We know it, by now, and we are bracing ourselves for it: in 2021 will come a new and comprehensive ranking factor with which Google will evaluate the quality of the pages and, in particular, the level of user experience provided, namely the Google Page Experience. On the occasion of the announcement, the attention was also struck by some collateral – so to speak  – news, which relate to the AMP project and that lead to question the role and the benefits that this framework can guarantee in the immediate future that awaits us.

Not only AMPs in Top Stories

The most controversial point of the Big G revolution is the feature of the Featured News that, until now, was completely prerogative of AMP pages. So, the site that wanted to intercept the clicks of users affected by the news in the Top Stories box had to necessarily implement accelerated page technology and compete with those who had made the same choice.

With the update of next year, however, the section will become open to all sites that guarantee a good level of page experience, making indeed useless the AMP – or in any case downsizing its distinctive feature.

An uncertain future for AMP?

According to many observers, in fact, the prerequisite to access the Top Stories is one of the major incentives for publishers to implement AMP pages; the removal of this benefit, as a result, raises doubts about the work to be done to allow the site to have accelerated pages optimized for mobile users.

Instead of focusing on creating (and managing) AMP versions of their pages, then, developers and SEO are wondering – quite legitimately – whether or not it suits you to channel all your efforts and resources to optimize mobile site experiences tout court, so to improve the perceived Page Experience and get ranking returns and visibility in the classic Search and in the various features of the SERP, Featured news included.

The history and characteristics of Google AMP

The AMP project (acronym for Accelerated Mobile Pages) was originally created by Google in 2015 and later extended to other search engines and is an open source HTML framework that can be used to create fast-loading web pages for mobile devices.

Its goal is to offer site owners a way to quickly distribute their content to mobile users and, over time, its functions have also extended to posting ads and sending dynamic emails on Gmail.

The pros and cons of accellerated pages for mobile

Faster pages give users a better experience, and although AMP itself is not a direct ranking factor on Google, page speed is (and will be even more so in the future), and there are other advantages and incentives to use this technology.

The biggest one, as mentioned, is that Google has made the implementation of AMP a basic requirement for publishers who wish to make their articles appear in the main SERP carousel, the Featured News section, which gives greater visibility than standard search results.

But there are also disadvantages, at least from the point of view of creating and managing this technology: for example, the implementation of AMP pages essentially means maintaining a second version of the site, and this may require a lot of resources and more attention.

Why to keep on betting on AMP pages

With the change announced by Google, the AMP pages will no longer have priority in the content highlighted in the Top Stories carousel; for publishers who use this framework does not change anything, technically, because the version linked to the feature will remain the AMP one, but you lose a concrete benefit.

Nevertheless, there are still many reasons to implement AMP to improve the experience of mobile users, and two articles in particular highlight them: a study by George Nguyen on Searchengine Land (who also interviewed various industry experts) and a post on the official blog of the AMP project, published not coincidentally on a short distance from Google’s announcement on the Page Experience revolution.

The AMP benefits for user experience

According to Glenn Gabe, president of G-Squared Interactive, AMP is and will be “still valuable to the user experience”: though it is true for some news publishers the Top Stories requirement on mobile devices has been an important factor in the decision to embrace the technology, others have switched to AMP to increase site performance. In particular, the driving force of AMP has always been “a very fast and almost instantaneous user experience”.

What is the AMP’s future?

Matthew Brown, managing director of Mjblabs and former search strategy director of the New York Times, says that there are other ways to provide fast pages, and AMP has not always been a good choice for publishers he has worked with. For many, AMP was just “a means to stay competitive in the Top Stories section” and “many of the design and engineering teams I worked with were unhappy with having to implement the AMP framework exclusively for the benefit of SEO”, and then had to spend time and money also “to simultaneously improve the site’s overall mobile version”.

Lastly, Matt Dorville, SEO manager of Buzzfeed, invites you to wait and test before deciding whether to continue with AMP or not (or whether to implement the framework or not): for example, at Buzzfeed (which provides AMP versions of the content) are “planning to wait and see how SERP will change with the new extended competition and how competitors who do not have AMP will behave”.

It will take many tests to discover and understand “the visibility of our competitors and the speed with which they upload their sites and to measure the relationship between costs and benefits of maintaining what is essentially another website,” added Dorville.

