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Google has been pushing the fast framework of its Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP for short, since 2015, for example by exclusively populating its Top Stories widget with AMP results. Now the company has announced that non-AMP pages are also be included as top stories in its mobile search results. Despite its stated aim to make the mobile web faster, Google currently seems to be placing more importance on in its new ranking factor from 2021, Page Experience. Does this mean the end of the AMP framework? Read on for our analysis and assessment of the current situation.
Brief overview: What is AMP?
Google has been promoting the AMP framework since 2015. Most publishers now have an AMP page version, but many other website types, for example in e-commerce, still don’t. Its mobile search results include Top Stories, a SERP feature that previously only included AMP results. And, as it says in Searchmetrics’ SERP Features Monitor, around 80 percent of all mobile, standard organic Top 10 search results contain at least one AMP result.
Plenty of other search engines have now followed suit and are also using a dedicated mobile framework to display their mobile search queries. Bing began showing AMP results sometime in 2018. Yandex and Baidu have their own AMP derivatives; at Yandex they’re called Turbo Pages and at Baidu, Mobile Index Pages.
Google undecided on the future of AMP
Google still insists that AMP is not a direct ranking factor. Nevertheless, all AMP sites that can be pre-cached by Google’s servers and therefore displayed more quickly are marked with a signature lightning bolt icon in the search results. If users click more on these results, interacting more with AMP sites that load much faster, the user signals for the results page will improve, giving them a boost in the rankings.
Another great advantage of AMP sites, especially for publishers, was that only AMP results were listed in the mobile Top Stories widget. This is no longer the case. When Google announced its new Page Experience ranking factor at the end of May 2020, it removed AMP as a condition for considering search results for its Top Stories. Google provided a full explanation for this on its blog:
“…we’ll also incorporate the page experience metrics into our ranking criteria for the Top Stories feature in Search on mobile and remove the AMP requirement from Top Stories eligibility. Google continues to support AMP and will continue to link to AMP pages when available.”
Google’s statement about AMP
Google struggles to establish new standards and technologies
This is not the first time Google has tried to establish a new technology or web standard on the market – and failed. In an interview with Searchengineland, for example, Matt Dorville, SEO Manager at Buzzfeed, refers to analogies with Google’s rel=next/prev markup. Google introduced this markup in 2011; it allowed websites to flag individual URLs as part of larger sets of pages. When asked about it, John Mueller from Google explained in a tweet in 2019 that the company had not been using rel=next/prev for some time.
Another example is Google Authorships, which was initially introduced so authors could link their work to their Google+ profile. The author’s image was then displayed in the search results. However, this led to a veritable flood of images, search results pages on news topics looked more like a social network than a search engine. And Google+ didn’t last much longer either, I might I add.
AMP really only used by publishers
It remains to be seen whether AMP will join the ranks of Google’s other failed standards. Although AMP is widely used among publishers, it was never really able to gain a foothold on the rest of the web, especially in e-commerce. According to Björn Darko, VP Product at Searchmetrics,
“As a publisher, it makes perfect sense to incorporate AMP for a lot of additional traffic, but for other industries it tends to cause problems. At the end of the day, you have to maintain two sites.”
Björn Darko, VP Product at Searchmetrics
Will Page Experience become the new AMP?
The future of AMP is uncertain. However, providing a fast yet smooth user experience on mobile devices still seems to be an important priority for Google. This can be seen in Page Experience, the new ranking factor set to launch in 2021 based primarily on aspects relating to page speed that Google refers to as Core Web Vitals. When it launches in 2021, the new Page Experience ranking factor will include the following factors:
- Load Speed (‘Largest Contentful Paint’ factor from Core Web Vitals)
- Responsiveness (‘First Input Delay’ from Core Web Vitals)
- Visual Layout Stability (‘Cumulative Layout Shift’ from Core Web Vitals)
- Mobile Friendly URL
- Safe and Clean Website Code (Safe Browsing with no Malware)
- Use of HTTPS Encryption
- No Intrusive Interstitials
At the same time as announcing the new Page Experience ranking factor, Google felt compelled to publish several blog posts about how helpful AMP can be in achieving decent values for Page Experience and Core Web Vitals – click here and here to read the posts. Google points out how AMP can help site owners meet the recommended performance targets outlined by Core Web Vitals and/or Page Experience.
Conclusion: Should I use AMP?
- Site owners who have yet to set up an AMP page should probably invest more time and effort in improving the (mobile) user experience of their websites. Google’s Page Experience and the underlying Core Web Vitals will become the new ranking factor from 2021 and explicitly relates to load speed and website responsiveness.
- E-commerce providers would be better off investing in a Progressive Web App (PWA) if they haven’t already done so. This ensures very good user experience, for example by precaching the sites a user is most likely to click on next. In addition, a PWA has significantly fewer restrictions than the AMP framework and complete sovereignty over user data, hosting etc.
- If you already have an AMP page, you should continue to develop it. Google has assured users that it will continue to support the AMP framework and might even give AMP pages a small boost when it rolls out its new Page Experience ranking factor.