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Whether we’ve realized it or not, AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), or at least the framework for what’s now the Google project methodology, has been around for a while now. Remember when you heard news that Google was rewarding certain sites that were more mobile-friendly with a bit of a boost?
That was about the time the term “responsive design” took off as way for sites to reduce load times and properly cater to mobile users. Development gurus proselytized minimalist designs that played to the multi-screen methodology. For those whose sites were on content management systems like WordPress, there were plugins or code adds that would minify, cache, and help your site load faster so that mobile users wouldn’t leave out of frustration.
Turning to responsive design was the best possibility but as it turned out, the same problems loomed, despite things looking good on the surface.
AMP vs. Responsive Design Solution: The Low-down On Load Times
Turned out that responsive design wasn’t the panacea it was made to be. Despite it helping reduce load times in some cases, problems persisted.
The Pros of Responsive Web Design…
Firstly, the crux of responsive design is that utilitarian belief that users should be able to see and experience the same site seen on the desktop on their smartphone or tablet. There shouldn’t be any drop in quality of the content or design, including videos; you’re just providing the same experience on the smaller screens, just more condensed so it loads faster.
Along with optimized images, responsive websites were thought to be the answer to smartphone users running away from your mobile site because it took too long to load.
In order to understand the cons of responsive design, let’s look at the pros:
If you think about it in broad terms it makes sense. Imagine, you’re searching for red velvet cake recipes on your phone while on the train going home. You check out the top three sites but they each take a bit longer to load. Site number 4, however, was faster and the recipe was easy enough. Because that site had the best answer for the user query, search engines pay attention to that and rank that site higher over time.
As I mentioned earlier, users would abandon a site because it took too long to load. How long was too long? If users have to wait more than one second (that’s a literal one second) for a page to load, they are more likely to bounce. If it takes three seconds, and it will start to significantly affect your bounce rate.
Better SEO and improved page load times translates into more conversions for your site. Conversions can mean sign ups, video views or actual cash transactions.
Viable Mobile User Data
You now have mobile user data that you can use. Since it’s all in the same site, your analytics code tracks mobile usage across your site, including how they got there, where they went and how they performed versus desktop consumers. This can help you with PPC advertising bid adjustments as well as mobile key terms and phrases that will help you attract more users. Oh and let’s not forget remarketing opportunities.
…And Now to the Cons
Sure the introduction of the hamburger menu made a significant impact on navigation across all platforms but there were times when you just had one helluva time choosing the wrong menu item because of adult thumbs or overlapping elements. Or sites that didn’t have that type of menu ran into different set of problems, including trying to fit the traditional menu into a mobile screen.
Browser Support Issues
Not all browsers support mobile queries because of the screen size element in the code. As a result mobile sites come out too small, too large or not at all. This is not something that developers control and users are more likely to bounce because the site did not provide what they wanted.
Additional Time & Money
Building mobile sites can be expensive. Sure, you can buy an out-of-the-box solution but it needs to be coded to your specifications. That means additional CSS or JS code at the least. If you’re not a coder with the time to build your own site, you need to hire one.
Bad User Experience
Interesting that user experience is considered both pro and con but here’s why:
This is what everyone is aiming for because going beyond that three seconds means increased bounce rate.
Responsive design promises, and in some cases achieves, that goal…or so they say.
Here’s the reality check. When you think about the TTFB, Time to First Byte, which averages to that one to three second time PLUS the time it takes to fully load a site, which is from seven seconds to about 13s, this 22 second mark is more than accurate.
That’s more than seven times the least optimal time of three seconds. The dirty truth is all that extra code you needed to make your site more responsive is bogging it down even more.
Ironic? You could say that.
Moving Beyond Responsive Design
For the time it was the answer, it was a brilliant one. Responsively designed sites were a step in the right direction but as time went on and the number and level of mobile user experiences rose, that multi-screen methodology needed to evolve.
That’s where the AMP project comes in.
The user is now the center of the design experience and to produce a positive one with optimal load time. While there are plenty of reasons why AMP is starting to bleed into the mainstream marketing conversations, two key actions seem to be making the difference
- They’ve stripped non-essential technical elements to create a leaner site. They’ve created amp-based coding for HTML, CSS, and JS. Since this is an open-source project, this code is freely available to developers but the rules are that the user experience comes first, even if it means more work on the development side.
- AMP pages load from Google’s servers, not client servers. This is where Google chose to put their money where their code is. Google servers are faster and AMP sites are practically guaranteed to have optimal loading times.
Between these two features alone, site owners are more likely to reap the benefits of AMP from the start. It’s a streamlined approach that comes as close to the utilitarian objective behind this whole movement.
