Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project remains a hot topic among web developers and SEOs alike, with fierce debates about whether or not to adopt this new standard for mobile webpages. There are many arguments both for and against adopting AMP, ranging from usability issues, lack of tracking script support (for better or worse), diverting resources away from optimising regular webpages, and so on.
In this article I want to offer a purely commercial perspective on the debate. I want to show what the potential impact of implementing AMP can be on your business, and I will do this by showing case studies for three different types of website: a news site, a lead-gen website, and an ecommerce site.
Hopefully, by giving these real-world examples of websites that have adopted AMP, I can help clarify some aspects of the debate, or perhaps ignite other fires.
When AMP was first launched, Google positioned it as a rival to Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News aimed squarely at the news industry. News websites were quick to jump on the AMP bandwagon once they realised that they would enjoy enhanced visibility in mobile news carousels:
Moreover, news publishers who adopt AMP are rewarded with publisher carousels in mobile SERPs, where they get an entire carousel to themselves when they have multiple articles on a specific topic:
The final icing on the cake is the fact that AMP circumvents ad blocking by hosting pages on the Google AMP cache. It didn’t take news publishers, struggling to monetise their content and grow their audiences, a lot of persuading.
And, in all fairness, for the news publishers I have worked with, AMP has proven to be quite a successful standard to get behind. Let’s look at the following two screenshots from Google Search Console. The first shows how non-AMP pages have performed in Google search on mobile devices:
Over 6 million clicks from 120 million page impressions, with an average rank of 5th in Google SERPs. That may seem like great metrics, until you compare them to the same data for AMP pages:
In the same time period, the site’s AMPified pages achieve 16 million clicks from 325 million impressions – almost three times as many. The AMP articles also achieved a slightly higher rank on average, 4th in SERPs compared to 5th for non-AMP articles.
Now the real question is, would that mobile traffic to AMP pages also have materialised if the site had not adopted AMP? Well, we can provide an answer by using a tool called NewsDashboard, which monitors websites in Google News.
The following screenshot from NewsDashboard shows the visibility in mobile news carousels in the last 8 months for three websites – two of which have adopted AMP and one which hasn’t (the grey line is an average trend line):
Yes, the red line at the bottom is the website that has not adopted AMP. That website’s visibility in mobile news carousels has been entirely wiped out.
Case closed then. The vast bulk of a news publisher’s search traffic comes from Google News. You can argue for days about whether AMP yields more or less ad revenue than non-AMP, but without traffic your ad slots will go un-monetised. So, if you are a news website AMP is not optional. Failing to adopt AMP means your competitors will scoop up all the mobile traffic and you are left with the scraps.
Lead Gen Website
AMP is no longer restricted to just news carousels. Increasingly we see AMP appear in regular mobile search results for various different types of content:
So the logical next question is, does it make sense for non-news websites to adopt AMP? One of my clients has embarked on an AMP project, implementing AMP for a number of key landing pages that already perform well in organic search.
From the moment they put the AMPified page live, there was an immediate drop in mobile visits to the non-AMP version and a decent amount of traffic to the AMP version. The tracking is done through two separate Google Analytics profiles, as there are issues with AMP and non-AMP tracking on the same GA code. So we have to do some manual data collection behind the scenes.
Now, when you put those two graphs together, does the traffic to the non-AMP version combined with the traffic to the AMP version amount to any sort of uplift?
The answer is yes:
Implementing AMP on this page has resulted in 27% more traffic from mobile devices. But for a lead gen website, traffic is just part of the equation. The next question is, does the added AMP traffic result in more conversions?
In the context of news, AMP visits are notorious for low engagement. The way the AMP carousel for news articles works means that users can swipe through individual articles quickly without engaging with the article’s news publisher in any meaningful way. Can a lead gen website avoid the same behaviour? Traffic might improve, but will conversions improve as well?
