Publishers have grown weary of platforms’ power over them but worry about the risk of opting out. Outside Magazine has managed to pull back without hurting its own properties.
Outside, an independent title for outdoorsy types that’s owned by Mariah Media, ditched Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages three months ago, and since then, it has seen a 13 percent increase in pageviews per visit on mobile. Since scrapping Google’s fast-loading mobile page initiative, Outside has also seen a slight increase in visitors and ranking in search, which supplies 30 percent of its traffic.
Restricting traffic to its owned-and-operated site gave Outside more control over page design. Having greater influence over navigation helped Outside increase recirculation, said Todd Hodgson, director of product management at Outside.
Because traffic and search queries are affected by many variables and include seasonal variation, Hodgson did not directly attribute its traffic and search improvement to the removal of AMP. However, publishers often speculate that Google favors AMP pages in search, so Outside’s experience is noteworthy because it wasn’t penalized by Google for dropping AMP. A Google spokesperson said publishers’ search rankings are not affected by whether a publisher uses AMP.
“I think where publishers fall into a trap is when they start thinking that using AMP will somehow get them in Google’s favor and that their pages will start ranking higher simply because they’re using a product that Google spearheaded,” Hodgson said.
As a small publisher that isn’t reliant on programmatic or search, Outside’s experience doesn’t necessarily translate to most premium publishers. Human resource constraints were a factor in Outside ditching AMP. Adopting fast-loading article templates is a relatively easy lift, but Outside has just two web developers, and each time it adopts another platform, it has to make sure its measurement and tracking tags are all properly implemented.
“For these other teams that have armies of developers, this is not a big deal,” Hodgson said. “But for us, each of these [platforms] becomes an opportunity cost, and you have to pick and choose what you want to spend a developer’s time on.”
Outside doesn’t rely much on Facebook Instant Articles, Facebook’s counterpart to AMP, either. Outside averages just three ad units on its pages and doesn’t sell ads programmatically, so it isn’t desperate for the speed bump these article templates provide, Hodgson said. Outside turns on Instant Articles when it has inventory to spare, and in that case, Instant Articles accounts for about 15 percent of Outside’s traffic. When Outside sells out of its own digital inventory, it turns off Instant Articles because it needs all the direct traffic it can get to fulfill campaigns, and its Instant Articles impressions are sold through the Facebook Audience Network, not Outside’s direct-sales team.
Hodgson emphasized that Outside is open to returning to AMP. For example, if Google’s version of Snapchat Discover takes off, it may make sense to adopt the platform. In the meantime, Outside is being choosy about where it publishes its content.
“There is this fear of missing out from publishers to get in good favor with these behemoths,” Hodgson said. “But you have to scrutinize them and figure out which ones are the best ones for you.”