Should You Optimize Content for Google AMP?

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Adopting the Google AMP protocols to your website will be the next big thing you tackle this year and beyond.

Mobile is growing more powerful by the day, with 80 percent of people searching the Internet using smartphones, according to Smart Insights. Equally important, 70 percent of these people take action within one hour of completing their searches, says Chris Warden on Convince & Convert. They are searching, ready to make decisions and eager to take action – unless the page is too slow to load on their mobile device. Then everything comes to a screeching, sale-ending, halt.

DoubleClick’s research shows the average load time for mobile sites is 19 seconds over 3G connections. It also shows that 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than three seconds to load.

Marketers, mobile device users, and the major web players have something in common: they all want to fix this problem.

Marketers need to fix it because slow-loading mobile pages translate to less traffic and fewer sales. On the part of the web players (ad networks, search engines, publishers, et al.), the motivation is to deliver a better user experience. And the users just want to get what they want without frustrating delays.

What is Google AMP?

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere. It’s the product of a coalition of equals, technology companies and publishers, driven by Google. So far, the large publishers include Time Inc., The Atlantic, and The Huffington Post. Major technology companies include LinkedIn, Twitter, Adobe Analytics, and WordPress.

AMP works by defining a set of open source AMP specs with a limited set of allowed technical functionalities that prioritize speed. (As an example, AMP pages do not include any author-written JavaScript.) The goal is to build a more common technical core between pages that speeds up load times. In addition, AMP files can be cached in the cloud in order to reduce the time content takes to get to a user’s mobile device.

AMP is in its early days; the first announcement of it came a year ago, in October 2015. It’s built serious momentum since then:

Google also provides a cache that can be used by anyone at no cost. The Google AMP Cache will cache all AMPs; other companies may build their own AMP cache as well.

But how does AMP work and what will search results look like? What does this mean for you and your website?

Google AMP … A User Perspective

We know that pages load faster through Google AMP. The increase is significant; AMP pages load four times faster and use eight times less data than traditional mobile-optimized pages do. Many cell phone providers charge a premium for data usage, so this is a huge benefit to users. But what will customers see when they search mobile and view your pages in search results? Give this a try to find out.

  1. Take out your mobile device.
  2. Access the AMP demo by typing into your mobile device browser.
  3. Type something fun into the search box.

Check out the example below. We typed “French toast recipe” into the search box. Once entering this into the search bar, a box appears at the top alerting you to AMP’s results. It says, “Look for results marked with [lightning bolt symbol] to experience fast mobile pages.”

After viewing this box, you can scan the first page of search results to look for pages with the lightning bolt symbol. For example, the result below shows the symbol alerting searchers that it’s an AMP page.

According to Search Engine Land, there are now 600 million AMP pages on 700,000 domains, and four million pages are being added each week. They’re hoping that once searchers start experiencing the benefits of AMP, they will seek out and continue to favor these pages.

But to date, a very small percentage of companies have adopted AMP. In fact, only 23 percent of SEO professionals have taken action to implement Google AMP protocol. So if you’re on the fence about adoption, what are the major pros and cons?

Google AMP: The Pros and the Cons

As with any new tool, marketers must carefully weigh the pros and cons to determine if it’s right for their company. Does it make sense to adopt now, or should you wait and see if the new tool fizzles out, and instead, invest your resources into other types of activities?

Here are a few positive factors to consider.

  • Higher exposure to mobile pages. Currently, mobile pages that take longer than three seconds to load have a 40 percent drop-off rate. Since Google AMP helps pages load much faster, this drop-off could decrease significantly.
  • Early adopter advantages. Adopting AMP may be a ranking factor for Google in the future (more on this later). Becoming an early adopter may produce advantages over major competitors in the future.
  • No cost. AMP doesn’t cost anything, except your internal resources and time. The Google setup is free.

There are a few drawbacks. AMP is fairly new, so the cons are speculative but could be a factor in the future.

  • Bounce rates for poor content. Searchers find what they’re looking for, then quickly leave the page. If you’re doing a great job with your content and enticing visitors to explore other pages, this shouldn’t be a problem. For companies with weak content, it could translate to less time spent on the page. (But that’s true AMP or no AMP.)
  • Symbol blindness. Users may begin to ignore AMP and instead select organic search results, similar to the way users ignore ads at the top of the screen.
  • Refined searches. Users aren’t happy with results, so they refine their search and your page gets less exposure.

Also, readers may recall that Google has been among the leaders in pushing websites to adopt responsive design. You may ask are AMP and responsive design the same or different? They are different, and Google hasn’t taken a position on one over the other; however, AMP pages load faster than responsive pages so developers and publishers may adopt both moving forward.

Another concern is that while Google is pushing AMP, and Microsoft’s Bing search engine recently adopted it, other platforms are using their own protocols (Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple’s News Format) for delivering faster mobile user experiences.

Does AMP Affect Search Rankings?

One of the more important questions on marketers’ minds is that of ranking. If you don’t adopt the tool, will your page rank drop? Will your traffic decrease? And will you generate less traffic and so see fewer leads in the future? If you’re wondering about these questions, you aren’t alone.

In fact, recently John Mueller of Google answered these questions in a Google Hangout. He flatly stated that AMP is not a ranking factor at this point. But note those last few words, “at this point.”

Translation? If you decide to sit back and do nothing with Google AMP, it’s OK. You won’t be penalized right now. But Google has become very interested in the mobile experience over the past five years. So it’s possible that if users respond positively to Google AMP, it may play a factor in search rankings in the future. Don’t ignore this.

Tips for Using AMP

Are you thinking about giving Google AMP a try? If so, start by creating one page and testing the results. The company offers a tutorial that walks you (or your technical team) through the process, including:

  • Creating your first AMP page
  • Staging the page
  • Using Google’s validator
  • Preparing the page for publication

Aside from the technical aspects of adopting Google AMP (which may be handed off to your tech team), there is content to consider. Making a few tweaks in your content could help you drive even greater results when using this tool. Here are a few tips for getting started.

  • Create an amazing headline. On average, eight out of 10 people will read the headline copy and only two out of 10 will read the rest. Google is already calling out your content through the AMP symbol. Capture even more attention by crafting a headline that captures maximum results. Or even better, test a couple different headlines and see which one performs best.
  • Use a colorful image. Researchers have found that using colored visuals increases willingness to read a piece of content by 80 percent. In fact, posts that include images produce 650 percent higher engagement than text-only posts. Use colorful images to stand out and drive people to your content. A tip to remember is compress images to smaller file sizes, and, if you’re really savvy, use different images for different screen sizes/types.
  • Focus on the first 100 words. Google AMP will show your picture at the top, followed by the headline and then several words from your introduction. So make sure that your introduction – the first paragraph – is very powerful, very compelling.

As always, test out different headlines, images and content. Simply switching a few words or an image may drive significantly higher results – so never stop testing.

Conclusion: AMP or Not to AMP?

Being found through search engines is a top priority for marketers. When customers find you through mobile searches, you’re increasing the number of people learning from, engaging with, and purchasing from your brand.

Google AMP is promising to deliver the faster mobile experience that both customers and brands want. And if they succeed, early adopters could experience greater results, because the user experience is at the heart of all brand success.

Have you adopted Google AMP yet? If so, please share your results.