Now, does this mean that you can just let go of your responsive design.
Mobile may be on the rise but desktop isn’t dead. You still want lean and optimized sites. Having a poorly loaded site is just as frustrating on a laptop as on mobile. Not to mention that showing up on SERPs still matters for your site in general, AMP or no-AMP.
One other thing: There’s the question about whether sites with AMP will get a Google’boost of some sort. I’m not sure that’s the case as their design principles say Google won’t give AMP sites any special treatment unless there are certain security or other circumstances. Now, what ‘special treatment’ means exactly is the question but to be on the safe side, don’t assume one way or another. Just do it.
How AMP Fits Content Marketing
There’s a feeling that AMP is some new content marketing strategy. I don’t completely agree with that based on the fact that this project is just taking something that’s already out there and streamlining it with the user in mind.
Content marketers will still do what they’re already doing. It’s just that now, Google provides additional tools for us to participate in mobile in ways that positively affect our bottom line. If we can improve our optimization and deliver meaningful user experiences on the mobile platform, this is great.
With the help of what I call AMP markup codes, content marketers can still use a variety of rich media elements, like videos, without bogging down our site or clogging up user bandwidth.
Room for More Niche CDNs?
One thing I don’t think has been brought up enough is the use of CDNs or content discovery networks. With AMP Caching, there’s more than a possibility of more niche CDNs popping up.
Don’t know what that means? Let me explain:
Ever seen those “Recommended for You,” or ‘Sponsored Stories’ sections like this one?
Those are content advertisements delivered by CDNs from companies like Taboola and OutBrain. CDNs may provide more targeted and less expensive advertising than AdWords and Facebook Ad networks. These networks are strengthening as viable alternatives for many advertisers. I wouldn’t be surprised that as AMP becomes more prevalent, there may be more niche CDNs for publishers to choose from.
Should You AMP Your Site? How?
As a content marketer, the objective is to deliver the right experience to the right audience at the right time in the way that’s meaningful for them. This objective dovetails with the AMP methodology and provides a viable opportunity to use the data from this to be a more agile content marketer.
If you have to deal with a developer, then the cost factor would be prohibitive. But over time that may become less of a hassle as the project builds its open source library. At this time, the barrier for entry into the project is pretty low. If you want to reap the benefits of an improved user experience, then it’s a good idea.
In light of all of this, a better question would be why wouldn’t you AMP your site?
How to AMP Your Site?
If you have WordPress, there are two plugin options:
The Automattic plugin is barebones and for my needs, it wasn’t suitable because it needed more customization I could provide. The other option, the Kaludi plugin was a better choice that I was able to configure that quickly and easily. Within ten minutes my AMP site was ready.
AMP Analytics Tracking & Reporting
As I’ve mentioned, AMP sites will be served from Google’s servers. That means setting up analytics takes a few extra steps because you’re unable to use analytics.js (Google Analytics tracking code).
For non-WP sites, you have a couple of options:
On the other hand, if you have a WP site, there’s a plugin called MonsterInsights for WordPress. They help sites integrate Google Analytics with just a few clicks and an addon. With a few adjustments, according to their blog post, you can add analytics to your AMP site
Once you’ve added analytics to AMP, reporting is another step to take. You’re going to need to set up custom reports. I found this great article on Moz about AMP Reporting that you can check out.
As far as Google Search Console, I found out that it automatically picks up your AMP site. I found that out because my site had an extension error (Turns out my AMP translation desires were too ambitious). This error was easily fixed but it was nice to know that I didn’t have to do anything else for GSC.
Then There Are AMP Stories
The project was designed to create faster loading mobile pages. But they extended the functionality to include stories, much like what you see on Instagram or Snapchat. This kind of immersive, rich storytelling can lead to increased engagement, something all marketers are looking to achieve.
Imagine the kind of creativity that’s now possible for content creators. Exposure to not just for their social media followers but for many other potential followers across the web. Top content producers like Conde Nast, CNN, Washington Post were involved in the early stages of AMP Stories. But there are some monetization questions that need answering. Still, it’s another option for brands to fully tell their stories to those who will be open to hearing it.
Accelerated Mobile Pages open up a more interactive avenue for all advertisers who understand how to take advantage of it. It can provide a more measurable type of engagement that can inform site owners so that they catch the attention of their audiences in myriad ways.
It’s still a work in process, however; a lesson in agile design content marketers can learn from. As an open source project that’s adamant about providing a valuable user experience, certain elements take time to smooth out. Until then, think of AMP as an open window to creating and promoting the kind of content that can and will drive better conversions, while its developers build a better door.