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One of the biggest developments for content marketing may have been hidden in plain sight for the last year. If you’ve Googled anything with your phone recently, you may have seen a result like the one below and wondered what the “AMP” tag meant:

AMP Search

Google’s Amplified Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open source initiative intended to speed mobile delivery of web content. While initially positioned as a feature for news, Google announced (somewhat predictably) that AMP will be displayed in general search results as well. From a communications and marketing perspective, it’s important to understand what AMP is, how it works and how you can implement it in your content marketing. Spoiler alert: AMP is all about speeding up your mobile pages. Demian Farnworth, writing for Copyblogger describes AMP’s purpose like this:

“On a scale from 1 to 10, with one being “not loading at all” and ten being “loading in one second,” AMP content will load at a page speed of 11.”

We all understand the increasing pervasiveness of mobile devices: ComScore says that 65% of all digital media time is spent on mobile, and the Pew Research Center describes an increasing chasm between mobile and desktop usage across media sectors (see the chart below). “Mobile first” has been a common mantra for web developers, marketers and communications professionals for years. AMP may be one of the most important ways for businesses to communicate with mobile customers (excluding email, which is another level of awesome). So let’s talk about what AMP is.


Mobile traffic continues to gain prominence over desktop traffic across media sectors

What are Amplified Mobile Pages?

As opposed to Facebook and Apple’s distributed content platforms (where content is mobile-optimized but hosted by third-party platforms), AMP content is hosted (at least initially) by you. AMP adopts a series of rules about what conventions can be used for publishing mobile content. For example, the HTML commands that you can use are limited and you can only use Javascript from a limited library. Google caches AMP content to a content delivery network (CDN) which optimizes the AMP content to increase its load speed (and Google referred AMP content is delivered directly from the CDN). This makes AMP a form of distributed content, although Google has specific code to be able to use Analytics with AMP.

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The way that most publishers use AMP is to have their main content, and then an AMP version of the same content. If a reader is reading from a mobile device they would be served the AMP version, and if not they would get the full version. A key tool is the AMP Validator, which makes sure that your AMP code does have errors that lead Google to believe that you’re publishing multiple versions of the same article. Technicalities aside, AMP seems to be more versatile for publishers than Instant Articles and Apple News content. Jordan Novet writing for VentureBeat describes the value of AMP compared to Facebook’s Instant Articles:

“In the not-too-distant future, ads will pop up faster, meaning that entire pages will be fully loaded more quickly. Ecommerce content could come up faster. And, generally speaking, now all webmasters can start making their webpages into AMP pages.”

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of what AMP is and what you can do with it (just below this paragraph is a great video primer on AMP from MOZ if you’d like to know more details), but let’s talk about what a person sees on mobile versus the full HTML version.


What is the practical difference between AMP and normal web pages?

Guardian UK was an early adopter of Google’s AMP conventions and provide a pretty great example of how AMP is implemented by publishers. Take a look at a recent desktop version of this article about the New York Yankees (h/t to Dennis Schaeffer for passing this on):

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/aug/18/why-the-new-york-yankees-cant-lose-even-when-they-try-to

And here is the AMP version of the same article.

https://amp.theguardian.com//sport/blog/2016/aug/18/why-the-new-york-yankees-cant-lose-even-when-they-try-to

You can see that visually they have different perspectives, but the Guardian UK developers have done an extraordinary job to make the mobile site mimic the desktop site. This has some relevance to you when we discuss how you can implement AMP into your content, but we’ll get back to that. If you look at the URLs, you can see that these two pages are separate and deliver the same content in parallel. In the canonical page, the “AMPHTML” tag prompts Google to serve the AMP version on a mobile device:

AMPHTML

The key thing that you should understand about AMP is that it is a separate set of conventions (I’ve heard it referred to as “HTML-lite” which seems appropriate). The code for mobile and desktop run in parallel to each other with the canonical site identifying the AMP-page link in its meta-data. The practical difference is that they’re going to look different. How different? Let’s talk about that……


Can I use AMP with WordPress? How about without WordPress?

Most self-hosted (blog) content uses WordPress (69 percent of CMS sites by one measure). The logical question in relation to AMP is how easy it is to implement on a WordPress site. It is easy to do, but (big BUT) the aesthetic from your website won’t translate easily from desktop to mobile. For example, here is an article from my site which has some cool bells and whistle like social sharing and author attribution.

Example Post

I run the official AMP WordPress plugin on my site (there are others). Now look at the AMP version of that same article. The social sharing features are gone, the author attribution is gone, and it’s very straightforward and stripped down:

Example AMP Post using WordPress plugin

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of how impressive the Guardian UK’s site is to have so much similarity between browser and mobile. You should understand that you will lose most CSS and Javascript improvements from your desktop version if you use the boilerplate AMP plugin. And could you implement AMP without WordPress? Yes, but it would be costly. Use your browser’s developer’s tools to take a look at the code in a Guardian UK AMP page and you’ll see how extensive the additional coding is. So you’d have to pay for a developer, do the development yourself, or have a very bare bones site. Since there is so much compromise to implementing AMP, you may question why you’d want to do it. There’s a pretty compelling reason why….

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What if I don’t care about SEO?

Perhaps the way that I’ve written about AMP has accentuated the SEO benefits of it. But recall my spoiler in the first paragraph: AMP is all about speed. Even if you don’t anticipate getting a lot of search-referred traffic, the huge benefit to you is increased page load to the mobile web. Pew Internet published some interesting statistics about how widespread cell phone usage is: nearly one-third of smartphone users have limited or no other Internet access apart from mobile. Failing to optimize for the mobile web is a decision to immediately overlook 18 percent of all U.S. adults.

7% of Americans Rely Heavily on a Smartphone for Online Access

Joost de Valk (creator of the widely used Yoast SEO WordPress plugin) is skeptical of Google’s intentions regarding AMP, but writes this about the inevitability that sites must adopt the AMP conventions:

“While I’m reluctant, I’m also telling you: if you run a news site or a blog, you need to make sure your site supports AMP. It’s as simple as that.”

And while the benefits of integrating AMP into your communications and marketing content may be simple, implementation is not. Now that you know what AMP is and why it is important to you, hopefully you will consider the costs and benefits of integrating it into your communications and marketing plans.

Here’s some additional info regarding AMP:

AMP Project website: https://www.ampproject.org

Different publishers that are currently using AMP: https://www.ampproject.org/who/

Primer video about AMP:


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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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