One person’s page speed is another person’s monetization problem.
Six publishing sources, requesting anonymity out of fear of angering Google, said their ads load slower than their content on AMP, and that is part of the reason why they make less money per pageview from AMP than they do from their own websites. In one instance, the revenue per page on AMP was less than half of what the publisher got on its owned and operated properties. In effect, the user experience is almost too good, with content loading so fast that people scroll past the ads before they’ve been able to load, resulting in ads that aren’t deemed viewable.
But these publishers had trouble isolating how much of this discrepancy is due to how AMP loads content since AMP’s standardization also restricts page design, article recirculation and the type of ad units that publishers can use, and each of these variables makes it more difficult for publishers to make money on the platform. However, they agreed the gap between content and ads loading persists even though Google has worked on the issue since AMP launched about 20 months ago.
“There are a variety of issues around AMP with ads, and the fact that AMP [editorial content] loads ‘too fast’ is definitely among them,” said a publishing exec.
If Google forced advertisers to cut down their tracking code, reduce the size of their creative or do extra work to implement special tags for AMP ads, it would piss off clients that collectively push billions of dollars through the search giant’s products. But by loading content faster than the ads, Google makes it harder for publishers to make money on AMP. Since Facebook Instant Articles is frustrating publishers, appeasing them could benefit Google by giving it an edge over its rival.
Google acknowledges upfront that the goal of AMP is to improve user experience and page speed first, and figure out monetization second.
“The aim of AMP is to load content first and ads second,” said a Google spokesperson. “But we are working on making ads faster. It takes quite a bit of the ecosystem to get on board with the notion that speed is important for ads, just as it is for content.”
Getting text to load fast is simply easier than quickly loading ads with high-resolution imagery and multiple tracking tags. Rather than blame Google, one publishing source blamed advertisers and their heavy creatives for slow-loading ads within AMP.
A perverse incentive is in play: The quicker AMP loads content, the more noticeable the lag on ad load becomes. And it’s not just publishers that are affected. If Google’s exchange sold the ads that users scroll past without seeing, then Google also loses out on a chance to make money.
But there is a bigger issue than driving CPMs with fast-loading article templates. In the long run, it’s in Google’s best interest to maintain its dominance in search, and one way to keep people engaged on the open web is to speed up webpages, even if that means sacrificing some short-term revenue.
Publishers, which are already dependent on search traffic, are scared of acting against the platform’s wishes, even if that means adopting a platform where some ads don’t load in time for the user to see, said Paul Vincent, CEO of Neuranet, a tech company that helps publishers comply with Interactive Advertising Bureau specs for fast-loading ads.
“The whole reason that publishers are considering AMP is that Google gives AMP pages prioritization in search,” he said.