How AMP can prepare you for the mobile-first index

Blog | 02 Jul, 2018

Mobile device usage surpassed desktop some years ago.

 

As a result, Google has formally stated that the mobile first index is due to officially land in July 2018 and that brands looking to grow or preserve mobile performance need to be prepared and working eagerly towards this date. Subsequently, the mobile version of content will be prioritised over desktop for indexing and ranking. Sites that are not optimised for mobile risk struggling to rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

This is bad news for sites that are not mobile friendly. But there is an opportunity for optimised sites to enjoy increased visibility, while competitors remain in the desktop past. Building for mobile is not just for Google - it’s for your site visitors, and your business’ bottom line.

There are many compelling case studies that demonstrate the importance of a lightning-fast mobile experience. A clear correlation exists between improved mobile page speed and reduced abandonment, leading to higher conversions. In addition to improved sales or leads, visitors are more likely to return because of the positive user experience.

According to ThinkWithGoogle, a mobile landing page takes an average of 22 seconds to load but 53% of mobile visits are abandoned if the page takes longer than just 3 seconds. Clearly, not enough sites are taking mobile optimisation seriously, despite its effect on SERPs, users and conversions. This is where AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) can help you get ahead of the competition.

AMP is a Google-backed open source publishing technology deploying mobile pages boasting rapid speeds of less than 1 second whilst using 10x less data than a non-AMP page. This fundamental shift in performance is delivering a better user experience, and resulting in some impressive improvements in conversion rates for both organic and paid campaigns.

Source: Soasta

 

At Jellyfish, we have a team of experts in the field of mobile optimisation, in particular within the emerging technology of AMP. Our team of ‘AMP Champs’ have answered five of the most common questions concerning webmasters when it comes to mobile optimisation.

The mobile-first index is coming, and these answers will help you prepare.

 

Q1: What are the biggest mistakes when it comes to mobile SEO?

Websites are still being built using a ‘desktop-first’ approach. Building like this will inevitably lead to visibility diminishing, which will then cause conversions to fall too. 

Future-proofing should be essential to new site builds, and AMP is a part of this. Websites should be designed and built using a ‘mobile-first’ approach. This allows designers and developers to produce a mobile experience which functions beautifully on mobile devices. The new site build is then progressively enhanced to include additional functionality on desktop devices. Building for the mobile-first index is not about sacrificing a desktop site, it’s more about understanding that mobile must now come first.

"Progressive enhancement is the idea of designing for the most common denominator - what most users can see - and building out. It’s also the fast track to mobile-first design."

- Peter Richards: Senior SEO Manager

The mobile user is now “the most common denominator” yet sites continue to fail to accommodate these users. Building for desktop-first is a critical mistake that will reduce your visibility across all devices, and can even lead to a user experience so poor that mobile conversions become almost impossible.

Building mobile-first is an important step in changing mindsets. It kickstarts wider thinking about other requirements for responsive web design, such as images with lower page speed load times. Whereas building with a desktop approach usually leads to more bad habits.

 

Q2: Why is AMP the technology I should consider for the mobile first index?

For all websites that are geared towards mobile conversion, AMP needs to be seriously considered. The technology helps serve landing pages to users as quickly as possible, which improves their experience and likelihood of remaining on-site. AMP has also been adopted and heavily promoted by Google within its SERPs, which means increased visibility and traffic.

AMP is also constantly improving as it is open source - this means that is an ideal collaborative technology that anyone can help to advance. 

 

Q3: How does AMP improve page speed?

AMP has three core pillars that improve speed:

AMP HTML standard

This the front-end markup framework used to create AMP pages. There is little difference between AMP HTML and regular HTML besides slight changes to the syntax. 

However, this framework functions much faster because of the way it loads images. Large images slow mobile devices, but AMP already scales these down by automatically converting to Webp - a highly efficient method of compression.

AMP utilises the power of pre-built components to provide a defined set of specialised mark-up code to deliver the most effective and lightweight pages possible. An example of this is the ‘amp-font’ component, which is used to trigger and monitor the loading of fonts - a process that can take valuable load time on a responsive or non-AMP page.

