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What is AMP and why should I care?

Posted on August 12, 2016

 

Web development technologies are changing on an almost daily basis. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up, let alone stay ahead of the curve. One such change, however, doesn’t take a web psychic to see is going to be huge: AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Where this particular development change differs from most others is that it isn’t some more convoluted code to learn, or some fancy gimmick to make websites ‘do more’ or become more interactive. Quite the opposite, in fact. AMP is about stripping back the web to its bare minimum so that people accessing it from mobile devices can get what they’re looking for quickly, without all of the slow loading times associated with browsing on a smartphone.

While the web has been constantly evolving over the last few decades, web designers have been more preoccupied with what they were able to do rather than what they should have been doing. Websites have become huge clunky things, relying on the superfast broadband we (mostly) enjoy here in the UK and in the USA. Animations, images, video and various scripts all make websites do some beautiful, exciting things but, on a mobile, they cause frustration in the hands of the user while they wait for these unnecessary effects to download and render.

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Perhaps we didn’t really see mobile web coming, at least not so soon? Perhaps we all got too lazy with our super-fast broadband? Whatever the reason, the state of the web isn’t suited to the change in the way we access it. Hence AMP, a method of delivering web pages without all of the ‘web designer added’ baggage they carry, was introduced.

We first mentioned AMP in our blog last October, when Google’s Richard Gingras commented:

“The web today, particularly in a mobile environment, is not really fully satisfying users’ expectations. It’s not as fast as it should be. Pages load slowly, sometime erratically. It’s not ideal.”

Our Mark Glenning speculated that Google’s interest in AMP was partly fuelled by the search giant’s dropping mobile ad revenue. Google’s mobile market share, at the time, was losing ground to Facebook. Perhaps this explains Google’s interest in AMP, but what about your interest in AMP? Why should you care and how would affect your website today?

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Don’t panic!

First off, we should say there’s no cause for alarm. AMP is an open source project and is still very much under development. Its current state in no way reflects how it will work in a few months’ or a year’s time. For example, it doesn’t have support for ecommerce as yet, so if your website is a shop selling products, AMP isn’t something you can implement even if you wanted to. AMP also doesn’t support form submissions so, if your website features a contact form (as I imagine it probably does), that can’t be included.

As I said, it’s early days and there’s a long way to go yet.

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How do I implement it?

But what if you’re a trendsetter and you want to get stuck straight into AMP right now? Making your website AMP compliant isn’t something you can do overnight, and isn’t something you should even decide to do lightly. There are code examples and guides on the AMP Project website or, if your website is WordPress, there is a Plugin (obviously). Changing your website to accommodate AMP will affect your website’s design, and the code you can use. It will limit some of the things you can do on your site, so you may be left with some very hard design and functionality choices.

The WordPress Plugin will only affect your blogs, which is perhaps what Google really wants anyway, and will make them AMP compliant. If you run a WordPress blog, this is definitely something worth having a play with.

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So what does it do?

All of this code jiggery-pokery is all well and good, but what’s the point of it all? What’s the benefit? Where’s the Google love?

Well, with something being so heavily promoted by Google, you can expect there to be some Google payoff somewhere down the line. AMP is no exception, and you can see this by performing a Google search on your mobile (remember, AMP is all about the mobile web). Here, we’ve searched for ‘BBC’ and you can see, at the top of the results, a carousel of AMP pages matching the search term.

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The only way to get into this carousel of content (ooh, I like that) is by having your pages AMP compliant. Yes, that’s another search placement that you need to jump through hoops to get into and it takes away from the organic results for everyone else. If you’re a regular content publisher though, this might be worth doing for the search traffic alone.

Google Search Console

To further push its own agenda, Search Engine Land has reported that Google is contacting webmasters directly via their search consoles to tell them about AMP, and that they need to integrate it into their websites. It says many webmasters have received the following messages in their consoles from Google:

“Google has detected that your site has many pages that may benefit from being served as AMP pages. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are HTML pages that are optimized to load fast on mobile devices. Learn more about AMP benefits in the resources below. Valid AMP pages on your site will be eligible to be shown in search results and receive special badging in search results.”

Google really wants you to be using AMP. Perhaps that reason alone is enough to adopt it now?

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Haven’t we seen this before?

If this all sounds a little bit familiar, you’d be right. Facebook also has its version of AMP: Facebook Instant Articles. Like AMP, Instant Articles pulls through a feed of content from a website and serves it up from Facebook’s end. Just like AMP, there are very strict rules on what you can do and the mark-up language you need to use. Additionally, just like AMP, it’s a work in progress and still has some bugs.

The concept is a good one though, and it’s not something that’s going to go away anytime soon. If you’d like to learn more about how Facebook Instant Articles works, I’ve covered that in great detail here.

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In summary

While you need to be aware of AMP and you should monitor its progress over the next 12 months, it’s not something you need to start ripping up your current website over. If you’re planning a web redesign in the next 12 months, then AMP should be on the table. It’s still a fledgling concept, but it exists to help mobile users get better access to the web, and mobile web access is increasing every single day.

If you’d like to know more about AMP, or when it’s high time you adopted it into your website, you can subscribe to our monthly email.

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