Google AMP: What Does It Mean for Your Mobile SEO?

Google AMP: What Does it Mean for Your Mobile SEO?

This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

Despite rapidly expanding access to mobile internet (68% of US adults use a smartphone to access the Internet), the concept of mobile SEO has remained relatively traditional.

It focuses on building site visibility through improved search ranking. On the surface this makes obvious sense: SEO does stand for “search engine optimization” after all. If you dig a little deeper, however, you learn that it’s time to start focusing on your mobile user experience to improve your site’s mobile friendliness, and letting that drive improvements in your search results rankings.

In an effort to make the mobile web more mobile-friendly, Google, along with platforms, publishers and content creators, developed the (AMP) project. AMP is an open source spec initiative designed to create websites that load quickly and provide an enhanced on page experience for users.

What Is AMP?

There are three basic ingredients that make up an AMP page:

  • HTML: This is basically regular HTML except with a few custom tweaks and limitations. AMP HTML uses custom properties for resources such as images, videos and iframes and a restricted set of technical functions, defined by the open source AMP specs.
  • JavaScript: Probably the most effective part of AMP JS is that it makes all external resources load asynchronously. It also requires you to set sizes in the HTML, which means that the page layout is determined before elements are loaded. This means that elements won’t jump around the page as other resources load.
  • AMP Cache: Google’s AMP Cache is a separate cache used to store AMP pages to serve in search results. When pages stored in the cache are served to a user, everything comes from the same location, increasing efficiency.

All three of these elements work together to render pages seemingly instantly.

Why You Should Be Using AMP

If you’re in the content business — as in, you rely on users viewing and consuming your content — you need AMP. If you rely on organic search traffic to acquire the majority of your users, you also need AMP; Google’s mobile searchers now outnumber their desktop users. Giving your audience near-instant content that is rendered and displayed in a user-friendly format will keep them on your page and encourage them to consume extra content. It might even provide them with a little extra nudge to share it with their friends.

Even if you’re not a content creator, perhaps you’re a publisher — you should still consider creating an AMP page. This summer Google rolled out their AMP support for its DoubleClick AdExchange. You can now publish AMP HTML ads that load as quickly as the actual AMP HTML page. Although it’s early days, DoubleClick publishers are already seeing higher estimated CPMs from AMP pages compared with non-AMP.

What’s It Mean for SEO?

So will AMP pages impact your SEO? The answer to that question is no. But also yes. Earlier this year, a few days after Google officially launched AMP, Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller said “Is AMP a ranking signal? At the moment, it is not a ranking signal.” Check out the 15:50 mark of the Google+ Hangout to listen to him talk about AMP.

You’ll probably notice that he goes on to discuss how using an AMP page will play into Google’s mobile-friendliness factor. You’re not going to be penalized for having a non-AMP page, and you won’t get a boost simply by using AMP either. But what AMP will do is improve the performance of your site’s mobile version, which has a positive impact on mobile ranking factors.

Page Speed

There are a lot of signals that go into determining a page’s mobile friendliness, but page speed is one of the most important. In general, people have short attention spans and hate to wait. That impatience increases exponentially when people start using their smartphones: 40% of mobile internet users won’t wait for more than 3 seconds for a page to load. They make up their minds about your page in 50 milliseconds or less. Amazon famously discovered that every second of page load time cost them 1% of their total sales. Google’s mobile-friendliness standard is for above the fold (ATF) content to render in one second or less.

So loading your page quickly matters.

For non-AMP pages, meeting the one-second ATF requirement is hard work: mobile devices have limited CPU and battery capacity, and after DNS lookups, TCP handshakes and HTTP requests and responses, you’ve got less than half that time to render your whole page. And that doesn’t even take mobile network latency into account. The whole reason Google created the AMP standard is to load pages as close to instantly as possible. This is one of AMP’s major advantages, and probably the biggest impact it will have on your mobile SEO.

Using an Accelerated Mobile Page is going to result in very low load times, up to 85% less than normal, according to Google. However, you also get the added bonus of getting your site stored in Google’s AMP Cache. Google stores AMP pages in a dedicated cache and validates and serves pages directly from there, cutting down load time even more.

User Experience

AMP improves your site’s mobile user experience by connecting your content, brand and/or company to a user during a “micro-moment.” What’s a micro-moment? Micro-moments are the instances in which a person spontaneously and automatically pick up their Internet-enabled device (normally their phone) to fulfill a current need. There are different kinds of micro-moments, each one impacting users’ expectations of and engagement with content.

Since AMP-enabled pages are all highly structured in basically the same way, Google can quickly and easily determine relevance to a search keyword and, thanks to Hummingbird, search intent. If you’re using AMP for your page’s mobile version, you’ll have a leg up on other sites in connecting your content to customers at a time when they are most likely to place an order, visit a brick-and-mortar store or research a future purchase. Getting your content in front of a user at this moment is vital to building not only conversions, but brand awareness and loyalty as well.

Accelerated Pages have also improved mobile user experience in a very important way: AMP JS controls the entire load chain and prioritizes certain requests over others. This means that the JavaScript loads the main, ATF content first while third-party elements, or content below the fold, start after. Your users are able to start reading immediately after arriving.

Since AMP requires height, width and other aspect ratios to be strictly set, it knows ahead of time what your page should look like before anything starts rendering. This eliminates a major source of frustration: page elements jumping around the screen as various resources are loaded. Mobile users are no longer subjected to choppy, partially rendered pages or having their content consumption interrupted by additional slow browser layout calculations. If you have problems with the loading of various page assets interfering with content consumption, an AMP page would allow a significant upgrade to your mobile user experience.

Wrapping Up

Improvements to user experience can benefit your online business in many different ways:

  • Users will be able to consume more content, improving brand awareness and loyalty
  • Completing an online order is easier and faster, facilitating future purchases
  • Encouraging users to view more content, resulting in higher eCPM and ad loads
  • Connecting with your audience during micro-moments

These improvements themselves aren’t signals that Google takes into account when determining mobile search rankings. But they will directly impact on the signals Google does look at: bounce rate, click-through rate, page views and time spent on site.

While possible for you to see these benefits, along with increased page speed, through your own on and off page optimizations, using AMP streamlines the whole process and gives Google a strong hint that you have made these improvements. So even though Google’s not directly boosting AMP pages or punishing non-AMP pages, you can expect to see Accelerated Mobile Pages playing a large role in mobile SEO going forward.

Do you have an Accelerated Mobile Page? How has it impacted your mobile SEO? Your online business?