What is the Google AMP project, and should I be using it?

Accelerated Mobile Pages (or AMP for short) is an open source project to improve the experience of mobile web users, specifically page load speed. Google supports the project and recently announced that AMP content will be included across their general mobile search results. Previously AMP content was only flagged up in the mobile news carousel. Google has also stated that desktop search results will start to follow mobile search, at some unspecified time in the future – so AMP is kind of a big deal that you’ll probably want to understand and start planning for.

Users are mobile, and life happens on the go

eMarketer estimates that in 2016 there are around 2.1bn smartphone users worldwide, more than a quarter of the global population. And various sources report that mobile search has overtaken desktop search in many countries. PayPal say that that in 2015 mobile e-commerce growth outstripped desktop ecommerce and is fast approaching the cross over point. So it’s clear that increasingly search happens on the go, but more often than not, with restrictive bandwidths and slower speeds.

Speed matters, obviously

Slow page loads frustrate mobile users – delays in a web page loading can mean the visitor clicking away and lost traffic and sales. Google’s own data suggests that 53% of users will abandon a slow loading page after just a 3 second wait (https://www.doubleclickbygoogle.com/articles/mobile-speed-matters/). And that’s where AMP comes in. By stripping the page back, an AMP page loads from Google search in less than 1 second on average.

Benefits of AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages

Since September 2016, Google’s mobile search results have begun highlighting AMP pages throughout search results, opening it up to non-news publishers. Other big web names are also supporting the project including Shopify, who announced the roll out of a plugin/app that will provide AMP content on merchant stores.

Currently (at time of writing) AMP is not a Google ranking factor. But it does get special treatment in mobile search results, with a simple AMP icon ‘designator’ beneath the description. Users are frustrated by slow speeds and if the AMP designation gains recognition, then users may start choosing AMP content over standard pages; which will impact traffic.

Google have consistently said that speed matters and they’ve also stated a future intent to move to mobile search results for desktops at some, unspecified, point in time. So there is the possibility that Google may give preference to AMP content in the future.

How does AMP work?

AMP is design for reading, rather than interacting, and by stripping back what you can do with a page, it priorities speed over design. Essentially AMP is a subset of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Amongst other restrictions, fancy CSS selectors are removed and the use of JavaScript is considerably limited. There are also restrictions on the type of advertising than can be embedded. You can find out more about the workings on the official AMP project website. If you run a WordPress website the good news is that Automattic, the developers of WordPress have made a simple AMP plugin. This will create an AMP version of the every post that can be accessed by appending /amp to the end of the normal post’s URL. Currently it only works for posts (and not pages, although they are working on this) and it there are no configuration options at all.

What next?

The use of AMP on the Google results news carousel means that big publishers have to go with it, and if you run a blog then you’ll need to think seriously about it too. It’s still early days, and AMP’s paired back style may not be to everyone’s liking, but with Google support it’s probably wise to start trialling it now so you don’t get left behind should it suddenly take off.