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To AMP or Not to AMP: What is Best for Your Website?

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To AMP or Not to AMP: What is Best for Your Website?

David Leonhardt
To AMP or Not to AMP: What is Best for Your Website?

It seems like just the other day that I made public my plans to “go mobile” with one of my sites.  In fact, it was months ago.  More to the point, I had a change of heart.  Yes, I did go mobile.  I went fully responsive, so that my site will look amazing on all screen sizes.

But then I hesitated.

Part of the plan was to implement AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages. I got cold feet. My feet are still chilly, and I have no particular plans to cozy them up to the fire in the foreseeable future.

It seems that I am not the only one to hesitate because most people still seem confused about AMP. I can’t promise to clear up the confusion in this article, but I will structure the confusion for you and hopefully, alleviate your stress!

What is AMP?

AMP is a ghost website specifically designed for mobile devices. It is a stripped down version of your main website. This leaner website loads faster on mobile, hence the name – “Accelerated Mobile Pages.” When AMP was first announced by Google, webmasters were given the impression that this would do two things:

  • Speed up their site on mobile (great for usability!)
  • Improve mobile ranking (because the site would load faster)

Then the other shoe dropped — it turns out that AMP pages are cached by Google. One of the reasons they load so fast is that Google would not be sending requests to your server. It would serve up your website from its own cache.

And so, people hesitated.

Pros and Cons to AMP

There are pros and cons to having Google pull your website from its own server. The most obvious pros are:

  • Speed
  • Better rankings (if Google gives AMP pages priority)
  • Less drain on your servers if you get a lot of mobile traffic .

There are also some cons to Google pulling your website from its own server. The most obvious cons are:

  • No ad revenue, because ads would be stripped
  • No analytics, because your server would not be tapped
  • Content variation between desktop and mobile. 

That seems like a pretty clear basis for deciding whether an AMP ghost site is right for your website, or whether you’d rather tough it out with one regular responsive website.  That’s my plan, stick with responsive. A lot of SEO pros agree.

As Micah Fisher-Kirshner puts it,

“Responsive and AMP don't go together... The whole point of responsive is so you don't have two code bases.”

 Doc Sheldon agrees:

“If you really want to go AMP on your mobile pages, then unfortunately, responsive isn't the way to go – you'd need to go 'mobile first.' Personally, I intend to say 'no thanks' to AMP and stick with responsive, and just concentrate on streamlining my pageload as much as possible.”

 Not everyone feels that way. Stuart McHenry, has been just as cautious about jumping on the AMP bandwagon, but in the end decided to do it for his clients:

"We were waiting a little bit longer to see how it was going. As a user I love it. My biggest concern is I've been on sites that use it and every once in a while I cannot seem to navigate their website. I'm guessing they implemented it wrong. We are looking to start adding it in Q1."

Jeff Hansen, who teaches mobile marketing, thinks all website owners should adopt AMP:

"No, question, this makes the Web faster. That means a much better user experience and a much lower bounce rate. So more sales, higher customer satisfaction and better rankings. Win-win-win."

In October 2016, Google threw the SEO world for a loop once again (what’s new, right?).  Its mobile index is to become its main index and the default.  As Jennifer Slegg puts it:

“This is a huge change. Google has always used the desktop version of a page for ranking, even when serving results to users on a mobile device.”

Google's Mobile-first Index

As Google goes mobile-first, it likely means that future changes to its algorithm will be based on mobile and apply to both mobile and desktop. It also means that the desktop index won’t be as fresh as the mobile index (except perhaps for the “news” section?).

What does this have to do with AMP?

If AMP has an advantage in mobile, might that advantage also carry over into desktop? Could AMP become a default across all devices? If speeding up the web on mobile with AMP is a good thing, and Google clearly believes it to be, why would they not speed up the Web on desktops?

But there is another implication, and it’s a sneaky one.

Right now, your website is optimized for the search engines. Even if you have a lighter version for mobile, such as an AMP version, the “full” version is in Google’s default index. The lighter version (AMP) is served up in mobile.

All that changes if there are two indexes and the mobile index is the primary one.  If Google evaluates your website on the light version, rather than the full version, here’s what happens:

  1. Google evaluates your website on mobile.
  2. If you have an AMP version, that will be Google’s primary evaluation.
  3. AMP has less content, and likely less SEO value.
  4. But AMP loads faster, so it has that advantage, and maybe AMP itself will be a ranking signal.
  5. Google’s second index, for desktop, pulls data from the primary mobile index.
  6. The desktop index bases its rankings on the stripped down version of your website, but without the speed advantages of AMP (at least, at first). 

So you will need to do your SEO on the light version too.

(I suspect that the main beneficiaries of that will be the makers of Advil and Tylenol.)

At this juncture, it is worth injecting a couple caveats which is that Google has said that AMP technology is open source and, to date, nobody else has said they will be using it in search. 

