Google Doubles Down On
The Mobile Web

What Project AMP Means To Agencies And Brands

Without much fanfare, Google recently announced Project AMP, or the Accelerated Mobile Pages project. The release of AMP sends a strong signal to the world wide web: THE MOBILE WEB MATTERS. At first this may not be completely obvious as 9 out of 10 mobile interactions start with an app and not a browser, but greater than 60% of mobile web traffic is from in-app browsers. This means a considerable portion of mobile Internet traffic is specifically on the mobile web, which is why Google has stepped in with AMP to help streamline the user experience, amongst other goals.

For web designers and publishers, AMP has some big implications. AMP is an opt-in framework for building optimized mobile web pages, yet Google will prioritize AMP pages in search results, in addition to already rewarding quickly loading pages in its search algorithm. Effectively, this means speed up your mobile web page loads now or be penalized. For news websites, this may not be a big deal, but for advertisers and creative agencies who wish to deliver new and differentiated mobile designs, this means that two sites will need to be built: one AMP compliant (boring) and one standard HTML (cool).

What’s under the hood? By its name it’s obvious that it will help mobile pages load faster, but at what expense? Well, it requires publishers to use Google’s shared library that takes care of the common architectural page items like: images, audio, video, carousel functionality, etc. This library allows only a restricted subset of HTML and bans the use of any publisher side Javascript, and also any 3rd party Javascript. CSS has to be written inline—loaded style sheets are also banned—and all iFrames, forms, and embeds are also forbidden; however, new custom elements are provided for YouTube and Twitter. To clarify that last bit, if you want to add a video to your AMP page you can make it a YouTube video, which will play a YouTube video ad for which Google will receive the lionshare of the ad revenue, or you may “embed” your own video but you now have to use the amp-video component which can only be used for direct HTML5 video file embeds. Translation: you can’t use your own VAST compliant video player to run your own preroll. Sorry! At least your page, or what’s left of it, will [finally] load after all of the Google stuff.

What does this mean for ads? You might be wondering, without 3rd party Javascript will publishers be able to run any ads with an AMP enabled page? Yes! You have a choice of five whole ad networks: A9, AdReactor, AdSense, AdTech and Doubleclick. Once you loop in YouTube you’ll see this isn’t a land grab at all because Google only owns half of the choices. Well, 100% of the choices for video…but you know what I mean. Apologies for the sarcasm but for advertisers, this likely means less choice in which ads can run on the mobile web, and formats will likely be extremely limited as well.

Geez, tell us what you really think Coop. I think a better mobile web experience is long overdue. Like you I’m clicking on links in Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin and can see that most mobile web pages are poorly built and simply don’t utilize lazy-loading—loading content as the users scrolls instead of all upfront in one big download—or modern ad server functionality. Even as a rich media guy I agree that some of these ad experiences need to be rethought.

Now, we all want faster load times and that’s supposedly what’s at the core of AMP. However, keep in mind that it was just two months ago that Google declined to host the library for Greensock which would have dramatically increased the load times of HTML banners. To put that in context, Greensock hosts the Javascript include for jQuery which is used on over 60% of websites around the world. My point is the whole thing feels a little weird to me. Everything in AMP seems to be fast and “best practice” as long as it benefits Google.

Not convinced yet? Have a look at the carousel feature. It’s a really cool way to browse new stories on a specific topic. It feels really app-like but the catch is to get in that carousel you once again need to be part of an elite group of pre-approved publishers. Oh, and that functionality only works on Google Chrome. Seriously. For some reason they couldn’t support the default browser for the iPhone. Really?!

Will AMP solve some of the problems of the mobile web? Sure, but it’s the nuclear option. Google has said it won’t give an advantage to sites that use AMP they do say that they give an advantage to sites that load fast. My suggestion would be for publishers to take this moment to reevaluate their mobile web experience and improve it using all the traditional best practices that are openly available.

Publishers may not have the ability to push back on Google, but advertisers have the money and a desire to present their brands in specific ways. If AMP flattens the earth too much from a creative standpoint, both for ad and site design, then advertisers will take their dollars elsewhere.