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Accelerated Mobile Pages: How Important for SEO and User Experience?

 

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) was a shared initiative by Google, Twitter, WordPress, independent developers and some prominent publishers.

Its stated purpose is to improve user experience and page load speed for users accessing web pages on mobile devices. Their initial target is media organizations who publish blog posts and news services.

Google launched AMP in late 2015.

According to the AMP site, ampproject.org, more than 1.5 billion AMP pages have been published, mainly by organizations like LinkedIn, eBay, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Washington Post. They have embraced AMP and claim gains in both traffic and conversions.

What about the rest of website owners? AMP implementation is no walk in the park and may require two versions of the same webpage. Both version use the same domain name, but the AMP page version requires a URL modification.

It should also be noted that there are methods, other than AMP, to speed up a web page load times.

The importance of page load speed

The majority of the Internet users search for online information on a mobile device.  According to comScore, in an article published by Smart Insights,  an average of 70% of people use mobile to access web pages. The actual country specific rates vary between 60+ and 90 percent.

AMP is justified because a large proportion of people use older mobile devices, coupled to slow network services like 2G.

If you wish to test your site’s load speed, a good start might be to visit Google’s  PageSpeed Insights Tool.

The relevance of page load speed

 A 2009 survey about eCommerce Web Site Performance, a narrow survey with only about 1,000 people, ended up with the following conclusion:

“40% of people will wait no more than 3 seconds before abandoning a website”

 According to Narrative, hundreds of websites, some of them authoritative sites, have published this claim  However, a narrow survey targeting no more than 1,000 people has little or no scientific basis.

The more relevant page load speed claims

The Think with Google site makes the following variation on this claim:

40% of shoppers will wait no more than three seconds before abandoning a retail or travel site.”

For the average website, this is still vague.

Kissmetrics, on the other hand, has published an infographic on its blog titled “How Loading Time Affects Your Bottom Line”. It shows how page load speeds affect user experience in different scenarios..

As expected, a user’s need to read specific information often rates higher than load speed.

What exactly is AMP?

As we know, the building blocks of web pages are HTML, CSS, Javascript, and add-ons like images and video.

AMP is a stripped-down version of HTML, excludes Javascript, and places restrictions on how to size and render images. Because this cuts down on components that slow the load time and rendering of web pages, AMP pages load faster.

Most AMP pages are copies of standard web pages accessed with a separate URL. Google  serves AMP pages to mobile devices. However, they do not penalise sites that only use AMP pages and such pages will display on desktop computers.

Google does not redirect users to an AMP page because they use a mobile device. Instead, they list AMP pages on their mobile Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This means that site owners must build AMP as separate web pages. Developers can use the identical domain name but the AMP pages must have a canonical tag attached to the URL. An example may look as follows:

<link rel=”amphtml” href=http://domain.com/blogpost/amp>

How to implement AMP

The build process for AMP is much too complicated to explain in this brief post. Instead, refer to the following sources for information on how to implement AMP pages:

 General guidelines

  • Only asynchronous scripts allowed.
  • Inline all CSS.
  • State the size of external sources like images.
  • Do not use written Javascript.
  • Keep all other Javascript out of critical path.
  • Specify font selection with a link tag or a CSS @font-face-rule.

 AMP restrictions

  • Google hosts AMP pages on Google servers. This means they do not credit traffic volumes to a user site.
  • Limited control over design and development.

Some AMP Pros and Cons

Pros

  • SEO advantage because improved page load speed.
  • Carousel spots available in mobile SERPs.
  • WordPress plugin for AMP implementation available.
  • Site bloating reduced with smaller CSS and JS frameworks.

Cons

  • AMP implementation can be difficult for non-developers.
  • Additional level of site complexity.
  • Third-party JS functions most likely not supported.

AMP controversy

AMP is not without its fair share of controversy.

Some experts feels that AMP improved page load speed comes at the expense of features. For example, Joost de Valk, the founder and CEO of Yoast, draws the analogy of stripping out air-con, seats, and other comforts from a car to reduce its weight and gain speed.  He argues that AMP throws away years of Internet advancement for the sake of speed. In addition, he disputes the claim the AMP is an open standard as claimed.

In summary, readers may wish to keep abreast of the way Google ranks AMP pages and how AMP continues to trend as a web development process.

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