What is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Should I Use It?

What is AMP?

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google project that is designed to make web pages load more quickly for visitors on mobile devices.

Sounds like a good idea, right?

Fast loading pages (especially on mobile) is definitely a good idea! But do you have to use AMP to create them?

No. (More on that later)

How does AMP make web pages load more quickly?

The short answer is ‘by stripping out everything from your web page that the AMP project considers unnecessary’.

That means executing only asynchronous JavaScript, greatly limiting the number of ads on your site, converting all CSS to inline, dropping stylesheet files, loading ‘above the fold’ resources first and serving all AMP pages from the Google AMP Cache.

The effect of this is to get AMP pages to load in (generally) no more than 1 second on mobile devices – for resources that are ‘pre-rendered’ the loading is pretty much instant.

Which is definitely good for users on mobile devices – we all know how important page load speed is.

So why wouldn’t there be a stampede to implement AMP?

Because, for webmasters there are some downsides. . .

For site visitors on mobile devices, everything is great.

But for website owners there are quite a few things to think about:

  1. You have to build and maintain a separate set of pages: one for AMP (following the AMP specifications) and one for your desktop visitors. Keeping the content on both in sync would be a pain
  2. You will lose a lot of your styling on mobile devices
  3. For WordPress users that are using one of the AMP converter plugins, your site will look a lot like all the other WordPress sites using AMP
  4. AMP pages are served from the Google AMP cache, which means that people browsing round your AMP pages are doing so on Google’s domain, not yours
  5. If you want to enable people to get back to your originating domain you will need to specifically link to it on each AMP page
  6. Google Analytics will not give you tracking data on your AMP pages – you need to set up separate AMP tracking and re-define your canonical URLs to be able to see whether or not you’re getting increased traffic as a result of implementing AMP

So that begs the question: will the benefits brought by AMP to your mobile visitors outweigh the additional complication, time and effort required to create and maintain it?

Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how your site currently performs on mobile.

Is implementing AMP absolutely necessary?

That depends on a number of things:

  1. Are your current web pages built with Responsive design?
  2. If yes, how quickly do they load?
  3. Do your basic site pages make extensive use of JavaScript, heavy resources (such as images and forms) and animation?
  4. Does your revenue model rely heavily on advertising?
  5. Is the layout and design of your pages, as seen on mobile, important to you?
  6. Do you frequently update your existing pages?
  7. Are your site visitors principally located in countries or regions with poor or no broadband coverage?

Depending on the answers to those questions, the payback from implementing and maintaining AMP may, or may not, be worth the effort.

Here’s how I’m approaching it. . .

I do not use AMP on any of my sites and, at this stage, I do not plan to do so.

Here are the reasons why:

  • My visitors are primarily located in the US and UK (with reasonable to good Broadband coverage)
  • My websites are all very light-weight in design. I design them from the ground up to be fast-loading whether for desktop or mobile users
  • I do not want to have to build and maintain 2 versions of my web pages (one for AMP and one for non-AMP)
  • All my websites are built using responsive design, in which, where necessary, I drop heavier resources for mobile visitors (but the resources I drop are decided by me, not AMP!)
  • I frequently update existing pages and do not want to have to do so twice (once for my standard pages and again for AMP pages)

Basically, it would take too much time and effort to maintain two versions of my site for the payback I would receive.

It is perfectly possible to build fast WordPress websites if you use a good, well-coded theme (or framework), use good quality hosting, make good use of caching, optimise your images, minimise the number of plugins and ensure they are of good quality.

More details on how to speed up your WordPress website here.

As you can see from the two screenshots below, my agency website, built on WordPress and designed using the Thesis framework, achieves page-load times of between 1.1 and 2.2 seconds (US and UK respectively):

Screenshot of Pingdom speed Test Result Screenshot of UK Pingdom speed test result

Implementing AMP on that website may bring me a small page-load speed benefit, but not enough to warrant all the extra complication, time, effort and ongoing maintenance it would require.

That said, while I do not use AMP, and currently have no plans to do so, I should caveat that with ‘Never say never’..!

If those downsides that I listed above are addressed effectively then the benefits could start to outweigh the costs. And, if that happens, I will take another look.

Some of the wider criticisms of AMP

One of the principle criticisms of AMP is that it’s Google’s attempt to further mould the web in its image.

“. . .There is a sense in which AMP is a Google-built version of the web . . .” Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.

Or rather more strongly:

“. . . AMP is an example of Google dialling up its anti-competitive practices under the nose of the competition regulators . . .” said Ramon Tremosa, a Spanish member of the European Parliament.

Quite apart from the fact that AMP would offer me no benefits and considerable extra work as it stands today, I also resist Google’s ongoing attempt to control the web.

Almost everything that Google does, while seemingly helpful to users, is done for Google’s benefit.

From Gmail to Google Analytics and everything in between, Google’s services enable it to accrue an enormous treasure trove of data, which it then uses to enrich itself.

Initiatives, such as AMP, serve to encourage (if not force) webmasters to build their sites in a way that Google approves of – Google’s way or the highway. It makes Google’s job easier and gives it yet more data and more control.

But Google is a commercial enterprise that is making a lot of money off the data it harvests. It is not a regulator.

Officially, AMP sites are not favoured in the search results over sites that don’t use AMP, but load just as quickly.

But who knows?

Over the past nearly 2 decades, Google has defined how most of the world uses the Internet through its near monopolistic position and, as such, has undue influence over the fortunes of not just small-time webmasters but multi-nationals with huge websites.

Just ask companies like Target and others whose sites have disappeared from the Google search results after an algorithm update.

So before you rush off to set up AMP, take some time to consider whether it’s actually necessary for your site. As I said earlier, for me and mine, as it stands today, it’s not.

Cheers,

Martin Malden

Martin Malden
Owner – WealthyDragon

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