Google has begun including links to “Accelerated Mobile Pages” in search results, which it said will help Internet users access news articles and other Web content faster from their mobile devices.
When users search for news stories or topics on Google from mobile devices, Web pages created using the new technology may now appear in a dedicated “Top Stories” section at the top of search results pages.
Google announced the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, or AMP, in October, and publishers and media companies have since been preparing their websites and publishing systems to deliver AMP versions of their content. In early testing, Google said AMP content loaded an average of four times faster and used 10 times less data than equivalent non-AMP pages.
“The feedback from publishers so far has been very enthusiastic. Everyone is excited to make the Web faster,” said Dave Besbris, Google’s vice president of engineering.
Dozens of companies are already publishing content using the AMP specifications, including the New York Times, BuzzFeed, Time Inc., BBC, Vox Media, ABC News, Gannett, the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. Now, that AMP content will be accessible through Google search results and highlighted with a green lightning bolt icon.
Despite the speed and data advantages for consumers, the question remains whether AMP will prove beneficial to publishers in terms of increased traffic, engagement, or revenue.
“We’ve been working with Google for a number of months. We want to be an early adopter, and we recognize AMP as an opportunity to get stories into the hands of our users faster,” said Colby Smith, vice president of digital at ABC News.
Popular blogging platform and content management system WordPress is also supporting the initiative, potentially adding AMP versions of content to millions of websites using WordPress software.
“We want to make it really easy for publishers of all shapes and sizes to publish AMP-formatted pages, from the New York Post all the way down to people running their own personal blogs,” said Paul Maiorana, vice president of platform services at WordPress.com parent company Automattic.
Under the hood, AMP works by simplifying and streamlining the HTML code that powers Web pages to prioritize speed. Google also “caches” pages, or saves copies of them on its own systems, in order to deliver them quicker when users access them. It’s an open-source initiative, meaning anyone is free to use it.
According to Google’s Mr. Besbris, over 5,800 developers have now engaged with the AMP project, including publishers, but also online advertising and publishing technology companies wanting to ensure their tools function with AMP.
“This really is the Web ecosystem. That means the publishers get a choice of a wide variety of tech solutions including analytics solutions and ad providers,” Mr. Besbris said.
Indeed, technology and advertising companies have been quick to announce their compatibility with AMP, including content recommendation services such as Taboola and Revcontent, online analytics providers including Chartbeat, Parse.ly and Adobe, and a range of ad networks.
“We are huge believers in advertising, and we believe content needs funding whether that’s through ads or through paywalls. We want ads to perform well and publishers to have a wide variety of ad networks and ad tech to choose from,” Mr. Besbris said. “It’s our goal to ensure these pages monetize very well.”
However, publishers’ AMP pages do not currently have all the functionality of their regular pages. For example, some ad formats, such as interstitials, will not work with AMP, as well as some complex online ad sales technologies. Mr. Besbris said those limitations are primarily in place to help promote the speedy loading of AMP pages.
Google’s AMP initiative is just one of many content delivery options now available to online publishers. Facebook, for example, recently launched its own Instant Articles product, which enables publishers to host content directly with the social network instead of driving users back to their own websites. Part of the sales pitch for Instant Articles was that news stories would load faster on mobile devices.
The difference with AMP pages, however, is that publishers host the content themselves, with Google saving or “caching” AMP pages temporarily to speed up their loading times.
“We haven’t heard concerns around caching from publishers. The difference here with caching versus hosting is control over the content. It’s fully under publishers’ control because it’s their file hosted by their site,” Mr. Besbris said.
Because of this distinction, some publishers say they are less leery of Google’s approach.
“I think of it as very different arrangement to Facebook Instant Articles. We feel much more in control of the content because of the fact this is hosted on our servers and our business model travels with it,” said Kate Harris, a mobile product director at the New York Times.
Google is the first company to begin distributing AMP pages through its services, but others may follow. Twitter group product manager Michael Ducker said users generally consume more pages through the company’s mobile application when they load quickly.
“It’s better for Twitter to have a mobile app that’s fast”, Mr. Ducker said, adding, “We’re not announcing anything now around integrating AMP pages into our clients, but we do believe AMP is the way forward.”