Google AMP - what is it, do I need to know about it?

AMP is here to save us all from slow loading mobile websites, intrusive ads and bandwidth hogging design frippery

Written 4 years ago on Oct 11, 2016

Google AMP, it's the technology that's going to streamline the bloated rich media data transfers that blight those of us on shoddy mobile connections. Or at least it's going to have a crack at it, and in the process put pressure on the murky world of online advertising to get its act together, sounds easy.

What is it?

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages - it's Google's new mark-up standard that allows webmasters and content creators to prioritise core page content over rich-media, large images and ads. Essentially it's a way for the content to be marked up that says: These are the important bits, load these now, then the rest of this stuff in your own time so it doesn't slow this down, but first layout the page so things don't jump about as they load. There's actually a lot more optimisation and trickery going on (eg it even caches content and has it ready when an AMP search result is displayed) than that but it's basically all about getting the core content infront of the user with as little delay as is practically possible on today's connections/technology.

What's the point of that?

From Google's perspective it's a way to put superfast loading content infront of users and in the process keep mobile web users happy, which keeps them surfing the open web (ie not inside Facebook), which keeps content being created, which keeps Google in business. It's great for users, ok for Google, bad news for the already struggling publishing industry who get paid from ads, they now have another hoop to jump through unless they want to be left behind.

The upside for content creators and publishers is that it provides a way to get your content included in Google's AMP pages section, which is right at the top of the search results, way above the ads and 10 blue links. The downside of this upside is that you're essentially putting in a lot of work to get your articles included only for the monetisation of those articles to be put under more downward pressure, it's a win/lose situation.

What does AMP look like?

AMP documents are standard html documents with some AMP specific tags, these are 'activated' by the included AMP JavaScript library. These tags essentially extend and wrap the functionality of the HTML equivalent tags and components and add some AMPness to them, technical term, not even Google know it.

Can I put the AMP tags into my site?

As with every other coding based question that's ever been asked, the answer is, it depends. AMP requires some serious re-thinking of your front-end code. If your code is relatively lightweight and using very little CSS and Javascript then AMP is much easier to integrate than if you're loading in megabytes of Javascript and CSS frameworks and multimedia content, and dare I say it...ads.

AMP basically shuts down Javascript as you know it and manages what it can and can't do on the page. Any kind of serious DOM manipulation or cross site cleverness will be heavily restricted by AMP and will need to run in a sandboxed iframe. This raises all kinds of issues for existing code bases and will make AMP practically unusable in a lot of situations. But there is another solution...

AMP allows you to provide an alternative url for an AMP version of your page. This is how I'd integrate it with any non-trivial front end code, there's just no point trying to fit your application into the limitations of AMP. To tell Google about the AMP page you just add a link tag to your header, much like this:


link rel="amphtml" href="https://www.example.com/url/to/amp/document.html"

With your canonical url alongside this Google has what it needs, if it wants to return your article for a search result it can use the AMP version, bish bash bosh, job done.

What are the benefits of using AMP as a site owner or publisher?

This is an interesting question. AMP really is a response from Google to counter Facebook and Apple's instant article developments, with the added bonus of trying to clean up messy and intrusive ad tech.

Whether or not it's worth it to you / your business really depends on the type of content you're putting online.

If your business model is placing lots of content behind a paywall / subscription model and you publish some articles to bring in readers then AMP could align with that strategy. If you're publishing articles and relying on ad revenues from various ad tech servers or RTBs then this is really not great news for you as the loading of these page elements is a very low priority for AMP, so you're effectively pushing your content out there with less chance of monetising than you already have with the current AdBlock situation.

For non article/news/blog type websites it's questionable how much benefit you'd get from making an AMP version of your pages available. If Google start integrating it as a ranking signal into the general mobile search results then it could be worth pursuing but otherwise it's probably not going to be worth the effort at this stage.

As ever we're here to help with all of this kind of thing should you need it, just contact us.


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