AMP and Google Page Experience

The new Google Page Experience algorithm is designed to evaluate web pages based on how they are experienced and perceived by human users; it combines the signals of Core Web Vitals with existing search factors, but it is perhaps too early to draw any conclusions as to its actual extent.

It is still Gabe to remember that there have been “algorithms implemented by Google that have not had much impact”, while hoping that the update of the experience on the page is significant and rewards sites that know how to ensure a quality user experience. Otherwise, “if the new signal does not have much power, the owners of the sites will not take it seriously”.

For publishers that currently use AMP, the decision whether to continue to use the framework or to proceed differently will also depend on the level of optimization interventions needed to adapt to the new course. The individual factors of Page Experience are excellent “from the user’s point of view but, at the same time, we must evaluate the pros and cons of having a website that relies on advertising for its revenue that, at times, do not give us the metrics we would like,” adds Dorville.

For instance, Buzzfeed already gives as much priority as possible to those factors as compared to its financial priorities: “by eliminating AMP we could conceivably increase advertising revenue, but that would cost more loading time, as ad networks increase loading time,” he said. For publishers facing similar trade-offs it may be necessary to conduct tests to find the right compromise between the user experience and the generation of advertising revenue.

Implementing AMP or optimizing the site?

Matthew Brown thinks the deciding point on the fate of accelerated pages “for publishers who are already active and running on AMP will be when the site undergoes major revisions, such as a redesign or modification of the CMS”. At that time, “the costs of updating everything on AMP begin to seem less favorable, since it is no longer a requirement for Top Stories on mobile devices”.

Before making plans to quit AMP, however, Brown’s advice to site owners is to check if the Top Stories results in their industry are dominated by AMP pages: “you have to find evidence that non-amp sites are well placed in this section to make the final decision and without regret to disable or exclude the implementation of the AMP altogether”.

In the end, according to the experts it is necessary to wait and understand the evolution of the situation: the AMP pages already have a good performance in terms of metrics on the page experience, but it is not impossible to assume that some of the required requirements “for viewing non-amp pages in the Top Stories section could prove more stringent than maintaining AMP,” said Brown. Therefore, sites that are not able to ensure these levels of quality with the mobile performance of the site could find in the implementation of AMP pages an easier path to be competitive.

The usefulness of AMP for Page Experience

“We are excited about the potential of the Google’s page experience signal, which guides and encourages developers to create a better Web: being created to enable the development of top-notch sites for users, we believe that AMP is a simple and cost-effective solution for publishers to create a fantastic page experience,” writes Malte Ubl, Member of the AMP Technical Steering Committee and Google’s Principal Engineer, on the project’s blog.

According to Ubl, the sites with AMP will have great advantage at the start of Google’s new classification update – there is even a post that explains in detail all the reasons why AMP can facilitate the achievement of the metrics indicated by the Core Web Vitals – and the first test tests performed by Google already show that most AMP page uploads satisfy the Core Web Vitals and even more so when you allow the loading of cache-delivered AMP pages.

How to optimize the page experience

Moreover, Google Search will continue to direct users to AMP versions of Web pages in the Top Stories feature from mobile and this behavior “keeps the hallmarks of the AMP experience, such as pre-rendering that preserves privacy, which can occur when content is offered by an AMP cache”. This also means that “the page experience signal for a given search result will be evaluated based on the performance of the AMP page when available”, anticipates Ubl.

However, “there are aspects of performance management that are out of AMP’s control“, such as image optimization and server response times, which may result in a sub-optimal page experience.

Google’s Page Experience Roadmap is “an exciting milestone for any website or framework that prioritizes user performance and experience, including the AMP Project”. This technology not only “simplifies the creation of pages optimized for the page experience, but it does so by requiring minimal development effort”. For example, the AMP’s evergreen release program allows you to get future benefits in terms of performance as they are built, without investing additional engineering resources.

The AMP project’s fate

The post also gives a direct answer to questions about the future of the framework, as Ubl announces that “Google will continue to invest in AMP and firmly believes in the goal of the AMP project to simplify the creation of Web pages that offer an extraordinary user experience”.

Ultimately, then, the AMP project should not be interrupted and will go on, continuing to “focus on creating strong experiences on the page” and working in tune with the new ranking factors grouped in the Google Page Experience.

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