4 questions publishers still have about AMP, Google's fast-loading mobile initiative

This is the third article in a series called “Mobile Monetization for Publishers,” where we look at how publishers are tackling the challenge of making money from their mobile audiences.

Google is just days away from launching Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), its fast-loading mobile pages initiative for publishers. And while many big publishers seem to be on board and welcome the idea of the open-source code designed to make their pages load faster, AMP has an unfinished quality to it, so there are still unanswered questions about it. Here are four of their main concerns:

The biggest question is how well publishers will be able to monetize their AMP pages. Publishers need every competitive edge they can get on mobile, where for many sites, upwards of half their audience is. People on the go have little patience for slow-loading sites. AMP is basically open-source code that strips down Web pages so they load faster on mobile devices, and it’s freely available to any publisher to implement.

Google took pains to make sure publishers could keep their paywalls, which is important to a small core of them, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But AMP doesn’t support header bidding, which is an important way for publishers to increase the yield they get from programmatic advertising. Header bidding is “very important in raising our yield 10 to 20 percent,” said John Potter, CTO of Purch, a network of tech sites. “The fact that AMP doesn’t support that means we’ll see any gains from header bidding drop.”

Native ad widgets (think Outbrain, Taboola) also won’t all be immediately available, limiting publishers’ ability to monetize their AMP pages.

Another unknown: Whether the speed advantage of AMP will make up for the loss of advertising per page. In tests, Google said it cut load time by 85 percent. But publishers also have been taking steps on their own to reduce their page load time. Publishers like Purch will want to see if people coming to their AMP pages end up visiting more pages and spend more time on site because pages load faster.

And whether Google plays favorites with publishers who use AMP is the overarching question on everyone’s mind; Google says it will treat everyone equally, but it’s long said that speed is a criteria in ranking search results. When it announced AMP, Google showed off a carousel of articles in search results, which has people like Kate Harris, director of product at the Times wondering how users would interact with the articles in the carousel and how important that will be from an engagement standpoint.

With growing consumption and ad rates, video is hugely important to publishers. But some publishers remain unsure about how well AMP will support their ability to publish video content and advertising. Google has a basic video player for AMP, but whether it can provide all the metrics that advertisers want is unclear.

“Being able to play back ads and metrics, these are things that are all very important to publishers,” a video exec with a major news publisher said. “You can modify the code, but it’s work.” Not to mention that more modifications can slow down the page, which defeats the whole purpose of AMP.

Publishers can get that functionality using Google’s pre-approved YouTube player, but the revenue share is lousy for publishers, and those who are already using another video player won’t want to use multiple ones for different versions of their pages.

From a staffing perspective, AMP is positive. Publishers surveyed for this article said they haven’t hired big teams to implement Google AMP but have drawn on existing staff. The thing about AMP is, it touches just about every part of the organization, from engineering to ad sales to product to mobile news to analytics. Publishers expect that once they launch AMP, they’ll be able to maintain it using existing staff. But it’s hard to know if the increased work will pay off in the form of better monetization.