Many publishers have scrambled to adopt AMP, Google’s answer to Facebook Instant Articles. As the Guardian’s experience showed, Accelerated Mobile Pages can be a success if publishers put the work in.
AMP has gradually been taking over the Guardian’s mobile traffic; today, 60 percent of its Google mobile traffic is AMP, well above the 10 to 15 percent that publishers have been getting from AMP, according to a recent estimate by SEO consulting company Define Media.
AMP pages are 2 percent more likely to be clicked on and clickthrough rates on AMP pages to non-AMP pages is 8.6 percent higher than they are on regular mobile pages, according to Natalia Baltazar, a developer for the British newspaper, who presented at AMP Conf, a two-day conference hosted by Google taking place in New York City March 7-8.
“More and more users seem to be recognizing the lightning bolt on Facebook Instant Articles and AMP,” she said. “They know the page will load instantly.”
Some publishers have complained that they’re not making as much ad revenue on AMP pages as their regular mobile pages; Google says that the revenue results have varied widely depending on factors like how many ad units the publishers run on their AMP pages and what kinds of ad units they sell on their regular mobile pages.
David Besbris, AMP project lead, said in some cases, publishers who were getting one-fourth the revenue on their AMP pages didn’t realize they were also running one-fourth the number of ads. Overall, though, he said that most publishers are doing as well with AMP or better, in terms of viewability, ad rates and engagement.
Here, the Guardian has been an apparent success. Ad rates on its AMP pages are within 5 percent of its regular mobile pages and ad viewability is higher because ads load faster than they do on regular mobile pages, Baltazar said.
Still, implementing AMP hasn’t been without hiccups, which Baltazar also detailed. Developer glitches can lead AMP pages to be invalid, which costs them the speed benefit of AMP pages. In one example, the Guardian added a Facebook Messenger share button to pages before that feature had been AMP-approved.
“You can’t imagine how easy it is to invalidate an AMP page,” she said.
Pages can also become invalid when journalists embed elements that aren’t AMP-ready in articles. This happened during the U.S. presidential election, when, on the Guardian’s biggest traffic day of the year, its top story was invalid. “We have limited control over what a journalist might embed,” Baltazar said.
The AMP development team now keeps track of whether AMP traffic drops suddenly, which might indicate pages are invalid, and it can react quickly.
All this adds expense, though. There are setup, development and maintenance costs associated with AMP, mostly in the form of time. After implementing AMP, the Guardian realized the project needed dedicated staff, so it created an 11-person team that works on AMP and other aspects of the site, drawing mostly from existing staff.
Despite the costs and work associated with AMP, Baltazar said it’s been good for the Guardian, prompting it to redesign its mobile site and pages for a better user experience.
The Guardian realized that it wasn’t obvious to people coming to the site for the first time that the Guardian was a news site. So it redesigned its navigation to make its core subjects like news, opinion and sports more prominent. It reduced the number of share buttons on article pages, to three from around seven, and rearranged the elements at the top of the page so that the content would appear higher up.
The redesign is in the process of being rolled out — it’s only available to 10 percent of mobile users now — but people who use it are three times more likely to recognize the Guardian as a news site, Baltazar said.
“AMP does add complexity to a project,” she said. “Each new developer has to learn about AMP and its restrictions. Despite all these costs, we do think AMP is a good thing for us. Providing a good user experience is one of the most important things we do.”