It has been almost a year since Google introduced AMP, short for Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP is essentially an alternative version of your website that is designed using the AMP standard. The alternative version of your site is hosted on servers around the world, instead of your own. AMP pages are fast, but not-fancy.
Early adopters are unequivocally praising the speed gains and the consequent benefits to their website. The promise of cutting down page load time by four times attracts many. What’s more, AMP pages consume eight times less data.
But the most important question for site owners is – do accelerated mobile pages improve SEO? Let’s find out.
Page Size As A Ranking Factor
When Billy Hoffman, the founder of Hoompf, researched rank factors back in 2013 they found that Google gave better rankings to websites with "heavier" page sizes. Surprised? The rationale behind it is that heavier pages are more sophisticated with images, ads, third party widgets, and fonts. The example they gave was of Amazon versus some small business. It's a given that Amazon would have better and more sophisticated back-end infrastructure. However, come 2015 everyone was going mobile. That’s why Google introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP strips down page overhead and simplifies it so web pages can load faster.
Loading Speed As A Ranking Factor
AMP in itself is not a major Google ranking factor, but page loading speed is. Google uses Chrome user data to get a better handle on a page’s loading time as this takes into account server speed, Content Delivery Network (CDN) usage and other non HTML-related site speed signals. Sites with lower ‘Time to First Byte’ (the speed a page loads) perform better and tend to have higher rankings compared to sites with higher ‘Time to First Byte’. When people are reading your articles on the go, you need to have fastest possible load speed so they can see your content, no matter what their data speed.
AMP "Pushes" Non-AMP Pages Down
When Google and Twitter sat down to create AMP, they had mobile users in mind, and of course Facebook (but that’s for another time). AMP pushes organic results down by giving those pages precedence and inserting them into page formats like the carousel, so non-AMP sites seem to have no other option but to upgrade. What’s more, if you do adopt AMP, you may see yourself pushed higher in search results through no additional SEO efforts (maybe).
There are many new code validating tools, plugins, and centralized resources for web developers and publishers as AMP continues to improve and evolve. The best part is that it is open source, and available for Wordpress, so other than your time and resources, there may be less burden integrating AMP. But it isn't for everyone. If you use a content management system like Hubspot (like we do) you're out of luck - at least for the time-being.
Does AMP Help with SEO?
So the answer to your question is, yes, AMP does provide SEO value, indirectly. The three factors that it affects, and that also affect your SEO are page size, loading speed and mobile optimization. AMP cuts down page sizes, improves loading speed and is optimized for mobile. So cumulatively this can have a positive effect on your SEO. AMP is expanding as well. They are experimenting with rich snippet cards, different carousel formats and images to make it more aesthetically pleasing and useful.
Will I Be Penalized If I Don't Use AMP?
When asked, “Will my website be penalized if I don’t use AMP?” Dave Besbris, Vice President of Engineering, Google, said: “We don’t penalize websites. Google and search depend on a healthy experience of the web which is why we’re very invested in making this work.” That said, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are many drawbacks too.
Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News are both focused on performance and pay a lot of attention to aesthetics. The look and feel of both the platforms is simple, yet modern and elegant. Both platforms have components that allow for the slick and smooth interactions we typically associate with bespoke reading experiences. Compare that to a site created using AMP (at least today) and many think it makes your web content look clumsy.
The AMP Walled Garden
AMP cached pages don't live on your website, but are distributed to many servers around the world. This makes the content load faster because it isn't pulled from your server to be delivered a great distance. But special AMP pages must be created to enable this. AMP doesn't allow for a lot of creativity web designers are used to. Many SEO experts and designers have expressed displeasure at walled or closed gardens because of this.
Downsides to AMP
Because content is distributed to other servers, AMP seems to create a parallel web for publishers but it’s restrictive environment that cuts down fluff (important fluff IMHO) may have publishers backing out. Some say that rather than creating an alternative, lighter version of your website, why not make web a better place by making your main websites better? Conversely, if AMP results are really pushing down non-AMP results - will regular SEO even matter? The debate is on.
While Google might not directly count AMP as a ranking factor, it does seem to indirectly punish websites that haven’t switched to AMP yet. But AMP is very restrictive. The investment required to create an "alternative" light versio of your site can be minimal, or not. Nevertheless, soon you may see more publishers making the move to AMP even with the hassle due to possible incremental SEO gains. The bottom line is if you are getting more views and clicks with minimum amount of overhead and investment, why not do it? We can just cross our fingers that AMP doesn’t become the RSS of tomorrow!
Avinash Nair is a Digital Marketer at E2M, one of India’s fastest growing Digital Marketing Agencies committed to meeting the highest ethical standards of digital marketing strategies and drive sustainable business growth. He is responsible for Content Marketing and SEO Services. You can find him on Twitter: @AviNair52