Tracking the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project

AMP isn’t quite a household acronym yet, but it has big implications for virtually everyone with web access. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project, the brainchild of Google announced just two years ago, is already impacting millions of users’ experience. And it’s growing fast. The downside — arguably a temporary one — is that not all technology is completely up to speed with this new initiative.

The need for AMP

The Google-led AMP Project is a response to the rise of of the mobile web, along with the proliferation of clunky advertising and poorly optimized website design. Its goal is to bring faster — even instant — rendering to web content, especially via mobile devices. If you’re wondering whether this optimization is really needed, the answer is largely yes, particularly for bigger websites.

Some news sites and content aggregators are known to eat up a ton of bandwidth and chase audiences away with slow load times. For example, one news site tested by Google consumed more than 100mb of bandwidth while making more than 6,500 requests to over 130 different domains. And that was just to display its home page. Poorly constructed web pages can result in slow load times, which can drive up abandon rates, lower audience experience, and, ultimately, put a serious ding in the site’s reputation. Nobody’s brand needs that.

AMP works to fix these issues by employing a number of best practices and restrictions that are all focused on site speed. At its core, AMP consists of three layers:

  1. AMP HTML — a stripped-down version of HTML that adds restrictions that help ensure reliable and faster performance. While most tags in an AMP HTML page are standard HTML tags, some have been replaced with AMP-specific tags built for site speed optimization.
  2. AMP JavaScript library — a library for managing resource loading that offers access to the custom AMP HTML tags and works within AMP’s prescribed best-performance practices to help optimize and accelerate page rendering.
  3. AMP Cache — a proxy-based network for delivering AMP documents that fetches AMP HTML pages, and then caches them to improve page performance. It also features a built-in validation system that confirms that the AMP page will work properly without needing external resources.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of all-things AMP, visit the AMP Project page for full details, and attend the upcoming MarketingLand webinar about the evolution of AMP this month.

Major brands adopt AMP

With the help of 8,700 developers, the open-source initiative already powered close to 1 million domains and over 2 billion mobile pages as of May 2017. A lot of big players have already implemented and/or contributed to AMP, including WordPress, Reddit, ebay, Pinterest, Twitter, Bing and more. Web pages utilizing AMP are loading an average of four times faster and are using up to 10 times less bandwidth. Practically speaking, this means businesses can enjoy significant savings in bandwidth expenses — as well as the potential for increased traffic.

AMP’s quadrupled load speed translates into a better user experience, attracting more users to stay on a site and engage with its content. And this isn’t theoretical. Some early AMP adopters have already reported measurable results.

AMP posts powerful results

Here are a few examples of improved site performance, post-AMP:

  • Wired saw an overall 25 percent increase in click-through rates, as well as over 60 percent more click-throughs on ads in AMP-powered stories/pages.
  • Slate enjoyed an almost 50 percent spike in unique visitors per month and an almost 75 percent increase in visits per unique visitors per month.
  • Gizmodo experienced a 50 percent increase in impressions. Also, 80 percent of their traffic from AMP pages is new traffic.
  • The Washington Post saw a 23 percent rise in mobile search users returning to their site within seven days.

AMP can also improve search rankings and ad viewability. A 2016 DoubleClick study showed that 80 percent of 150 publishers realized improved viewability rates with AMP pages versus non-AMP pages. In the same study, more than 90 percent of the publishers also achieved greater engagement and higher click-through rates.

Some companies also experienced an increase in revenue in correlation with AMP’s improved speed and experience. The increased click-throughs and lower abandonment rates seem to be having a real impact on revenue. Sites converted by the news publisher Relay Media, for example, reported that mobile users who begin their customer journey with an AMP-powered page spend an average of 10 percent more money than users starting from a traditional, non-AMP mobile page.

As an added benefit, Google is also using AMP to tackle clunky banner ads. Using AMP HTML, the AMP Ads Initiative is working to correct the issue of ads that are slow, unpredictable and disruptive to audience experience. Not only are AMP-based ads faster and lighter than traditional web ads, but they’re delivered only after being validated free of malware. And the best part — AMP Ads aren’t limited to AMP pages but can be delivered anywhere on the web.

The downside of AMP

By its nature, AMP is restrictive. Imposing strict limits is how AMP ultimately increases speed and reduces bandwidth. If you’re thinking that restricting the HTML might restrict some functionality, you’re right. There’s a fair share of third-party software that isn’t yet integrated with AMP, which can limit certain functionalities like data tracking. And, even though AMP does support Google Analytics, AMP requires a different analytics tag than what is used in standard HTML — and it needs to be implemented on all AMP pages. For larger sites, this can be no small lift. In fact, AMP’s limits can make the implementation effort fairly heavy across the board.

Rounding out the cons, some advertisers might shy away from sites or pages that don’t support hard-to-miss but experience-damaging features like pop-up ads, making it harder for sites to secure advertisers. The case for a better audience experience doesn’t win the day with every potential advertiser.

Keep in mind that Google AMP is only two years out of the gate and continues to make progress against most of its cons. Project developers have already addressed several issues not mentioned above, including the fact that AMP links and canonical site links used to differ, making it difficult to share content. Additional updates have also been made to address functionality issues with more than 100 forward-thinking third-party analytics, ad tech, and CMS providers. Bottom line? Further AMP development work is needed to address limitations, but updates have been taking place fairly quickly to this point.

Bringing  journeys and experiences together

If the pace of AMP adoption continues as expected, significant improvements in user experience can be expected across the entire web in the near future. This means faster load times and a better-looking web to boot.

The issue of limited functionality with AMP pages still poses some inconvenience in a number of verticals. At CallTrackingMetrics (CTM), we recognized such an issue in our own industry. While marketers could still track a wealth of data through AMP pages, there was no way for marketers and organizations to dynamically populate AMP pages with tracking numbers.

At CTM, we worked closely with AMP’s team to develop a custom call-tracking script, creating the power to swap out trackable phone numbers on any AMP page. While others may follow suit in time, CTM is currently the only call-tracking provider to provide this functionality. We believe that AMP is helping to create a better mobile web and didn’t want to see AMP’s improved customer experience rendered moot to marketers by limitations to its trackability. After all, if a customer journey happens in the forest — even a really amazing forest — and no data is collected, does it matter?

Maybe.

Faster web page load times and cleaner ad experiences matter to marketers for all the reasons we’ve already touched on: better engagement, more visitors, increased revenue and so on. But without the ability to fully track the user journey through AMP pages, it’s hard to know exactly how effective your advertising is, AMPed or otherwise. When it comes to AMP pages, marketers who do not have access to CTM’s functionality may not have a full view of their customers’ journeys.

The jury is still out regarding the ultimate fate of AMP. Google, after all, has let a handful of initiatives slide before. And it’s difficult to know exactly where adoption might plateau. AMP, however, is a project with a clear goal that many can relate to and stand behind: create a better mobile web experience. And with the endorsement of many large brands leading the way, combined with powerful results in traffic and engagement, we think this might be a trend that’s here to stay.

In the meantime, developers and marketers have nothing to lose by embracing the AMP initiative and testing its performance. The potential benefits of a better, cleaner experience can’t be underestimated (consider Facebook vs. MySpace); and AMP presents a sea of opportunities for publishers, software providers, advertisers and marketers — not to mention their customers and audiences.

AMP might not be a sure thing yet — but it’s loading fast and looking good.

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