AMP 101: Essential FAQs & Help for Photographers

AMP is an acronym for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and refers to Google’s open source project to make mobile search faster. Actually, not just fast. Their goal is instant.

Google first announced the AMP project back in October 2015 and it was initially aimed at news sites. Launched officially in February this year, it is now open to all sites. And thus, AMP is becoming mainstream fast (pun intended).

Here’s what the official page says,

Instant. Everywhere. For many, reading on the mobile web is a slow, clunky and frustrating experience – but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere.”

Yep, obsessed with speed. Aren’t we all? [UPDATE BELOW: 14 October 2016]

This tutorial is best viewed on a desktop or tablet.

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UPDATE 14/10/2016

Google has just announced that it’s switching from a desktop-focused index to a mobile-first index. This is a game changer. It means design must now be mobile-to-desktop driven, not the other way around (as has been the case). The roll out will happen within months. While certainly not unexpected, it is a little unnerving, and makes this article even more pertinent.

With mobile-first indexing, we’ll still have a single index just like the past (we haven’t built two). We still have several Googlebots to help crawl web and apps and get content: Googlebot for desktop, Googlebot for smartphone, Googlebot for images, etc. The difference is that we want to think of the mobile version of a page (the page retrieved by Googlebot for smartphones) as the primary version of the content.”

(Maile Ohye, Google’s Developer Programs Tech Lead. Emphasis added.)

How Does AMP Work?

Because the page-loading speed of websites is still fairly slow on mobile, an AMP page is a “doctored” version of the webpage, a page stripped down to the bare bones. As such, it provides only “necessary” content to the mobile viewer.

Here are two mobile versions of one of my test sites:

Mobile Non-AMP Version

Mobile Non-AMP Version

This mobile responsive, image-rich page looks good on mobile, and the content is well spaced as the viewer scrolls down.

Mobile AMP Version

Mobile AMP Version

This is the same page stripped-down to its bare bones even though I’ve added a navigational menu and share buttons.

The important thing to note is that an AMPed page is generated solely for mobile search.

This means two things:

  • It does not affect desktop or tablet search. (And let’s hope it stays that way.)
  • It is solely generated for search result pages.

In other words, it doesn’t replace your mobile version. If you type your URL into the browser on your mobile, you’ll get your usual mobile page. If someone clicks to your site from anywhere other than a search results page, they’ll see your normal mobile version on their mobile device.

To be clear, the AMP version is used solely by Google Search in search results.

Essentially, every page or post on a website can have an AMP version of itself. When the page appears in mobile search results, it’s denoted by the little lightning bolt icon.

AMP Lightning Bolt Icon

(And yes, if you’re wondering, this is Google’s response to Facebook Instant Articles and Apple’s News.)

Is AMP a Good Thing?

Ugg & Lee (by Craig Kirkby), AMPNot everyone is thrilled about the news. A stripped-down, bare-bones version of our webpages may suit content-heavy news sites and the like, but for sites that are image-rich or animation-savvy, this isn’t great news.

In our obsession with speed, we lose a great deal. (The story of modern man?)

Joost de Valk (founder and CEO of Yoast and creator of the excellent Yoast SEO WordPress plugin) had this to say in his weekly newsletter:

The basic idea of AMP is that they’ve modified HTML to restrict it quite a bit. A lot of the functionality we can offer on web pages today won’t be allowed within AMP pages, which makes making it faster quite easy. Let’s compare this to a race car. If you want to make a race car faster, you give it a faster engine and you strip all the weight. In this weight stripping you also remove things like back seats, air conditioning, etc. AMP is not unlike that. It’s the trimmed down version of a normal web, because Google cares for speed more than for nifty features.

AMP basically brings us back to an internet from before 2000. AMP throws away years of advancement, with the only goal being to make the web faster. I like fast, but I like features more. There’s a reason most of us ride in cars with air conditioning, back seats, GPS etc. We like these features. I can’t see this as an improvement.”

However, he concludes in his subsequent article on the matter:

Regardless of my opinion though, with Google pushing it this hard, news sites and blogs basically have no choice but to implement it. Google is giving prime real estate to AMP pages in mobile search results, and if you don’t have AMP on your site, you’re not getting any of that traffic.”

Enough said.

Is AMP a Ranking Signal?

Not at this point. At the SEJ Summit in Chicago, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes said,

Currently, AMP is not a mobile ranking factor.”

If you’re anything like me, you probably read the word “currently” with foreboding. It may not currently be a mobile ranking factor, but it’s only a matter of time.

