Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a controversial technology. On the one hand, according to its own website, it’s a way to create user-first websites and ads.
What is its real value for websites and their rankings? And should we give in to Google’s pressure to adopt their project?
Let’s take a closer look at how AMP got the way it is, and what implications it carries for webmasters around the globe.
Why websites use AMP?
Ever since mobile overtook desktop usage, mobile page speed has been a hugely important consideration for any webmaster: it’s great for user experience and an important ranking factor for Google.
This means that speed optimization plays a key role in both your website’s usability and its rankability.
AMP is the technology created specifically to improve mobile page speed quickly and easily. AMP provides bare-bones, stripped-down HTML versions of your content. Aesthetically, they are comparable to Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News.
The logic here is that higher page speed and smoother loading experience will lead to higher user satisfaction, which, in turn, will lead to higher engagement.
Of course, that’s only part of the story, as one of the main reasons websites, mostly news agencies, were actively implementing AMP to their news pages, was to get into the “Top stories” SERP feature on mobile.
Google’s “Top stories” carries huge weight for news websites, as they occupy almost an entire screen when searched on mobile:
And even on the desktop, “Top stories” are automatically placed above any of the blue-link SERP results, making them the de facto #1 ranked results, and the closest thing many websites can get to a Featured snippet.
Add to that the fact that “Top stories” are basically rich SERP results, which normally require additional optimization efforts to get.
I should note that there are different ways to increase your page speed — but the preferential treatment in search for a while was given to Google’s own property.
Faced with the prospect of not getting into a SERP feature, it was obvious that news websites would be using AMP as the staple for their news pages.
Of course, now that AMP is no longer the primary requirement to get into this SERP feature, news agencies will have a bit more freedom to choose the format they prefer.
How AMP works
AMP pages load very fast thanks to a few core factors:
- All AMP pages come pre-rendered and loaded into Google/Bing AMP Cache. This means that if you’re accessing them through the corresponding search engines, your browser doesn’t have to render the page from scratch.
- AMP pages follow some very strict coding rules. That means that in addition to being pre-rendered it simply can’t have any of the elements that would slow it down thanks to restrictions on HTML/CSS and JS elements imposed on AMP pages.
With all of those conditions met, the AMP version of the page, hosted and pre-loaded by Google, would both load very quickly and have a chance to appear in the “Top stories” SERP feature.
There are three layers to the AMP configuration of any webpage.
First, you have to code the page with the AMP HTML — you essentially create a skeletal version of your webpage, coded with some unique AMP tags within a normal HTML framework.
Once your page is created, it will automatically get cached by AMP CDN — a proxy-based network also called Google (or Bing) AMP Cache, used to store and deliver the actual pages.
While you can opt out of AMP Cache, the only way to do that is to remove the <amp> attribute from your HTML.
However, if you decide to delete the <amp> attribute, you are: a) making the document an invalid AMP page, disqualifying it from “Top stories” SERP feature; b) essentially destroying one of the biggest factors responsible for your lightning-fast page speed.
Does AMP give you a ranking boost?
According to Google’s own John Mueller, AMP itself does not influence rankings. That’s as straightforward an answer as you can imagine, but the devil is in the details.
The addition of AMP might not give you any ranking boost, but page speed, increasing which is AMP’s entire raison d’être, is a very important ranking factor.
This means that with all the rest being equal, an AMP page will supposedly have a higher chance to rank compared to a non-AMP page, simply because the latter will be slower.
In reality, though, things aren’t so simple. There are dozens of factors influencing ranking, and AMP is not a guarantee of anything. From the backlink profile to the way a page is coded, there is a great number of things to work on besides AMP.
Drawbacks of using AMP on your website
While the benefits of using AMP are obvious: speed and an additional SERP feature — the drawbacks are also numerous.
- Unclear who’ll own user data — a very popular concern about AMP pages has everything to do with privacy. Since Google caches every AMP page, what it means is that the page, functionally, is not really yours — it’s a copy of your page stored on Google’s server with some bare-bones design.
In this situation, it’s not entirely clear who’ll be the owner of the information sourced through the AMP pages, and it might be a better idea to tread with caution.
- Fewer customization options — all AMP pages look exactly the same, according to the same UX-centric standard imposed by the format. It’s only going to contain text with images breaking it up from time to time. For a lot of webmasters, having all or most of their webpages convert to the rather drab-looking AMP format is not super desirable. Not to mention that for a lot of websites a certain design flair form a part of content’s appeal.
- Your inbound links might not count — since an AMP page is not hosted on your own server, but instead on Google’s own URL, the backlinks your piece of content might’ve received will not actually go to you.
This doesn’t matter too much for news websites creating AMP pages. But there are some webmasters who integrate AMP to up the page speed and boost rankings. The problem will then be that the backlinks they get to that fast page will not count toward their link profile.
Should you use AMP?
This will depend on the goals of each of your webpages.
It’s clear that AMP technology is not about to disappear in the next couple of years. In part, because page speed will remain key to ranking in the future of search. And in part, because mobile traffic will not go down any time soon.
AMP comes with a series of issues, namely that Google has essentially forced news websites to use its technology; that AMP pressures the Web into a uniform and bland style; that it’s unclear how the user data is being protected by the search engines using AMP — even with all of these issues considered, there’s still a question of usability.
Users do actually love when the page is loaded within half a second, and AMP is a great way to achieve that. However, it’s not the only way, and we need to remember that as we try to create the best websites possible.
Overall, today, if you’re running a news website, AMP seems like the only logical choice to make. And if not, AMP seems worth the effort only if: a) most of your audience is mobile, b) all you want out of your page is text with some static images.