Understanding Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

AMP, or accelerated mobile pages, is an open source framework that is commonly used on mobile devices – you’ve probably used it while searching for content without even knowing it. AMP was developed by Google, Twitter was also involved. The aim of AMP is to give mobile users better and faster experiences. AMP does this because it gives developers the option to simplify both CSS and HTML so that mobile users get a more “lightweight” experience.

Facebook started the trend with its Instant Articles and Google responded with AMP. However, AMP has gained a bigger foothold and today it is a commonly used way to deliver mobile content from search results at a much faster speed – compared to serving a standard page. In fact, AMP has become so prominent and so popular that Google has been pushing to get AMP included in the web standards framework.

How AMP works its magic

There are basically three main components to AMP. Two are code related, AMP’s version of HTML, and AMP JS. There is also a content delivery network (CDN) working behind the scenes with AMP. Let’s take a look at the three components:

  • HTML. Called AMP HTML, consider it a slimmed down version of standard hypertext markup language (or HTML). In essence, AMP HTML restricts developers in terms of which HTML tags they can make use of.
    Some HTML tags are restricted when using AMP and the goal of these restrictions are to improve page load speeds. The same goes for CSS, AMP also limits the CSS tags you can use. There is a full list of AMP HTML tags available which most seasoned developers will recognize straight away.
  • Developers cannot use JavaScript when coding AMP pages – again, like the HTML restrictions, the goal is to cut out code that can make a page load slowly. However, developers can use AMP scripts. AMP scripts are optimized so that pages load quickly. So, even though you cannot use JavaScript with AMP you can rely on AMP’s library of components – making animations, using dynamic content and editing the layout all using the AMP library of components. You’re even covered for data compliance.
  • Content delivery. AMP has a content delivery network (CDN) that speeds up the delivery of web content – it’s called AMP Cache. It’s proxy-based and acts as a cache, storing all valid AMP content – you cannot, by default, opt out of using AMP Cache. But don’t worry, if you have your own CDN you can still use it by layering it on top of AMP Cache.

Is AMP a good idea for your site?

It depends on what your website is geared to do. If you serve news and other stories that are mostly static AMP can work really well because it’s known that AMP generates more organic search referrals, particularly for media sites. Furthermore, media sites can make their content stand out using Google’s Rich Cards.

E-commerce operators might want to think twice as there’s currently no settled opinion on the value of AMP for retailers. At issue is the dynamic nature of these pages – e-commerce sites involve lots of user interaction such as sorting, filtering and adding goods to a cart.

Nonetheless, there is a general agreement that AMP, used correctly, can achieve the following for website owners:

  • Deliver a big boost for organic search, with much more traffic sent from Google
  • Improve conversion thanks to a much improved mobile experience, AMP can also boost engagement with mobile users
  • AMP CDN also reduces server load because content is served from AMP Cache
  • Implementing AMP can boost your prominence in mobile search results as your site will feature in the AMP carousel

Things to watch out for with AMP

Perhaps the biggest issue with AMP is the fact that it is quite an involved process – setting your website up to serve AMP pages requires a lot of work. While serving better mobile pages should always a priority you should weigh up the benefits against the potential costs of implementing AMP. In fact, putting AMP in place might mean that you run your site “in parallel”, with one set of assets for normal content, and one set of assets for AMP.

AMP also causes difficulty when measuring website traffic. Due to AMP CDN you won’t be able to rely on counting server requests to measure traffic. Instead you will need to find other methods to track users to get a real view of CTRs; it will be a bit more tricky to measure engagement on the AMP version of your site.

Another point to keep in mind is the user experience. Because AMP is stripped-down HTML you will not be able to deliver some content types – think about images that rotate, or a map that can be navigated. UX-heavy parts of your site will need to be re-built for AMP, so you’re running two sites in essence.

Finally, site owners should also beware of the fact that the nature of AMP means that users are more likely to head back to search results after they view your page, rather than engage further with your site. This has a negative impact on engagement and conversion.

Using the opportunities AMP provides

AMP has its drawbacks but many site owners will benefit from looking into the mobile traffic benefits that AMP can bring. You can start off by building an AMP version of your site so that you can feature more prominently in mobile web searches. Next, consider developing ways to easily route mobile users who land on an AMP page straight to your mobile app. Do this and you’ll mitigate the loss of engagement while also getting access to improved analytics. It’s also worth trying to get a full view of how your user journeys from AMP content to your app or to your website. Do AMP users convert? It’s worth trying to find this out as you experiment with an AMP version of your site.

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