Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Speed, at what cost?

An article by Luis Silva 16-05-2018

AMP presents a strong argument; who wouldn’t want their browsing experience to work faster, almost instantly, especially on the go?

So what are AMP pages?

Launched in 2015 by Google as open-source, AMP was created as an alternative to Facebook and Apple’s instant articles project. When it was first released, AMP was focused on media websites with very limited functionality. In essence, it was a stripped back version of a standard HTML page. It’s since been further developed to include more functionality such as JavaScript to create more dynamic experiences.

Why is AMP so fast?

This might get a bit technical but the overall objective is that AMP pages are a lightweight version of the standard web page. Essentially, the excess needs to be trimmed:

  • We start off with a streamlined version of CSS (style sheets). Most standard CSS features can be used but need to follow best practice according to the AMP standards.
  • JavaScript, which is normally where the functional elements are developed, is basically not allowed at all. To counter this, there’s an off-the-shelf JavaScript library that Google provides, and that supplies functionality such as lazy loading.
  • The whole platform is designed for readability and speed. Images don't load until they're scrolled into view, and then JavaScript does all that for you.
  • All of this is architected to be heavily cached so Google can host these pages and your content on their infrastructure, so they don't need to read it from your servers.

But why AMP?

Besides speed, Google has created a “Top Stories news carousel” that uniquely feature AMP pages at the top of mobile search listings. We all know how hard it is to get to the top of the listings, so this offers an immediate return for websites investing in AMP pages.

Until recently, AMP was mainly being pushed for User Experience benefits. Now, Google is encouraging all websites to follow suit. It’s pitching it as a standard such as Schema.org or Dublin Core for Metadata.

The metrics

On average AMP sees:

  • Mobile traffic increases of 30%
  • Conversion increases of 20%
  • Time spent on pages is 2x a standard webpage

If you step back from AMP and consider the impact of load times this provides you with a good indication why conversions benefit from such an increase:

Company Load Time Change / Result         Impact
Amazon 1

0.1 second increase

1% decrease in sales

$1.3B / year
Walmart 1 second decrease
2% increase in conversions
$274M / year
Yahoo! 0.4 second decrease
9% increase in traffic
600M visitors per month

Not too long ago Google was massively pushing Responsive. The benefits were obvious - one single codebase with a device targeted experience - so there’s no wonder this was largely adopted.

To AMP or not to AMP?

Let’s consider the following, Google's is introducing the Mobile-first Index, this is the big change happening this year.

As Google goes mobile-first, future changes to its algorithm will be based on mobile and apply to both mobile and desktop. What will this mean for the desktop index? The risk is that it may provide quite different results, potentially resulting in a fragmented search experience.

A few things to consider

If AMP has an advantage on mobile, could that advantage carry over to desktop? Could AMP become a standard across all devices? If speeding up the web on mobile with AMP is the way forward, and Google is clearly betting on this, what does this behold for the desktop experience?

But there is another implication; currently websites are content optimized for search engines. If you have a lighter version for mobile (an AMP version) in the mobile index, the “full” version is in Google’s default index. This raises a lot of questions on Google’s indexing strategy, only time will see where this takes us.

Our view

There’s a lot of questions and a lot of key players are waiting to see how the technology develops, only time will tell where AMP is going and what real world implications it will have to the way we develop our digital presences.

My recommendation is to develop AMP pages where it makes sense and needs to be looked at on a case by case basis, it needs to be a considered investment.

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