What is AMP?

What is AMP and Should I Care?

By Friday July 8th, 2016

Google AMP is new and useful, but it has drawbacks. Businesses should understand what AMP is to know if it’s a smart investment of resources.

You may or may not have heard of AMP. If you haven’t, you will soon. If you have, you probably want your development team to implement it across all of your web properties. Before you do, it’s important to understand if AMP truly applies to your business or not. For some businesses, AMP will literally generate more revenue. Especially when the AMP-specific ad network is ready. For others, the implementation could be a waste of resources, or worse, it could erase key functionality. Where your business falls depends on a few things, but let’s start at the beginning.

What is AMP?

AMP is a new open source standard (and library) for web content. Google, the creator of the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP), describes AMP as “a way to build web pages for static content that render fast” (emphasis mine).

To business owners and marketers, that description rightfully piques our interest. We know faster web experiences convert better. We also know that Google is king, so if they recommend something, we should take it seriously.

Etsy saw a 12% increase in bounce rate by adding 160k to the page weight

Credit: Mat Marquis in https://bocoup.com/weblog/smaller-faster-websites

Google goes on to be more specific about AMP, however, with “AMP HTML is HTML with some restrictions for reliable performance and some extensions for building rich content beyond basic HTML” (emphasis mine again). This starts to paint a more accurate picture of what AMP really is and what AMP actually does.

AMP limits HTML’s functionality in some ways while extending it in other ways. A tradeoff.

AMP does three things.

  1. It restricts functionality that Google considers non-essential
  2. It extends traditional HTML to do a few AMP-specific things
  3. It uses a lot more caching than normal

An AMP webpage is made of three things.

  1. AMP HTML: Modified HTML including some new tags and attributes
  2. AMP JS: A Javascript library (amp.js) that makes the extended HTML work
  3. AMP CACHE: A content delivery network (CDN) for any files following the AMP spec

Because the features are useful but the sacrifices could be significant, AMP today should probably be a separate experience for specific use cases. Businesses that want to use AMP will likely have to create two versions of the same content– an AMP version and a traditional version. More on why below.

How does AMP benefit me?

In a word… speed. AMP is mainly focused around simplifying and standardizing the code behind certain types of content and serving that code from the same place every time. The effect is that AMP content loads much faster than other “in the wild” web content. This solves a huge problem, especially on mobile phones over cell phone internet. In the speed category, AMP is a classic win-win. Website owners get their content read more, and viewers get to read more content.

The implications of faster load time actually go further than you might expect, too. Faster load time decreases bounce rate, as mentioned, but it’s also been observed to increase conversions, especially ecommerce purchases. For some, particularly the growing population of smartphone-only, cellular network-only internet users, faster load time is ultimately the difference between using the page (converting in any way) and giving up (bouncing). Since AMP speeds up load time by limiting what resources are sent to the browser, this also saves people’s monthly data usage.

Are the benefits worth the tradeoff?

Now that you get what AMP generally is, the million dollar question is “should I take advantage of AMP on my own website?”

In general, if you’re producing article-based content, like a blog or news, you could benefit from AMP on those pages specifically. However, it’s important to note the tradeoffs. For one thing, the sky is not the limit functionality-wise. If you care more about content than its container (the growing industry trend), then this shouldn’t be a problem. However, if your website is very brand-specific or has features that define the experience or differentiate you from competition, you’ll need to speak in detail with your development team about what you can and can’t do with AMP.

If you have a brochure website with standard content or an ecommerce site, you’ll probably want to skip AMP on those pages for now. As I mentioned, faster sites improve ecommerce conversions, so at some point ecommerce will make sense with AMP. You could also do separate versions of everything to be safe, but unless you have unlimited development resources, the effort isn’t worth the reward.

I’d recap like this.

Who should look at AMP?

  • News sites
  • Blogs
  • Other articles or article-like content

Who can skip AMP for now?

  • Web apps
  • Ecommerce sites
  • Standard “brochure” websites

One key drawback

If you’re a digital marketing firm, you probably instantly see the benefits of faster loading pages for your marketing metrics. You might want to go full tilt and slap AMP onto everything you put out from now into the future.

Before you do, though, consider that one of the key ways AMP makes things load faster is it removes any interstitials, popups, tracking and retargeting snippets, share buttons, live chat overlays, etc. Luckily, Google makes an AMP-specific version of Analytics, but that doesn’t cover the rest of your snippets. If you or your client’s success relies on tracking and targeting, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your marketing strategy before implementing AMP.

Think of it like Facebook’s Instant Articles, Apple’s News Feed or other article aggregators. AMP is basically an open version of those services. The platform your content lives on is no longer “the web” where you can do whatever you want. Now it’s AMP, and open source or not, there are walls.

In the future

The AMP spec could evolve in many ways that will change this original assessment. For now, though, using AMP in its current form isn’t going to make or break most businesses. As the web evolves (and everything else tech-related evolves), I could see AMP becoming something useful and necessary. In fact, the combination of a decoupled CMS and an open source article platform could be huge for the future.

So keep an eye on AMP, but implement with an early adopter mindset and watch out for drawbacks! As with all other tech, if it sticks, you’ll know. I suggest putting AMP on your radar, but I don’t suggest that everyone just dives right in.

To learn more without getting overwhelmed, here’s where to start. First, watch this video.

Then, send your developers here: https://www.ampproject.org/docs/get_started/about-amp.html

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About the Author

Drew Thomas is the CTO and co-founder of Brolik. He oversees Brolik's technology projects, including Leverage, Brolik’s proprietary technology platform. Drew spends most of his free time on side projects and prefers to blend work and life into a balanced, enjoyable experience. He lives in Austin, TX.
Twitter: @drewbrolik
LinkedIn: Drew Thomas
Google+: Drew Thomas