AMP Pumps Up the VolumeCharlie Hankers | September 23rd 2016
It looks like Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will be getting a significant boost over the coming months as Google is suggesting that their prominence in mobile search results is about to get a boost.
Accelerated Mobile Pages are the desired outcome of the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, a campaign-cum-open-source-web-standard created and supported by a number of the web’s biggest players including Google, the BBC, Mail Online, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Telegraph, TIME, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
Its simple aim is to speed up the web, most pressingly the mobile web, which is fast becoming an almost separate entity to the “desktop” web in terms of visual design and development. It’s inspired by every single person who has tried to look at websites on the go and abandoned the page after being made to wait. When 40% of mobile web users will hit the back arrow after just 3 seconds of non-loading, that’s a serious rump of users.
Slowness comes from two main sources: mobile networks and design/development.
While the phone network providers are constantly bragging about their super-fast 4G connections, in reality most of us rarely reach the peaks of speed for long if at all. Physical obstructions, local demand and distance to masts all play a part. This all adds to the seconds taken to download pages.
Web designers and developers, along with their marketing brethren, can, if left to their own devices, create bloated, unoptimised pages. Spoilt by a decade or two of ever-increasing internet speeds, they have been seduced into thinking that efficient development is no longer required. Hence all the large images, movies, multiple references to analytics sources and high-resolution ads.
Put the two together and it becomes clear why we sometimes experience a pregnant pause when we tap a link. Sometimes it’s just downloading the page over substandard connection – other times it’s loading the page piecemeal and reflowing it a few times a second, making it unreadable.
The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project
AMP aims to stop all that by helping developers and designers to make pages that show up on mobile devices in less than 1 second. There are a number of obvious ways to achieve this, such as optimising images, reducing clutter and ensuring the layout of the page is known to the browser before the content fills it up (something good developers have always done).
But there are also less noticeable techniques, such as loading the “above the fold” content first and then loading the rest of the page over the next few seconds while user is still taking in the top matter. It feels like the whole page has loaded, and since the user never sees the remainder of the page filling with content, the great user experience is achieved.
Google Rewards AMP
It’s no secret that Google tacitly rewards AMP ready pages in its rankings. We’ve been seeing the “top stories” panel for some time now after making a search, and they are necessarily AMP optimised. While they were originally used chiefly by news outlets, smart operators have realised there’s nothing to stop them AMPing up their eCommerce and recipe sites to benefit from extra prominence on mobile searches.
Google insists that any benefit from AMPs is not tantamount to a ranking improvement, but AMP pages by their very nature have faster load times and page speed, which are widely considered to be ranking factors. Greg Sterling at searchengineland said that Rudy Galfi (Google’s lead product manager for AMP) told him that “this does not represent a rankings change. AMP pages won’t get a special boost in mobile results.” But he goes on to say that if there were two versions of a page and one had AMP implementation, Google will link to the AMP one in the special AMP view on mobile browsers.
Undoubtedly, those making and marketing online content have been guilty in the past of trying to use improving network speed not to make faster pages but to deliver more attention-grabbing but patience-sapping commercial material. AMP is an attempt to set new standards that gives great online content to users without the wait.
AMP isn’t a “Google” thing per se. But since the world’s most important search engine is fully behind the project and appears to be at least guiding users to Accelerated Mobile Pages, not taking notice is no longer an option. All search engines live and die by the quality of the results they deliver, and Google – along with the others – will have no choice but to deliver on consumers’ expectations when it comes to lightning fast pages.
Adding AMP to blog-type pages is usually as simple as adding a plugin that creates a separate /amp page in your post directory, with the relevant tags telling the search engine that it exists and the browser to run it. However for many pages the /amp page will have to be created manually. We’ll have a look at how to do this in a forthcoming post.