As smartphones become increasingly ubiquitous, mobile page performance is increasingly critical. If half of your site’s visitors are viewing it on a mobile device, you can’t afford to give them a subpar user experience.
One solution for slow mobile page speeds comes in the form of Google AMP, an open source framework that can turbocharge loading times. But AMP isn’t ideal for everyone—to find out if it will help or harm your site, learn what AMP is, how it works and what it can (and can’t) do for you.
What Is Google AMP?
When you perform a mobile Google search, some of the results will likely be accompanied by a small lightning bolt logo:
That logo indicates the page is optimized for mobile via the open source AMP framework. AMP, a name which was once short for Accelerated Mobile Pages, aims to help developers create websites capable of loading quickly on both mobile and desktop devices. It can also be used to create emails, stories and ads, and claims to prioritize the user experience above all else.
While it was originally developed specifically for Google, the entire AMP framework is now governed by multiple committees and supported by the OpenJS Foundation. As an open source project, anyone who wishes to contribute can report issues, write new code, provide their own documentation or help translate AMP-related content to other languages.
In the five years since its inception, AMP has grown exponentially. From 2018 to 2020 alone, the number of pages using AMP doubled from five billion to ten billion.
But is AMP worth adopting yourself? To find out, you’ll need a deeper understanding of its pros and cons.
AMP’s creators and proponents will be the first to tell you that its main benefit is increased page speed, particularly on mobile devices.
AMP uses several approaches to facilitate rapid loading times. For instance, it:
- loads page layouts without waiting for resources to load first;
- doesn’t let extension mechanisms block page layout and rendering;
- only allows inline and size-bound CSS;
- reduces style recalculations;
- only runs GPU-accelerated animations;
- prioritizes resource loading; and
- prerenders pages to speed up HTTP requests.
You don’t have to know the technical details behind each of those tactics to see their effect: If you’re on a decent cellular or WiFi connection, perform a Google search on your smartphone and click an AMP result. Chances are, the page will load almost instantly. By comparison, other non-AMP results may load more slowly or in sections rather than all at once.
Shaving even a second or two off a mobile page’s loading time can mean the difference between retaining and losing a visitor—Think with Google’s data shows that as mobile pages’ load times increase, so do their bounce rates. As mobile page load time rises from one second to three seconds, bounce probability increases by 32 percent. And when it rises from one second to ten seconds, bounce probability increases by a whopping 123 percent:
With the quick loading times that AMP provides, pages can enjoy additional benefits such as:
- lower bounce rates;
- better Google rankings; and
- more satisfied visitors.
As an added bonus, AMP is fairly straightforward to use. Whether you’re only familiar with basic HTML or have been coding for years, all you need to do to get started is hop into the AMP Playground. There, you can experiment with a sample page, create your own page, validate AMP code and more:
Once you’re ready to dive deeper, just mouse over the documentation tab on AMP’s website to access in-depth tutorials, the complete AMP library, free courses, ready-to-use templates and more:
Many of AMP’s disadvantages are directly related to the measures it takes to boost page speed in the first place. For example, its refusal to allow any type of CSS that’s not inline and size-bound can create bothersome design restrictions. If your page uses external CSS, for instance, you’ll have no choice but to change it.
In the same vein, AMP compliance can create an additional burden for a site’s developers and SEO practitioners. This is because:
- the AMP framework takes time and energy to learn;
- creating AMP versions of a large number of pages is tedious and time consuming;
- the AMP framework is updated on a near-daily basis (just check the official amphtml GitHub repository for proof);
- AMP alone isn’t enough to truly maximize page speed—the Google AMP Cache is necessary too; and
- AMP can decline to show any ads deemed disruptive.
The problems don’t end there—if both AMP-based and non-AMP-based versions of each page are being used:
- all versions will need to be kept in perfect sync;
- marketers will have twice the number of ads to manage;
- search engine bots will need to crawl twice the number of pages; and
- SEO pros will need to optimize twice the number of pages.
And while not quite as serious as other drawbacks, AMP can also create brand recognition issues by replacing the page’s original URL with one from Google. For instance, even when an AMP page is owned by Vogue and published on its own website, the URL users see in their mobile browser belongs to Google:
AMP displays the site’s own URL too, but it’s slightly smaller and less noticeable. For brands concerned with establishing recognition, this isn’t an insignificant issue.
Who Can Benefit from AMP?
Thanks to its unique combination of pros and cons, AMP can be more beneficial to some types of organizations than others. Publishers are one of those—with few exceptions, Google will only display AMP pages in its top stories carousel:
So, publishers may be able to gain a substantial amount of visibility (and ad revenue) by adopting AMP.
More broadly, any sites which haven’t yet achieved fast mobile loading times can stand to benefit from AMP’s impressive speed.
Should You Use AMP?
Truth be told, AMP is neither objectively good nor objectively bad—for some sites it can deliver exceptional results, while for others it can have the opposite effect.
Whether or not you should adopt AMP depends on the specific characteristics of the site you’re optimizing. You may want to consider adopting AMP if you:
- are optimizing a site with slow mobile loading times (five seconds or more);
- are optimizing a site belonging to a publisher;
- have the time and resources to learn and implement the AMP framework;
- are prepared to manage ads and SEO for both AMP and non-AMP versions of the same page; and
- can commit to keeping AMP and non-AMP versions of the same page in sync at all times.
On the other hand, AMP might not be worth your while if you:
- are optimizing a site which already boasts speedy mobile loading times (five seconds or less);
- are optimizing a site which doesn’t frequently publish new stories and articles; or
- don’t have the time and resources required to make the most of AMP.
A Burden to Some, a Boon to Others
At the end of the day, you won’t know if AMP works for you until you give it a shot. If we can learn anything from the wealth of AMP case studies available, it’s that the framework isn’t for everyone but can provide valuable benefits to some.
So if you’re considering using AMP, take stock of your available resources, set aside some time to experiment in the AMP Playground and take careful notes of your initial results. Will AMP be the next best thing to happen to your site? There’s only one way to find out.
Screenshots by author / October 2020
Think with Google / February 2018