Google is AMPing up the mobile web, and your law firm’s marketing team should be paying attention.
What is AMP?
The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open-source initiative to make webpages load faster on mobile devices, using a stripped-down version of HTML. An AMP version of a webpage has a simpler, more basic look and loads up quicker on a smartphone or tablet. With more Google searches now taking place on mobile devices than on desktop computers, websites have to be readable on small screens while avoiding long wait times to view content. With Google promoting AMP as the solution, online marketers need to take note.
To see what AMP looks like, Google anything news-related on your mobile phone. You will likely see a Top Stories section of the search results already dominated by AMP pages, denoted by the word AMP and a small lightning bolt in grey. Soon, these easy-load pages will appear throughout organic search results, not just in the Top Stories section. To see how an AMP page compares to the original, visit theguardian.com and click on any article. Then add /amp to the URL to view the AMP version. (This is viewable in a desktop browser as well.)
Websites are not currently being penalized for not having an AMP version. However, note that general mobile-friendliness is essential, and not being mobile-friendly will result in a penalty in search results. So think of AMP as the next stage in mobile-friendliness: having AMP is not currently necessary, but it may be in the near future.
News publishing websites were among the first to embrace the new format, and recipe and lifestyle sites were not far behind. An earlier initiative by Facebook, called Instant Articles, also allowed mobile users to read a quick-loading version of a news story, but Facebook’s format received mixed reviews from publishers, in part because Instant Articles kept users within Facebook’s platform.
The AMP Project raises similar concerns, but it has a wider appeal, in part because it is open source; AMP is good for Google, but will also help sites like Twitter and Pinterest deliver mobile content faster.
AMP pages are quicker to load not only because they are written in a lighter version of HTML, but because third parties like Google may create caches of the AMP content, which can be displayed instantly to mobile users. This will undoubtedly improve the user experience, but publishers may have the same complaints that they have with Facebook’s Instant Articles: users viewing Google’s cache are never actually visiting the source website. This has implications for websites that rely on advertising however, law firm websites can focus on the fact that AMP pages load faster, so users — and ultimately search engines – will prefer them.
AMP is a new project that is still being developed and tested, and the early adopters are news publishers, not websites for law firms or other businesses. There is no guarantee that the AMP experiment will be successful, but the fact that Google and other major players are throwing their weight behind it means that it is likely to become a crucial part of the mobile web.
Google is now rolling out AMP in organic search results, not just the Top Stories section. You can see what this will look like by visiting g.co/ampdemo on a mobile device. The company has stated that this is not a ranking change, so websites are not currently being penalized for not having an AMP version. However, note that general mobile-friendliness, achieved with a responsive design or a mobile version of a site, is essential, and not being mobile-friendly will result in a penalty in search results. So think of AMP as the next stage in mobile-friendliness: having AMP is not currently necessary, but it may be in the near future.
Is AMP a ranking factor?
While AMP is not a ranking factor at present, there are other benefits, such as user experience. After all, the goal of the project is to create webpages that load fast and are easy to read on mobile devices. For now, many smartphone users may not be familiar with AMP, but that could change quickly if Google promotes the project more heavily. Given the option, users will be more likely to click on a search result that bears a fast-loading stamp of approval.
Publisher experiments have already shown that the mobile bounce rate — users who visit a single page on a site and then leave — is reduced significantly on AMP pages. The AMP Project is still in development, but the popular website platform WordPress has already released a plugin that allows webmasters to try out AMP on blog posts. Law firm marketers would benefit from taking the time to experiment with AMP to see what works and what does not.
There are potential pitfalls with AMP pages. As one example, implementing an AMP version of a page may result in a website’s header being replaced with a simplified version. If the header is a prominent place where the law firm’s phone number or other important information is usually displayed, then the marketing team may want to consider other options. The AMP version of a page may also tend to omit elements like fillable forms, comment fields, and share buttons, so this should be kept in mind when designing AMP pages.
Finally, the process of sharing content such as blog posts is complicated by AMP. When a user clicks on an AMP mobile search result, they are viewing Google’s cache of that page, and when they use their device’s Share function, the URL that is loaded up to share is a google.com address that incorporates the source website address, like this:
So a particularly shareable blog post may pop around the mobile web quite a bit without sending traffic back to the firm’s website. Of course, this is not all bad, as the easy-load version still contains the firm’s content and message, but it is something to be aware of as webmasters become familiar with the AMP project.
The bottom line: AMP pages are likely the wave of the future. It is always a good idea to be ahead of the curve, so taking the time to research and experiment now will likely pay off as the AMP project continues to reshape the mobile web.