Google's AMP Top Stories Now Live In Mobile Search Results

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are now live in mobile search results. Yesterday, some people started seeing these pages early, but today, the AMP news carousel launched for everyone, though a mobile demo site has been available for some time.

The open-source initiative, announced by Google last October, has the stated objective of “dramatically improv[ing] the performance of the mobile web.” By creating open technical standards to boost page speed and streamlining ads (e.g., no interstitials, no pop-ups), the hope is that the ecosystem can build a faster, more engaging mobile web that will benefit everyone.

For both philosophical and self-interest reasons, since the launch of the iPhone, Google has been trying to find ways to boost the mobile web. And much is now at stake. Mobile web reach is healthy, but engagement is not: only five percent of mobile media time is spent with the mobile web, according to the most recent data from Yahoo’s Flurry unit.

That’s partly because apps offer a generally better and less cluttered mobile user experience. Mobile ad blocking is also on the rise, with mobile carriers now threatening “network level” blocking because of poor experiences tied to page-load speeds, malware and low-quality ads. European carrier Three said last week that “Customers should… not have their data experience in mobile degraded by excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant adverts.”

Since October’s announcement of the project, Google says there has been great enthusiasm and adoption of AMP, which has competitors in Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles. Nearly 6,000 developers from 33 countries have joined, as well as “thousands of sites.” There have been 1,200 code submissions and 46 releases, an extremely accelerated schedule for an open-source project.

Everyone involved in AMP, from publishers and platforms to ad tech companies, hopes that it will succeed. In addition to Google’s VP of Engineering David Besbris, I spoke with Paul Maiorana of WordPress and adtech platform Polar.me.

Maiorana, whose company is automatically supporting AMP on all sites using its platform, said that he hoped AMP could head off more fragmentation on the mobile web. He didn’t want to see development of “a dozen or more separate or proprietary closed publishing formats that everyone has to support,” adding that “the web has succeeded because it’s open.”

Maiorana also praised the user experience of Instant Articles and Apple News but said that ultimately he’d “rather see an industry collaborative approach.”

Polar CEO Kunal Gupta said in an email that he expected AMP to “increase in page views and engagement.” Speaking about native ads, he explained that on AMP they will load faster and enable “deeper engagement with sponsored content given that the post-click experience will have users stay within the AMP experience.”

I asked whether AMP addresses some of the root causes of ad blocking, and Gupta responded that “Ad blocking is really a rejection of a slower user experience and AMP answers that.”

Besbris explained that AMPs load roughly 4X faster and use 1/10 the data of pages not built in AMP. And while AMP is about much more than addressing the causes of ad blocking, Besbris said that AMP indeed does try to address problems that alienate users.

“We’ve structured the AMP page so content doesn’t get blocked by ads. They can’t jump out of the page. In AMP, ads are designed to work really well. AMP doesn’t permit bad ad experiences.” Besbris also stressed the importance of enabling publishers to make money from ads. “It’s important to make sure publishers can monetize. We’re really focused on it.”

While AMP is flexible — it’s responsive and can be used to build entire sites — it doesn’t support all pages and user experiences. Today, it’s primarily designed for publishing and content sites. It’s currently not as well-suited, for example, to e-commerce experiences. But Besbris explained that Google wants AMP to be a “great platform” and that it “still needs to evolve.”

I asked Besbris if AMP pages would eventually receive some sort of ranking boost outside of the Top Stories area of search results. As would be expected, he declined to answer directly but reiterated that load time and page speed are ranking factors. Accordingly, I would expect Google to eventually reward AMP pages in search results, just as it has with “mobile-friendly” sites.

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