AMP JS library

The AMP JS (JavaScript) library is the magic behind the project. The library is not only used to power the functionality of the AMP components - it also decreases page load times even further.

The framework can pre-fetch components (such as images) from the AMP library before you have even clicked on the page. The library prioritises the loading of resources by downloading asynchronously, rather than all at the same time. This stops delays to page render. 

"Over time, websites have become bloated with JavaScript libraries and tracking pixels. AMP only loads what it needs, has clear definitions of what can be included, keeping bloat to a minimum - drastically improving load times."

- Steve Slade: Technical AMP Champ

AMP Cache

The AMP cache is where the validated AMP pages and resources are delivered to mobile users via Google’s proxy-based Content Delivery Network (CDN) providing the best user experience from anywhere across the world. This, and its use of the HTTP/2 transfer protocol leads to fast load times and transfer speeds.

 

Q4: Should I use Google AMP or Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)?

PWAs, like AMP, are a way of better serving mobile users. PWAs and AMP are different technological solutions but there are similarities. It doesn’t have to be a case of either or - both can be used. However, PWAs are more advanced so AMP usage would usually come first.

PWAs sit somewhere between a mobile website and an app. Traditionally, websites have greater reach but poorer functionality, whereas apps generally have poor reach (the average user installs 0 apps per month) but greater functionality. PWAs bridge that gap. PWAs are web applications that display websites but appear just like a native app so users can download them.

PWAs are worth exploring if you have sufficient resource, and are predicted to continue growing as an alternative or gateway to offering audiences native mobile apps. PWAs add greater interactivity to your website and prompt further engagement as they allow businesses to serve push notifications to users who have downloaded the app. 

Additionally, PWAs allow sections of your website to be used offline too. The major benefit of PWAs is that they do not restrict functionality, which is a fundamental drawback with AMP.

"AMP and PWA are fully interchangeable giving you a great head start in creating agile ultrafast applications that outperform Native Applications."

- Jonathan Verrall: Technical AMP Champ

However, AMP still has many benefits. The major advantage of AMP is speed. This is massively important as it influences user engagement, and is one of the many signals that help to shape Google’s ranking algorithm. There are various case studies demonstrating AMP’s improvement to click-through rates, conversion rates and revenue. 

Ultimately, the decision between investing in PWA or AMP is dictated by what type of content your website publishes and how users are intended to engage (and re-engage) with it. However, there are cases when both technologies can be beneficial.

 

Q5: Can AMPs be integrated into Google Analytics profiles and views?

Yes, it can but AMP requires separate code from the standard Google Analytics tracking set-up used on regular HTML pages. So, if you already have the standard tracking tags in place and you decide to implement AMP, you will need to utilise specific AMP analytics and Google’s AMP Client ID API. This will enable you uniquely identify users to synchronise their sessions across AMP and non-AMP content.

Without the specific AMP analytics in place, it is still possible to understand the number of sessions that originated on an AMP URL and were referred across to the non-AMP version. This can be seen within the ‘referrals’ section of your Google Analytics profile.

Acquisition > Referrals

This can be a pain point for webmasters. However, the benefits of AMP outweigh the challenges faced within analytics. 

"AMP is a must to get your Landing Pages mobile ready, avoid highly dynamic product listings to see the page load exceed your customer's expectations."

- John Exell: Analytics AMP Champ

 

Q6: Are we close to seeing whole websites created in AMP?

At the time of writing, the creation of complete websites created entirely in AMP is unlikely in the short term, due to the initial slow adoption of the technology. However, in the long term, it seems inevitable.

In fact, at the AMP Conference 2018 in Amsterdam, a new component was unveiled called AMP Stories, which is being trialled by several top media giants including CNN and The Washington Post. This new system effectively allows ‘standalone’ self-contained pages to be linked together in sequence, primarily containing rich media elements including video and imagery, with supportive text. If this proves to be popular with consumers and drives more engagement, it is highly likely that it will evolve into larger experiences and perhaps full websites.

 

Q7: If you had to sum up a good mobile SEO strategy in one sentence?

Build upwards using ‘mobile first’ methodology and assess how users engage with your content for insights such as the ideal length or usability pain points. 

If you want to find out more about how AMP can improve your mobile SEO strategy, please get in touch

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