And again, the answer is yes:
This lead gen site saw 18% improvement in goal conversions from organic search after they implemented AMP on their key landing pages. The AMP traffic doesn’t simply bounce, it really engages with the site and contributes to improved business outcomes.
What happens when you implement AMP on a website that is not as mobile optimised as it could be? That’s where my final example comes in.
This example is a client that is using an ecommerce platform which does not prioritise speed, and as a result the mobile experience is less than ideal. They decided to implement AMP on their blog pages, as these achieve decent traffic and would make for a great test to see if AMP could be rolled out in other areas of the site. The fact that the AMP standard isn’t really ready for ecommerce yet also played a big part.
Now there were some caveats and obstacles that need to be mentioned: the way AMP was implemented on this site’s blog was fairly standard, using templates from AMP by Example, with no real encouragement for people to stay on the site – no related content links and no calls to action. So there was little incentive for people to engage further with the site once they had read the AMP blog article.
And this had an impact on the success of the AMP implementation, as is evident from these numbers:
The site saw a strong uplift in traffic from mobile devices after they implemented AMP, but this also corresponded to lower engagement metrics: a higher bounce rate and less time spent on the site.
Interestingly enough, the ecommerce conversion rate improved after AMP was implemented, but the average order value dropped significantly.
One theory is that the AMP visitors, as they moved from a fast-loading AMP blog page to the rest of the site, didn’t get the same fast experience and thus tried to minimise their time on the site, ignoring cross-selling and up-selling offers. Thus the lower average order value. Though it should be noted that the site also made other improvements in this time period, so we cannot really isolate the AMP signal in this data.
All in all, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from this partial AMP implementation.
AMP – Worthy or Wasteful?
So, what have we learned from these three case studies? For news websites, AMP is pretty much mandatory nowadays. While there are still territories in which AMP is not active in Google search results, news publishers there would be smart to adopt the standard anyway and make sure they are ready to capitalise on AMP once it is rolled out for their their local Google version.
For non-news websites, the argument is not that clear. The lead-gen example showed that, ironically, a well-optimised mobile site can benefit from AMP as it’ll get extra traffic and sales. The ecommerce example showed that a halfhearted implementation on an un-optimised site won’t have much benefit and might even hurt the site by providing a disconnected user experience on AMP versus non-AMP.
So you still need a fast mobile experience, regardless of whether you choose to implement AMP. The new AMP standard does not replace a fast-loading website optimised for mobile viewing. In fact, if your website has a poor mobile experience, AMP should be a low priority for you – there are bigger fish to fry.
The Next 4 Billion
One final thought I want to leave you with is this.
Recently I read a series of articles on Smashing Magazine that really helped me put AMP in perspective. In these articles, titled World Wide Web, Not Wealthy Western Web (Part 1 and Part 2) author Bruce Lawson explains that the majority of the world’s population is not yet using the web. Moreover, most of the people who are using the web right now are on slow internet connections, often in areas of the world where there is little infrastructure to allow for fast connectivity.
Most of these internet users only have a mobile device. They don’t use PCs or laptops, but they all have a smartphone. And the other 4 billion people that are yet to go online are exceedingly likely to do so exclusively on a mobile device.
So if you care at all about these people and have any sort of inclination to target them, you can do one of two things:
- Invest in fast mobile experiences served through CDNs that service these territories.
- Implement AMP.
Yes, AMP can be an alternative to costly investments in CDNs for Africa, Asia, and South America. Why? Because AMP content is served through the Google AMP Cache, which is already active world-wide.
In the long term, you will want to go for option 1. A fast mobile experience is crucial, and you’ll want your entire website to be served via optimised CDNs rather than just the AMP landing page. But in the short term, AMP can serve as a quick fix of sorts to target users who live in remote areas and use mobile devices on slow connections, without you having to make a huge investment.
If, however, you only care about markets in the west, AMP is probably not ready yet. Definitely keep an eye on the standard and how it develops, but it might be too early to go all-in just yet.
But then, as the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm.