The role of responsive design

If, however, most websites are now responsive and built to work on any device why was this mechanism implemented? From what we can deduce there were two key considerations 1) website speed (explored by us recently here) and 2) the advertising ecosystem for digital media owners.

In simple terms, if a mobile page loads faster they will view more pages and their web experience will be enhanced. This is good for Google (and their advertising partners); more people viewing more web pages means more advertising inventory is created.

It is worth noting that the AMP project, though open source, was originally conceived by Google to include publishing partners including LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter who, let’s bear in mind, make money by selling advertising. Another consideration for this initiative could be the lack of parity across the globe in internet speeds provided by both fixed line and mobile broadband suppliers.

So, should all web developers be creating AMP pages? There appear to be some conflicting opinions on this. Wired (1) who, let’s bear in mind are a publishing partner and a featured case study on the AMP site, suggest that Google will be prioritising AMP pages. The MOZ Blog (2) considered gospel, in many SEO circles, suggested around the same time that Google would not be prioritising AMP pages in search rankings. However, if you are not a newspaper or magazine website does this matter?

Chris Eardley, Senior Developer at Lesniak Swann said:

“We believe websites that attract a high proportion of mobile users it would be worth testing on. For instance, one of our clients is a housing association and we know a page of ‘how to’ and ‘help’ sections are frequently read and receive a high amount of traffic, especially from mobile devices. There is an argument for making these pages AMP from a user experience perspective, though, in reality, responsive websites can currently deliver this if they are built correctly.”

Mobile Pages, Kim Kardashian, council tax in Stoke and men’s shoes

We performed two mobile searches on Google. Firstly, ‘Kim Kardashian'

We performed two mobile searches on Google. Firstly, ‘Kim KardashianWe performed two mobile searches on Google. Firstly, ‘Kim Kardashian

Secondly, something far more mundane; ‘Council Tax Queries' :

Secondly, something far more mundane; ‘Council Tax QueriesSecondly, something far more mundane; ‘Council Tax Queries

The ‘Kim Kardashian’ search returned AMP optimised pages, notably from digital media owners who are well referenced all over the web. The ‘Council Tax Queries’ search resulted in a search result based on relevance and, in this case, that was geared around a location. Crucially, however, no AMP pages were served in the second example.

In the example below advertisements are clearly being sold to the highest bidder through AdWords for people who are searching for ‘men’s shoes’ and none of the natural mobile search results are AMP pages. To caveat, we would assume that both ASOS and Schuh also spend a considerable amount of money on AdWords too, so we can’t see Google penalising them in natural search anytime soon either.

Should you be optimising for AMP?

In our experience, anything that speeds up the loading time of a website will have a positive impact on Google search engine rankings. Right now, based on our research, only digital media owners seem to be producing AMP pages and only time will tell if they do become a ranking factor for search engine results.

However, we shall be watching what happens to natural search results and AMP pages with interest. We suspect, that if a large retailer or other high profile site starts seriously investing in and deploying AMP pages, others will follow.

  1. https://www.wired.com/2016/02/google-will-now-favor-pages-use-fast-loading-tech/
  2. https://moz.com/blog/google-amp-search-results

 

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