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Impact of Accelerated Mobile Pages on Search Rank & Other AMP Issues

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Digital marketers have been creating accelerated mobile pages, better known as AMP, for nearly two years now—although, for the most part, it’s news sites that have benefited. In October 2017, though, Search Engine Land published a case study that showed the benefits of AMP for a retail site, which makes this question more pressing for online retailers: should you—or should you not—AMP up your pages?

The answer isn’t simple because while there are clear benefits in taking advantage of AMP, some downsides exist.

Understanding AMP

Before deciding, it’s important to understand what’s involved in AMP. Broadly speaking, there are three main elements:

  1. Restricted HTML: How you code the page is crucial, as certain tags are replaced with AMP HTML tags; you can find more specifics at Developers.Google.com.
  2. Restricted JavaScript: Third party JavaScript is banned, unless you use it in sandboxed i-frames, and there must be asynchronous loading of any/all external resources.
  3. Google AMP Cache: AMP-designed pages are immediately cached for virtually instant retrieval after being requested by searchers; the cached page is what is displayed.

Benefits of AMP

Improved site metrics point to the benefits of AMP. Here are some of the metrics featured in a case study published by SearchEngineLand.com:

  1. Period-over-period traffic for the shoe retailer increased by 32%
  2. Year-over-year traffic increased by 45%
  3. Post-2017-launch, customer actions were boosted by 9.4%
  4. When comparing 2016 data to 2017, customer actions increased by 21.3%

Large news sites have also seen positive changes, including:

  1. Wired.com experienced a 25% increase in click-through rates
  2. Gizmodo.com site impressions increased by 50%
  3. Slate.com monthly visitors (unique) increased by 44%

From a user experience perspective, our brains have become wired for speed, with a corresponding loss of patience. Not surprisingly, bounce rate has been shown to increase as page speed slows. If the average page speed is two seconds, the bounce rate averages 9.61 percent. By the time page speed reaches seven seconds, bounce rate increases to 32.3%. Because AMP clearly speeds up page loading, this is a plus.

Although Google has repeatedly stated that AMP is not a ranking factor, on January 25, 2017, John Mueller said that, when AMP pages are a site’s primary (canonical) version, these are the pages Google will consider when making ranking decisions—and, since site speed is a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, the speed of AMP pages will play a role in ranking. Reduced bounce rates and other user engagement metrics are important, too, and metrics shared above show how AMP contributes.

Right now, AMP pages from news sites are displayed in a carousel located above the fold. This carousel pushes down organic results on search engine results pages, which means AMP-ed pages in the carousel are more easily accessed, providing the instant gratification searchers crave. And, because Google is constantly evolving how search results are displayed, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that retail and other non-news AMP pages will end up in prominently-displayed carousels.

As a final point, because AMP uses open source protocol (with more than 400 contributors to date), this technology is continually updated. These updates will likely have a net positive effect.

Challenges with AMP

When you AMP a page, you must go all-in. You can’t just sprinkle a little AMP on top of a regularly-coded page to benefit from its good features while mitigating the bad and the ugly.

Starting with the ugly: the pages are stripped down, which removes the ability of webmasters to add multiple styling and branding elements we’ve become accustomed to. Human eyes are naturally drawn to the attractive, to the compelling—and that’s not a plus of AMP pages. Increasing numbers of templates are being created for AMP, though, so this negative will likely be lessened.

There are extra hassles associated with creating AMP pages. Although you don’t lose rankings (and in fact may improve in rankings), your ability to report on mobile rankings can become muddled. That’s because, if you’re running a historical ranking report, the mobile rankings will be replaced with Google’s cached version, so it will look as though you’re losing your mobile rankings.

Here are a dozen more challenges:

  1. Using AMP HTML in source code isn’t intuitive, and you will likely need expert help.
  2. Each AMP page needs to be validated, and that definitely belongs in the hassle category.
  3. You’ll need to monitor Google Search Console for validation issues. They are often caused by HTML issues, but not always. You can use the AMP Project validator tool to troubleshoot; remember to enter the AMP URL.
  4. AMP documents typically permit only one advertising-related tag, and it’s not easy to include.
  5. Lead generation forms can be difficult to implement.
  6. Call tracking data in page headers is lost because of JavaScript restrictions.
  7. In display ad campaigns, the allowable third-party pixels are limited.
  8. AMP plugins are buggy.
  9. Google will gain control over how you display mobile content. Are you okay with that?
  10. Although mobile use is now predominant, companies will still need to address desktop user needs. Increased mobile usage does not = one-size-fits-all.
  11. People can link to Google’s cached version of a page, rather than to your actual website, which would reduce the number of inbound links to your site.
  12. AMP pages aren’t useful for more in-depth content, including e-books, podcasts, videos, white papers and the like.

One More Factor

We’ve just made a case for why AMP is helpful, and why it’s not, so you can make the best decision for your site. But, when the mobile first index is rolled out by Google (currently estimated for some time in 2018), the impact of NOT using AMP will likely cause more sites to adopt this technology. Time will tell!

Here’s more information about AMPing your site.

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