How Google’s AMP accelerates content marketing

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What is the purpose of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative? How will this new publishing system influence content marketing efforts?

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a new framework for publishing web documents announced this past October. Its purpose is to speed up the delivery of documents and, according to its FAQ, “improve the entire mobile content ecosystem for everyone – publishers, consumer platforms, creators, and users.”

The AMP framework might just solve one of the biggest problems on the Web today: the fact that using the Internet on mobile devices is often a sluggish, unsatisfying experience, especially when publishers – driven by market pressures to monetize and acquire users – are free to add as many arbitrary external scripts as they wish. Each of these scripts adds more to load times, which collectively destroys the mobile user experience. This also suppresses publisher reach, as 40 percent of users abandon websites that take more than three seconds to load and a lot of these sites are slower than that.

AMP is the HOV lane for content

Think of AMP as the HOV – also known as the carpool or high-occupancy vehicle lane – for content; it’s fast and restrictive.

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AMP won’t let extraneous page scripts and server calls break the user experience. It effectively closes the playground that web developers have enjoyed – often at great cost to the user experience. Arbitrary user-authored Javascript is not allowed, nor are Applets, Objects, Forms, or external style sheets. While third-party scripts can still run, in Iframes, neither they nor elaborate CSS files will be permitted to block or otherwise interfere with AMP’s fast page rendering.

AMP is important for content marketers to know about and get ready for, because:

  1. AMP-ready or AMP-compliant articles will load faster on mobile devices, thus extending publisher reach.
  2. Google has indicated that AMP-compliant pages will receive ranking boosts in certain use cases.
  3. Google has offered to provide caching infrastructure to AMP-compliant documents, speeding their delivery for all device types.

How does it work?

AMP’s framework consists of three complementary components:

  1. AMP HTML

    A new flavor of HTML, AMP HTML adds a set of new AMP properties and a limited set of custom styles. Some familiar HTML commands, such as IMG, have been replaced by AMP-specific commands. But, AMP’s structure and syntax will be clear to anyone who knows HTML.

  2. AMP.JS

    This new, single Javascript file enforces the limited functionality contained within AMP HTML and, in the words of an AMP developer, “supercharges” the AMP-specific features in AMP HTML. Among the more important features of AMP.JS is that it makes all loading of external resources asynchronous. This prevents any external scripts from blocking page rendering. AMP.JS also provides for DNS pre-fetching and pre-connection, and download-independent sizing, which limits extra relay calls associated with image rendering.

  3. The AMP Content Delivery Network (CDN)

    Provided that AMP documents validate, they’re fetched and cached in the AMP CDN for nearly instantaneous access anywhere. Google has pledged to make its caching services available for the AMP CDN.

Note: If the techie language in the foregoing paragraphs is too much for you, take a few minutes to listen to Paul Bakaus, discuss the why, when, and how of AMP, in this YouTube video recorded back in October.

How AMP changes web publishing

AMP limits what web developers can do with their pages, but it’s generally good news for content teams willing to work within its framework. The really welcome news is that most teams won’t have to jump through hoops to start cranking out AMP-compatible documents.

In fact, many important CMS systems – including WordPress – will be able to produce AMP documents as handily as they produce regular HTML documents. At least one plugin is already available (though it’s currently a work in progress with a feature set that has yet to be finalized). Most content marketers will want to wait until the AMP framework is incorporated into the core WordPress files, which should happen in the next several weeks.

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AMP’s emphasis on above-the-fold content elements will likely focus increased publisher attention on this vital area. AMP gives Viewport 1 – the primary visible space that AMP will first download – priority when it decides which pages to pre-load. Therefore, it is important that all of the content elements in this area, such as your headline, your main “hero” image, and the first text block of your article, really stand out:

  1. Make Viewport 1 content your priority by cutting any excess fluff in headlines and removing lazy or non-active words.
  2. Pay attention to the hero image. It must be stunning, compelling, and original.
  3. Take time to ensure that your intro text – the first 100 words of your article – does a great job of leading the reader into the substance of your story.

Why AMP is a good thing for content marketing

Unlike Facebook’s Instant Articles, a proprietary walled-garden approach to mobile content distribution that is an “invitation only” affair limited to large publishers, AMP will be available to everyone publishing content on the Web. AMP documents will be spidered, ranked, and otherwise made available via search engines. Additionally, AMP’s development is open source. This means the AMP specification will organically grow and evolve as needs change and new applications become available, just like HTML and other public standards adapt and evolve.

One thing that’s becoming even clearer is that there’s no such thing as “being done” with your web presence. Between conversion rate optimization (CRO) and keeping up with advances in mobile and new browsers, you need to set aside significant budget for continued web development. If not, you’ll risk your competitors out-converting you and therefore out-bidding you in search and programmatic media.

Homepage image via Flickr.

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