AMP: a work in progress?

2 April 2018

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 April 2, 2018
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Category: Blog
The digital world is up in arms once more. Nope, Instagram hasn’t brought back the chronological feed – rather, Google has made a play to take its AMP technology web-wide.

Google is pitching to take the ideas and technology behind AMP, which it has been testing for the last few years, and turn them into a universal standard by which the whole web can live. By this point, they propose that the technology AMP is based on will no longer really have anything to do with Google – but will be a way to ensure that almost any webpage could be loaded and distributed as fast the current AMP content is now.

In a recent blog on the AMP-dedicated WordPress blog, Malte Ubl, Tech Lead for the AMP project at Google, explained the reason that this tech was created. He said: “We started working on AMP because we were seeing the mobile web feel clunky and slow, falling behind the tightly-integrated, highly-optimized user experiences that walled garden platforms can offer. Yet we also knew there wasn’t a fundamental technology problem: you could build great experiences on the web with the right knowledge, resources, and management support.

“Thus we set out to create a framework that would provide a well-lit path to building great web-based experiences: AMP would be well documented, easily deployable, validatable, and opinionated about user-first principles.”

This most recent push is all about “taking what Google learned from AMP, and working on web standards that will allow instant loading for non-AMP web content”. David Besbris, VP of search engineering at Google, summed up the news, telling The Verge: “The intention here is to be better about communicating our intent. We’ve always wanted to [make the technology behind AMP a web standard] and always said this, but not very clearly. … We just want to communicate very clearly that AMP is not anything other than trying to make the web better. The lessons learned from AMP are being put into the standard bodies so we can have other frameworks implement the same stuff too.”

Wait, what is Google AMP?

Let’s backtrack for a second. Accelerated Mobile Pages were designed by Google in a bid to make web pages as fast and efficient as possible, much like the type of ‘instant articles’ that you might read on Facebook or Apple News. Unlike the open standards of AMP, Facebook and Apple created their own proprietary solutions to what is an internet-wide problem. With Google, they say they’re trying to find a solution that works for everyone.

The idea is that when you click an article on platforms like Facebook Instant Articles, the content is already preloaded in the app before you even click on the content – meaning you don’t have to wait. AMP aims to make this the case for the whole web.

In the recently released Google blog, Malte Ubl said: “For over two years, AMP has been a leading format for creating consistently excellent user experiences on the web, and Google continues to invest strongly in it as our well-lit path to achieving a user-first web.”

In order to achieve this, there are some serious tech combinations going on behind the scenes – from the use of fairly old-school tech like iFrames to some nifty changes to the infrastructure involved in getting a webpage from a publisher’s server to your device. All of this, Google says, is in order to make the whole web able to compete with the load times of content on Apple and Facebook.

So, is it good?

The answer to this question might depend on who you ask. There are a lot of impressive elements to AMP, that can’t be denied, but there are also elements and features that are dividing the digital world – and your opinion may depend on how and why you interact with it.

If looking at AMP from the point of view of a web developer or designer, then you may not be impressed. As part of its fast-loading prowess, it cuts away a lot of ‘unnecessary’ content and features – many of which are on hand to make a page look good. Being word-focused means that’s what’s prioritised, and anything not based on language may find its value lost. The currently limited format of AMP content can mean that coding, native maps, brand imagery, and everything else that can give a page a bit of personality are stripped away to conform to the structure. By removing the magic of Javascript or beautiful page design, many designers are left feeling underwhelmed – and reluctant to jump on board the AMP train.

However, mingle in the realms of digital marketing, and you’ll get a slightly different answer. AMP has a serious impact on page load speed, which is a benefit in the eyes of many of the GIANTs. Plus, aside from the ranking benefits that come along with AMP content (and the little lightning bolt icon that appears next to AMP-supported results), digital marketers are finding other ways to make the most of the tech. Chris Hirlemann, our Head of Data, pointed out interesting use cases for PPC landing pages, where advertisers can use the technology behind AMP to serve faster landing pages – potentially leading to big gains in conversion rates, and ultimately the bottom line.

Why are people not impressed?

When it comes to the AMP naysayers, there are a few common threads. The iFrames structures have a tendency to misbehave, sometimes URLs don’t match, and AMP results can look fairly uninspiring when you compare them to full web pages.

Another factor to consider is tracking. Chris pointed out that tracking for AMP is different, requiring a different analytics tag specifically for AMP. In order to be able to track what’s happening, you will need a new set up. If you do user-level tracking or offline conversion tracking, then your developer is also going to have to deal with the AMP CDN (Content Delivery Network) – which is not always an easy task.

With many of these issues, fixes or resolutions either exist or have been proposed. As part of the development process involved in launching new technology, this feedback needs to be processed and considered in order to find new solutions – which means it may simply be a matter of time.

Deciphering the noise

In amongst these conversations, there is an undercurrent of fear and resentment bubbling, as people revolt against the giant figure that is Google – and its supposed domination of the internet sphere. With one article going as far as calling Google the “nefarious puppet master” of the web, the theory is that the company is, in fact, pushing projects that benefit them – and their bottom line – using a facade of altruism as their cover.

But is that actually the case? Sure, there is always a chance that a web-wide move to using AMP technology could be a way to keep the internet under Google’s control. But with around 3.5 billion daily searches on Google, is there any merit in denying that, as a society, we are inherently a Google-centric populous of internet users?

The key piece of information to take on board when reading any of the content on Google AMP is that it’s. not. finished. It’s a trial run; a test to see if all of the work behind the scenes pulls together to create something magical. And, until more work has been completed, more iterations have been tested, and more hurdles have been overcome, speculation around whether or not Google is trying to mastermind its eventual world domination is precisely that – speculation.

If you’re interested in the potential that AMP can have for your business, or want to know more about the tracking implications before you make the leap, then we’re here to help. Get in touch with the GIANTs or use #ASKTHEGIANTS for more information, or ask your account manager for more on the requirements.

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