Links to AMP content are showing up outside of search results

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) standard was designed to bring the fast-loading, clean experience of native apps to the open web. With most large publishers now producing AMP versions of their content, distribution platforms and other referrers are starting to experiment with AMP as an alternative to standard outbound links and app web views.

Publishers might see this trend in their AMP referral analytics. At Relay Media, we’ve tracked an increase in non-Google referrals to the AMP content we convert for publishers — beyond the usual traffic from users sharing AMP links on social media. Here are our top non-Google referral sources over the past five months:

Google Analytics weekly sessions, October 9, 2016 through February 18, 2017.

Google Analytics weekly sessions, October 9, 2016, through February 18, 2017

Google still represents about 80 percent of total AMP referral sessions to Relay Media’s platform, with another 8 percent categorized as “(direct) / (none)” in Google Analytics. Identifiable non-Google sources represent around 10 percent of total referral sessions. It’s a modest piece of the pie, but growing in number and volume.

At site level, non-Google sources can contribute a greater share of referrals to topical and niche news publishers. For example, one publisher is getting 25 percent of its AMP referrals from the LinkedIn app. Another sees 9 percent of its AMP referrals from Bleacher Report’s Team Stream app. Yet another is now getting 22 percent of AMP referrals from the Flipboard app, which suddenly appeared as a significant AMP referrer to Relay Media’s platform in early February.

(Pinterest is another big advocate of AMP. Pinterest generally doesn’t send a lot of traffic to news-focused publishers, but might appear as a top referrer for the type of lifestyle content that drives engagement on that platform.)

It’s easy for any referrer to surface AMP pages instead of standard mobile pages, since each AMP-enabled web page has a header tag pointing to its AMP URL. Instead of loading a potentially sluggish, jerky mobile web page with intrusive ads and pop-ups, apps can load the reliably fast and clean AMP version for a better overall user experience. Here’s how AMPs appear in LinkedIn’s app:

LinkedIn’s mobile app loads AMP articles when available.

LinkedIn’s mobile app loads AMP articles when available.

In this example, the LinkedIn app is displaying a Google-validated and cached AMP; note the cdn.ampproject.org URL in the viewer. LinkedIn uses a lightning bolt icon next to the publisher name on the linking post, so it’s easy to tell the link goes to an AMP if you know what to look for.

Other apps link to AMPs transparently, without any visual cues. A publisher would need to monitor their analytics — or notice that the linked page is AMP — to know it’s happening. Here’s the experience of clicking through an AMP link in Flipboard’s app:

Flipboard's app links to AMPs transparently.

Flipboard’s app links to AMPs transparently.

None of these companies has suggested that AMP content will be prioritized over non-AMP content; for now, it seems they’re simply looking to provide the best experience available for each piece of content.

In addition to distribution platforms, at least one publisher is using AMP to populate its own branded apps. In this recent AMP Project blog post, German news publisher Shz.de describes rebuilding its apps using AMP to reduce development and maintenance cost, with significant gains in performance and user engagement.

Meanwhile, web performance and security company Cloudflare launched its own AMP cache in January, along with a feature called Accelerated Mobile Links. Publishers on Cloudflare’s CDN can configure the service so that any outbound links on the publisher’s website will load the AMP version of the linked page (when available) in Cloudflare’s AMP viewer, which looks a lot like Google’s AMP viewer. This ensures an optimal experience with the linked content — and enables the user to easily close the viewer and return to the linking website. See Cloudflare’s demo here.

The common theme across these examples is that AMP can provide a new and much-needed level of quality assurance to cross-property linking. The goal is to make traversing the open web a more seamless experience for users, and “de-risk” external links in Google’s environments and everywhere else.

The takeaway for publishers is that distribution platforms and other referrers will probably continue to explore AMP as an efficient and user-friendly mobile content standard. This activity is still very nascent, but publishers should monitor analytics and ensure their AMPs are optimized for engagement and monetization. AMP was incubated by Google last year; 2017 could be the year it branches out.

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