News publishers are going all-in on Google's answer to Instant Articles

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages is set to launch Wednesday, and while some publishers took a cautious approach to Facebook’s Instant Articles, they’re going all in with Google’s fast-loading article initiative.

AMP is Google’s open-source code to speed up the mobile Web pages and is seen as its answer to the walled garden of Facebook’s Instant Articles, which launched last spring. The search giant said that in tests, AMP pages loaded 85 percent faster than regular Web pages.

Several big news publishers are part of the launch, including The Washington Post, Daily Mail, The Wall Street Journal and Mic. Part of the willingness to play ball could be that publishers are getting used to big platforms (Facebook, Apple News) edging into their content distribution. But the massive role Google search still plays in driving traffic to publisher sites also makes it hard to ignore. Some participants in the rollout said they’re AMP-coding all their articles because they see Google AMP as replacing their existing traffic, rather than cannibalizing it.

“We’re going to put everything fully there,” said Kim Lau, vp and digital general manager of The Atlantic, where mobile search accounts for about 10 percent of total page views and growing. “If you don’t participate, are you putting some of that audience at risk? We know faster pages are going to do better in mobile search; why would we not do everything we can do make it faster?”

While few publishers will openly speak ill of their platform partners, with all the traffic-driving power they wield, the implication in their comments that Google is easier to work with than Facebook and Apple News. Privately, publishers have complained that the latter two been challenging to work with on measurement, design and monetization issues.

“If there’s one partner to get in bed with, it’s Google, because they’re always on the up-and-up,” said Noah Szubski, chief product officer at the Daily Mail. “It’s been this collaborative approach. They respond to emails within five minutes. I have access to everyone, whether it’s leadership or engineers. You get all the tracking, you get the ability to monetize, your AMP pages look the way you want them to look.”

Asked specifically about Facebook and Apple, he said only, “We love all our partners.”

In the five months since Google announced AMP, publishers have been working to ensure their own content would be AMP-compliant and making sure they could implement the third-party ad and measurement companies they work with. Paywalled publishers had to work with Google to make sure their paywalls would be seamlessly integrated into AMP pages.

Initially, there were concerns that in paring down Web pages to make them load faster, AMP would strip mobile Web publishers of the design elements that keep their brands distinctive. On the other hand, as an open-source code, AMP can be used by publishers to adapt elements they want for their AMP pages. So The Atlantic recreated its “most popular” list, which is an important traffic driver. Daily Mail recreated a photo gallery so it could keep publishing the photo-heavy stories that it’s known for.

Of course, the downside is, such work is resource-intensive, and it will take time before publishers see if the faster load times pay off in greater readership and associated ad revenue.