Accelerated Mobile Pages: What is AMP and Why Should You Care?

Craig Greenup 26/02/20, 15:23

Accelerated Mobile Pages: What is AMP and Why Should You Care?

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a technology which, as the name suggests, makes mobile pages faster. More accurately, AMP is a super-lightweight HTML and CSS library (an ‘open source framework’ if you want the technical name) that was developed by Google and Twitter. It can be used to recreate lightning-fast versions of the pages in your website just for mobile users.

Speaking of lightning, chances are you’ve probably seen AMP in action many times without even realising it. Have you ever made a search in Google on your mobile and seen results with a little lightning icon next to them? Those are AMP pages. While AMP itself is not a ranking factor in Google, the gains made in speed from AMP do often boost a site’s SEO results, so you tend to see a lot of AMP on the first page of results for big search terms.

All types of webpage can be built using AMP, from news and publisher sites right through to lead-gen and ecommerce. And there have been some staggering case studies, such as American travel company WeGo increasing partner engagement by 95% after moving to AMP.

There are pros and cons to AMP. It’s not right for everyone. We’ll explore the various reasons why in this article.

Usability, Design & Brand

AMP is like a library of elements. There is only a certain set of elements available for you to build your AMP pages. So, while you get the benefit of increased pagespeed, you do have to make little sacrifices on design.

Want a burger menu for your navigation? Fine. You’ll get the one you’re given and you won’t be able to change it much beyond the colour and font. Want a form, product options or price shown? Fine. Again, you’ll get what you’re given.

Every single one of these elements has been created with speed in mind. That means using the least amount of code possible. So, if you are very attached to that fancy JS animation or custom functionality you wrote for your page, unfortunately that won’t be available to pull through with AMP – it would be too slow to load and would defeat the entire purpose.

AMP is not about your brand, it is all about the user. While you can define your brand through choice of colour and inclusion of your logo, for example, your overall page layout will more than likely look incredibly similar to many others. One thing is for sure: the individual elements definitely will look the same as many others.

Landing Page URL

An interesting thing to note about AMP is that it is only used for the first page visited on your site. That page is actually served on a Google URL, loaded within a special Google UI panel. This is done for technical reasons to do with CDNs, caching and faster delivery of the page, but the point here is that the user is not technically on your website.

If a user clicks a link on your AMP page to see another page in your website, then they move over to your actual domain and from there they use your website just like a normal visitor would. AMP stops being relevant at this point.

Seems strange? Well yes, perhaps a little, but Google’s aim with AMP was to give Google searchers a better experience when clicking through to a landing page from a search results page, not to give them a better experience across your entire website. That’s an important distinction for two reasons..

Firstly, with AMP on the rise, users are becoming increasingly used to having almost instant access to information when they click a result in Google. As a result, they either engage or bounce back to the search results far faster than ever. You need to ensure that the answer or info they were looking for is obvious and apparent. At the very least, make the promise of the info or answer very apparent in order to engage the user and make them browse the page.

Secondly, you need to think about whether your goal is to get one-page visits, or whether you’d like the user to visit multiple pages. AMP creates an incredible user experience for that first page visit, but has no impact whatsoever for subsequent pages they view. Ideally, you want every page they view to be fast and AMP is by no means the only way to increase pagespeed. To make every page in your site fast (on any device, I hasten to add), then you would still need to look into caching, CDNs, improved server specs and other speed optimisations. You may even consider PWA development which takes mobile speed and usability to whole new levels.

Technical Considerations: Coding Time & SEO Risks

Finally, you need to think about the technical requirements of implementing AMP and the risks of getting it wrong. The most obvious consideration here is the time taken to code your AMP themes and plug them in with your content. You are essentially recoding all of the pages in your website, albeit using simpler code. Some platforms offer “one click” conversions and plugins or extensions, but they are far from perfect. AMP will take time and resource to get right.

There are also some areas of AMP that can be a bit buggy. For example, there was a long period of time when AMP’s “in stock/out of stock” flags for AMP on ecommerce product pages simply didn’t work 9 times out of 10. This bug is fixed now, but there will be others.

Finally, it’s worth considering the potential risks from an SEO perspective. Most businesses rely heavily on traffic from Google, so SEO is important to protect, yet implementing AMP wrong can be seriously damaging to your SEO.

The most common pitfall is incorrect canonicalisation. This arises because you are building a second, duplicate version of every page and indexing it in Google. There is a very precise way of managing this, making sure that Google understands your set up and how your AMP and web pages are related and also centralising authority so your SEO ‘power’ is not diluted.

Another common issue is having different AMP and website content. This is a big no-no for Google.

All in all, AMP can be a risky business.

So who should use AMP?

News sites and blogs? Definitely. Ecommerce websites? Maybe. It depends on whether your products are likely to be bought straight away from a landing page or whether your customers will go through a more considered purchase; one where the whole site needs to optimised for speed rather than just the landing page.

Travel websites? Manufacturers? Professional services businesses? You’d have to weigh up the pros and cons listed above and decide for yourselves. One thing is for sure, you should absolutely be thinking about pagespeed, but the trick is choosing the right solution for you and your website users.

If you need help making sense of AMP and deciding whether it is right for you, contact our experts today for a chat.