Google wants you to use the web. The web, after all, is Google’s home turf. To encourage you to stay in your browser on your phone rather than switching over to apps, the search giant today will start giving preference to pages built with its fast-loading tech known as Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP.
This is how it will work. When you run a Google search for, say, Kanye’s The Life of Pablo on your phone, you see a carousel of news stories at the top of the search result. Before today, Google selected those stories based on criteria for ranking news stories in search such as relevance and speed. Starting today, however, stories that have AMP versions will get priority. “AMP is a requirement,” says David Besbris, Google’s vice president of engineering for search.
Google started the AMP project, first announced last fall, to build a speedier mobile web. Unlike Facebook Instant Articles, a similar endeavor that speeds up pages on Facebook alone, Google launched open source AMP as a way to speed up links all across the mobile web. And that matters to Google—a lot. More than anything else, Google is an ad business. And most of that business is on the web.
For all the time you spend on your phone, you probably don’t have the patience to stay in any one place for too long. You won’t wait if a page takes too long to load. Google says that AMP pages will load around four times faster. They’ll also use 10 times less data than non-AMP pages, the company claims. “There’s a shift between really fast to instant,” Besbris says.
But AMP only works if Google can sell publishers on the idea that AMP benefits them, too. To start, the onus rests on publishers to create AMP versions of their stories. To AMP-ify its pages, a publisher adds open source code to tell Google’s web crawlers that an AMP version exists. That AMP version will then be the one that loads when a reader does a search on their phones.
Anyone can do it to their site: publishers, bloggers, you with, say, your personal site. But at the outset, Google is focusing primarily on online news. Dozens of publishers worked closely with Google on the AMP rollout, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and Vox Media.
“Everyone came together to think about all the pieces that make up the mobile web,” says Cory Haik, the chief strategy officer of millennial news site Mic. In addition to news publishers, Google brought in advertising, analytics, video, and tech companies, like Twitter and Pinterest, to discuss how to best build AMP to speed up pages without leaving the necessities out.
When AMP pages load, they prioritize the story content, then load videos, ads, and more data-intensive features afterwards. Even though they’re simplified, AMP pages will incorporate ads, analytics, and paywall support, if publishers have them. Ads, however, can’t obscure the text in an AMP page—no pop-ups! And instead of the myriad trackers that can drag out page loading times, Google says AMP pages will incorporate just one piece of code that will then share data across analytics firms like Adobe Analytics, Chartbeat, and comScore.
While important, Google search may not be how you find most of your news online. But publishers say they do get enough readers from searches to make optimizing those links matter. To start, AMP pages will also only show up via links clicked in mobile browsers. In coming months, Google will incorporate it into its Android and iOS Search apps.
You will also begin to see more AMP links popping up in your Twitter feed or on your Pinterest boards. Pinterest announced today that more than 700,000 pins already on Pinterest from publishers ranging from Cosmopolitan to The Verge will be converted to AMP. Besbris says that news and other social apps can also incorporate AMP. News reader Nuzzel already supports AMP pages on its app. WordPress said today that all WordPress.com pages will automatically be AMP-ified; it has developed a plugin so self-hosted pages will support AMP as well.
“Links are a core part of Twitter,” Michael Ducker, a Twitter product manager working on AMP, says. He won’t say when Twitter expects all links to be converted to AMP but says he supports the idea behind it. “The open web is a core part of Twitter.”
Ultimately, Google wants its AMP project to help you read stories faster no matter where you get the links. But by prioritizing AMP pages in mobile search, Google is, in a sense, using both a carrot (have a speedy user experience!) and a stick (… or else lose out on priority real estate!) to get publishers to AMP-ify their stories.
For Google, this is a competitive necessity. Facebook has improved the speed of stories in its walled garden with Instant Articles. Apple News provides a streamlined experience on iPhones for those who use it. Google’s turf is the web, and the company doesn’t want to lose out to more user-friendly spots outside its reach on your phone. Speed matters on mobile. Google wants to make sure you know it serves up stories just as fast as everywhere else.