Earlier in 2016, Google started to display AMP results in the ‘Top Stories’ section of its search engine results pages, allowing mobile users to access fast-loading versions of major news stories. Now, the search engine giant has announced an expansion of its AMP support, displaying AMP in the ordinary search listings.
According to Google, the expansion has been motivated by a desire to improve the overall experience for mobile users, who often abandon slow-loading websites. In addition, it allows sites that are not news-specific to have their AMP results displayed. Here, we take a more in-depth look at the SEO implications of this change.
What Exactly Is AMP?
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open-source coding standard, backed by the likes of Google, Twitter and WordPress, which allows publishers to publish extremely lightweight versions of their web pages. The main benefit of these stripped-back pages is that they load extremely quickly on mobile devices.
In many ways, it can be considered a continuation of the trend for mobile optimisation, but it has attracted a lot of interest from search engine consultants. This is because, unlike with mobile-optimised pages, AMPs load extremely quickly even on a slow connection, making them ideal for users who are browsing the internet ‘on the go’.
One of the most important things about AMP is its backing from Google. The search engine began marking Accelerated Mobile Pages in its ‘Top Stories’ section earlier in the year, displaying the letters ‘AMP’ and a lightning bolt next to the result; in much the same way that a tag that is shown beside mobile-optimised websites.
With the new update, where an AMP result is available, it will be displayed instead of the equivalent desktop or mobile-optimised page. This means that the search engine will not display two or three versions of the same page. Unlike with the carousel results, the new expanded AMP support will be fully international, affecting all countries.
SEO Benefits of AMP
In their announcement for the expansion of AMP support, Google were clear in stating that AMP results would not provide an additional rankings boost for web pages. Instead, the company stated that the update was motivated by a desire to improve access to AMP, speeding up the overall experience for mobile users.
For this reason, there is no need for your SEO team or search marketing agency to switch everything to AMP in order to compete with other websites who have done the same. Nevertheless, there are some more indirect SEO benefits associated with AMP, which search marketers should be aware of.
Among these benefits is an improvement to your bounce rate. Research from Google suggests that 40 percent of users will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, yet many mobile-optimised websites take more than twice as long as that. AMP pages use eight times less data and load approximately four times faster.
Moreover, there will be a natural boost in visibility among users who are specifically looking for AMP results in their search. This could, in turn, lead to higher click-through rates.
Why Make the Switch?
As far as SEO is concerned, the benefits will be most significant among sites that have a comprehensive content marketing strategy. AMP will allow pieces of content to load very quickly, improving the user experience and reducing ‘bounces’, while simultaneously improving the content’s visibility among those who are seeking AMP results.
With that said, the decision of whether or not to turn away from mobile-optimised web pages, towards AMP, is a judgement call. Accelerated Mobile Pages are significantly stripped back and certain websites rely on design and on-page elements to boost user engagement. Switching these pages to AMP could harm the user experience.
According to Moz, Google are not planning to penalise sites that do not switch to AMP, so opting against switching will not negatively impact upon search rankings. However, switching may indirectly improve SEO.
“I don’t believe that you’ll want to make your services or product landing pages into AMP,” says Sean Si, an SEO specialist and the editor-in-chief of SEO Hacker. “It would be stripped down of its first impressions. The sites that will benefit the most from AMP are publishing sites.”