In other words, we don’t know if this will end up being a Google-specific technology, if it will become a defacto Web standard or if it will be abandoned in a couple years as a failed experiment.

Confused? Take the Wait-and-See Approach

For now, I have no plans to implement AMP.  I know I need to work on my site speed, but I much prefer to have control over my site and serve up my site directly to visitors rather than handing the keys to Google to go for a joyride on it. But if AMP becomes a serious ranking signal on its own, and if it affects desktop indirectly, I might still change my mind.

What do you think about AMP? Are you going to implement it? Let's speculate about it in the comments below.

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Joshua Orekhie
AMP is a good app but it also has some cons to contend with. We cannot conclude now that AMP should satisfy our mobile taste until Google begin to work on the deep technicality of the software. I was using AMP recently but I have to pull it out because Alexa bot is not taking data from my AMP.
Beth Owen
I'm just starting to read about AMP, but as someone who writes long-form content, and uses Twitter, the idea appeals to me tremendously. I think. Let me see if I have this right.
If someone is using Twitter mobile, and they want to read content I've tweeted, and AMP is not being utilized, then the wait begins. Press the link, wait for their mobile browser to find my website where the content sits, then the article. But here is where the 'responsive' necessity comes in. If my site is not responsive, good luck reading my content on a phone, let alone enjoying my website and getting the reader to a place where I can convert. No AMP > Non-Responsive website > abort content reading mission.
So, the way I understand it so far, AMP allows the mobile Twitter user to press my enTwittered link, and wallah, my entire article appears, without going to my website. Does this mean the content exists in two places - on my website and also on some AMP-controlled site where it is waiting to spring into readable form for some lucky Twitter user? Or does it still exist only on my domain, and the AMP code somehow allows the reader to bypass opening my site in a mobile browser.
I've looked at the coding on the AMP website: I'm an HTML coder, but I'm still very confused. Where does one put the AMP code? Is it embedded in the long-form piece on my website? In the header. Will everything on my website be affected by AMP, or do you only point it at the articles you want to AMP enable? And if the mobile Twitter user can bypass my website, do I miss all chances to convert or get the person to the website?
Most everything on WordPress is responsive already. Since this is all open-sourced, will WordPress eventually get in on this and build responsiveness and AMP capability into their templates?
Thanks!
Hi!
Isn't AMP is modified, standardized Adaptive design concept? Is AMP another website? all work which was done on the desktop website needs to be done on AMP site: including SEO, Analytics and may be something extras like alt attribute or techniques and coding specific to AMP.?
I'll tell you what Google should rank -- how well a user can read the text. My pet peeve is the use of thin grey type with a background that destroys any relevance of contrast. Who started this trend?
Hi David, AMP team member here. There are a few misconceptions in your article. Notably, AMP doesn't strip away any ads – AMP supports dozens of AMP networks (see https://www.ampproject.org/docs/reference/components/amp-ad), supports analytics just fine, and most importantly, fully embraces responsive design (AMPProject.org, for instance, is 100% and works across all resolutions).
For more context, Mmy "10 misconceptions" blog post might be a worthwhile read: https://www.ampproject.org/docs/reference/components/amp-ad
Gyorgy Bolla
Paul Bakaus
I think you wanted to link this post: https://paulbakaus.com/2016/10/13/debunked-10-misconceptions-about-amp/
Gyorgy Bolla
Argh yes, thanks much for the catch!
David Leonhardt
Paul Bakaus
Sooooo...if I understand your article, AMP is basically no different than non-AMP? That assumes that small business owners want to reprogram their websites from scratch, rather than rely on a plugin, of course. That's a whole lot of cost. Well worth it if suddenly their sites are under performing in search and losing business. Not worth a penny if it brings no benefit.
David Leonhardt
AMP is based on the existing open web stack, namely HTML, CSS and JS, the way people have built websites since the beginning. It adds a few features that enforce performance and usability goals, and make it easier for platforms like Google Search to embed them safely and efficiently (and preload them for the 'instant' feel).
To answer your question, in an ideal world, you'd re-architect your site or start from scratch. I realize that's not always a sensible option, so plugins are a fine way if you're constrained. Some plugins though, like the Wordpress plugin, are still severely lacking in functionality and have dozens of issues, which you should be aware of, should you choose to go that route.
We, the AMP team, are obviously very unhappy about this. We're unhappy about the state of certain plugins in general and the results they produce (often pages that all look similar to each other and strip away important content). And we're unhappy about the fact that we almost always get the blame for it.
Whether AMP makes sense for you is a whole other story. I encourage everyone to try it out with a few pages to start with, make sure your ads (if you have them) are properly served and configured and see if the numbers work for you.
Hope this helps clarify things!
Olaf Lederer
Paul Bakaus
Actually I think the AMP plugin for WordPress has a very good base. Sure you need to tweak it a lot to make it working. But you have at least the options to do that. As a developer I wouldn't start over my website because of AMP. A good responsive website is still a good concept, but if you blog has a lot of mobile readers you should think about using AMP instead.
