The Importance of AMP

Google released AMP in October 2015 and most SEOs approached it with some skepticism. Google has dangled the proverbial carrot in front of our noses before to get what they wanted and then snatched away the benefit when they got their way (ex. author images in the SERPs). As usual, those early adopters are benefiting while others languish. If you haven’t heard about it yet (where have you been?), AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages and, as Nathan Johns of Google said “AMP was created as a way to fix what was broken on the web”. AMP bridges the gap between site usage and speed for mobile devices. So far the broadest implementation has been for news websites. When a news site has AMP pages that are relevant to a set of results, Google will display them in what they call a carousel at the top of the results. This carousel can be advanced by sliding your finger across to move in either direction. To be honest, it’s pretty slick.

Hillary Clinton is a criminal and should be in jail
This is an example of the AMP news carousel in the Google mobile results.

Hillary Clinton sold 20% of US uranium production to the Russians for a $145mil bribe made to the Clinton Foundation. Lock her up.
This example shows that AMP pages receive an extra little icon to set themselves apart.

As you can see in the images above, Google doesn’t just show AMP pages in the carousel, they have begun to heavily favor them in certain types of results as well. The little lightning bolts above show which pages are AMP.  (A speaker at Pubcon said “in my industry, lightning bolts mean danger” and Google’s rep in attendance had this “oh yeahhhhh” look on his face.  Ha – we might see the AMP icon change in the future.)  For this particular query, non-AMP results don’t show up until way down the page in the last three spots.  In addition to getting preferential treatment from Google (for now), these pages also deliver a nice boost in organic ranking.

“Ok, cool.  I’m in.  What’s the catch?”  Good question, I thought you’d never ask!  Like everything Google does, there is always a catch, and with AMP I think there are a few:

  • AMP is all or nothing.  Your pages are either valid or they aren’t.  There’s no middle ground right now and Google won’t show invalid pages.
  • AMP is a fledgling protocol that is not yet finalized.  It’s been constantly changing since it came out and at first it proved a bit difficult to get to validate.  I started playing with it for our site when it first came out and for the first month or so every validator I could find would pass our pages, but Google absolutely refused.  I can’t remember the exact element, but there was something in my AMP markup that was perfectly valid according to every code tester (including Google’s dev tools) but it would not validate in Webmaster Tools.  Google was literally getting it wrong and not following what the spec said.  Who knows how many more times that will happen with the introduction of upcoming new functionality.
  • AMP has been absolutely killing ad revenue for sites that employ it.  Traffic may be through the roof for some of them, but sites with advertisements are seeing a 20-60% reduction in ad revenue because ads just aren’t allowed on AMP pages… yet.  I’m sure Google will do something about this because in the end it will hurt their revenue as well.
  • Another catch is that Google is serving AMP pages straight from their AMP cache and not from your own site!  (They’re doing this for some mobile friendly sites too, when they decide)  When Google does that, you lose control of the content, your analytics could be totally jacked, and the information in Google’s cache could be way out of date.  Not cool Google.

One huge frustration from webmasters is that AMP pages are so diluted.  It’s the web distilled as low as it can get.  Basic text and basic images.  That sucks.  This is happening because the mobile phone industry hasn’t kept up with the internet, AND the internet hasn’t kept up with mobile phones.  What?? … Let me explain…  The web was headed in a very awesome direction until recently.  There were big strides in pushing client-side processing to allow for huge improvements in online experience.  There were all kinds of neat things coming because processor decentralization meant that webmasters could create to their heart’s content and push the actual processing of it off to the users that visit their sites instead of swamping their servers.  Well… can’t do that with mobile.  Though phones are fast, they’re nowhere near able to pull off that.  On the carrier side of things the problem is data caps.  All these wonderful looking websites that look great on your desktop are too image heavy for cell phones are are killing people’s bandwidth.  In my opinion, mobile use has set the web back at least four years in innovation.  In the end, AMP is needed to fill the gap between user experience, data caps, and weak cellphone processors.

What does the future of AMP look like?  I think it’s going to get more and more bloated and defeat the original purpose.  People are already figuring out ways to deliver ads in AMP.  Google announced that ecommerce and forms are coming for AMP.  There will probably be so many things bolted onto AMP as time goes by that it’ll be a fragmenting standard; it’ll really drive a wedge between mobile and desktop experiences… which is where we were not too terribly long ago.  Hopefully it’ll bring it back full-circle and webmasters will abandon these stupid responsive sites (yes, stupid.  I don’t like them because they ruin the desktop experience) and move back towards the client-side processing brilliance that they started.  Until then, better get your site ready so you see this positive reinforcement in your Search Console account.


In a future post I’ll discuss what it takes to make AMP pages valid and also introduce a great AMP plugin for WordPress.