i think it is wise to steer clear at least for now
AMP is not a ranking factor yet.
Analytics can implement on AMP pages but in a different way.
https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/amp-analytics/
Design restrictions as you can use AMP HTML, AMP JS only.
Can display ads only from certain ad network, not all
Have you seen any explicit indications from Google that the new mobile-first indexing will prefer AMP pages if available, because I haven't. And based on some of the comments here, you really should update the part of the article which incorrectly states AMP precludes ads and analytics.
David Leonhardt
Mark Traphagen
Hi Mark.
Google has not, to my knowledge, said that it will prefer AMP pages in the index. The issue is that if you do go with AMP for mobile, and the desktop index is based on the mobile index, there could be repercussions for your full website. If you want your full site to do well on desktop, you would have cause to be nervous about applying AMP. However, anything to do with this is obviously just speculation at this point.
Some comments here are suggesting that there are ways around the stripping of ads and analytics, at least to some degree. That's fine if:
A) you are OK with making that compromise, and
B) you're above average in tech savviness.
At least for the moment, as far as the average small business is concerned, I'm comfortable saying that AMP strips or at least significantly compromises them. That might well change with plugins and such. AMP is brand spanking new, and a lot might change in a very short time. I know I'll be watching.
The common thread on both points you raise is that there is much we don't know, therefore every reason to be hesitant, IMHO.
David Leonhardt
AMP team member here. How would AMP strip away anything? AMP never "consumes" another source – you built AMP pages from scratch, as far as we're concerned.
What you might refer to is CMS plugins that do the AMP conversion stripping away ads etc. – that's a whole different issue, and we'd rather not get falsely accused.
Gyorgy Bolla
The article is incorrect! You can most certainly run analytics and ads on AMP pages; however, it's true that AMP analytics is limited compared to the standard UA reports.
You can find the supported ad networks here: https://www.ampproject.org/docs/reference/components/amp-ad
and the analytics documentation here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/6343176
Gyorgy Bolla
I used amp on my site https://trickideas.com/ but I started experiencing a few issue like Broken link, Structured data errors etc, hence I had to remove it. I will try again to sort the issue and activate AMP.
Jerome Perrin
Many thanks for the article, David. I'm in line with you. Let's be cautious with AMP: Google is not perfect, some of their decisions are sometimes really weird, they already made numerous mistakes so many times in the past, we know that. Let's be pragmatical and see the first AMP results. Cheers from Paris, Jerome > http://jay-webmarketing.com
David Leonhardt
Jerome Perrin
What, like showing author profiles in search results? And then pulling them? Like Google Buzz...and whatever it was before that (my memory fades).
Sheldon Campbell
Nice synopsis, David - thanks for the mention.
While I can see that AMP would be beneficial for some sites in very specific situations, I think it's unnecessary for the majority of sites. I work a lot with WordPress, and although many site owners create their own page-load problems, I've found that with some moderate effort, page speed can usually be maintained in the range of a 2 second load, which I think makes AMP unnecessary. For those using HTML5, the same is probably often true, too.
My suspicious nature leads me to wonder: How long before Google decides they're going to serve ALL results from their cache, whether a page is mobile or strictly desktop? I think we'd all hate to see that happen.
For now, I'm sticking with responsive and a "need for speed" and watching to see how this change affects the effectiveness of my SEO efforts.
... and considering Advil and Tylenol as possible investment opportunities.
David Leonhardt
Sheldon Campbell
Google will do what it can get away with to run its own Internet. It's up to us all to decide to what extent that is a good thing and at what point it becomes a bad thing.
Um, you can still generate revenue (although I'm sure it won't be as much) and you can certainly track visits via analytics.
Hi David, as background we're developing AMP themes and plugins. There is a lot of confusion about AMP in general but a couple of things I'd like to point out.
1) You can have an AMP only site that includes analytics, ads, comments, etc. The plugins that are out there to create AMP pages from existing non-AMP sites do strip those out but that is just because they are creating quick and dirty pages as an "AMP solution." You can see an example of an AMP only site that has Google Analytics and ad serving supported that we built here http://dyernews.com/.
2) Rather than having 2 versions of a page you can create a hybrid site - AMP pages for content, traditional HTML for things like popular form plugins like Gravity Forms, Ninja Forms, etc. (there is also an AMP form module) and pages that use filters, e.g. ecommerce sites that have a number of products that you want to sort by price, size, etc. EBay uses a hybrid approach of non-AMP for sortable pages, AMP for individual product pages, and non-AMP for shopping cart.
The reality is AMP capabilities are growing everyday and you can pretty much create whatever you want in AMP as you can in a HTML5 page, sans things like sorting/filtering via javascript or javascript calculators. People don't realize you can style AMP pages, insert videos, etc. It just requires using the AMP code correctly to support those features.
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