There are a few people who think that AMP is simply another one of Google’s fads, like Google Authorship, which came and went with the breeze. However, most feel AMP is here to stay. Certainly, with the amount of traction already gathered, it’s best to get in on the action rather than being left in the dust.

Plus, Gary Illyes claims that AMP pages have an average load time that’s four times faster, 90% of publishers are seeing higher CTRs and 80% of publishers are getting more views. (Yes, these are canned results. Since Google is intentionally profiling these pages, they’re naturally going to get more traffic.) Still, if AMP is working, Google’s not going to abandon it.

And to be honest, when I’m looking for specific information on my mobile, I’m happy to avoid being swamped by excessive images, ads and animation. To this end, AMP certainly delivers. And remember, UX (user experience) is big on Google’s agenda.

Does AMP Replace Mobile Responsiveness?

No. Mobile responsiveness is crucial for your site to work well on mobile devices, and is how the majority of site visitors will experience your site on mobile. So, make sure you ace Google’s mobile-friendly test.

Again, AMP is used by Google Search to offer your super-fast, stripped-down version in search results.

For articles on mobile responsiveness, please see:

Google Goes Mobile Gaga

Image Optimization: Balancing Image Size & Page Speed

How to AMP Your Website? (WordPress Users)

Every website software handles this differently, but for WordPress users there are ready-made solutions.

WordPress Plugins, AMPAutomattic, the creators of WordPress, have created a plugin called (surprise, surprise) AMP, which sets up the AMP infrastructure for your site. It then gives you a few options to customise the look. And I mean, a few options. Like hardly anything.

WordPress Plugins, Glue for Yoast SEO & AMPTo augment this basic set-up, Team Yoast have created a plugin that offers additional customisation. It’s called Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP. (Yes, you need to install both plugins.)

Both plugins are still works-in-progress and further development will follow. In time, the Yoast team will incorporate their plugin’s additional customisation within their popular Yoast SEO plugin. However, they’ll still use the Automattic plugin as a baseline.

The problem with Automattic’s plugin is that they only AMP your WordPress posts at this point. In other words, with their plugin, you cannot AMP your WordPress pages yet. For those who have built strong keyword-rich pages (who hasn’t?), this is a bummer.

WordPress Plugins, AMP ToolboxThere is another plugin available that also augments Automattic’s plugin but it handles pages as well as posts. It’s called AMP for WordPress – Accelerated Mobile Pages. Until Automattic updates their basic plugin to handle pages, this is probably a better bet than Yoast’s plugin, as Joost de Valk has stated his team are also waiting on Automattic to develop the technology to AMP pages.

Use Automattic’s AMP plugin PLUS either AMP for WordPress or Yoast’s Glue plugin.

Finally, you can validate your pages and posts at Google’s AMP Validator.

What About My Images? (Help for Photographers)

Yes, this is a big issue for image-rich sites, especially photographers.

As is well known, Google gorges on content. Even in their opening spiel of the AMP’s official site, their love for content is evident. Recall, they said, “For many, reading on the mobile web is a slow, clunky and frustrating experience.” (What about those of us who want to see and watch?)

So, what can we do about our images?

Both the Toolbox and Glue plugins allow for a static featured image. So, get into the habit of adding a quality featured image to your main pages.

But what about a slider of images?

While AMP’s amp-carousel tag can technically display a carousel of images, different slider software responds in a variety of ways. With inconsistent results.

Some sliders don’t work at all, which is no good. Many turn the slider into a heap of images stacked one on top of another. Not the end of the world, but still not ideal … especially if you’ve got 15-20 images in your gallery. The WordPress plugin Jetpack offers a slideshow gallery that works, even if it’s a little clunky. (And it’s not everybody’s favourite choice in the first place.)

So, what do you do about your gallery pages if your gallery slider doesn’t integrate with AMP? There are two options.

What About My Home Page?

I’m of the opinion that it’s worth creating a new Home page just for AMP. Not a replacement page, mind. A second page that’s geared for AMP.

Why? The home page is normally one of the most eye-catching  pages on a site, right? And thus, it’s the page that suffers most when stripped-down to the bare bones.

So, create a new AMPed home page that includes…

  • all your original home page’s keyword-rich content,
  • a great featured image, and
  • a closing paragraph with clear internal links that direct your site visitors to your priority pages.

Then, and don’t forget these steps…

  • Add a canonical link on the AMP page back to the original home page (to avoid duplicate content).
  • “Hide” AMP on the original home page.

CONCLUSION

I trust that covers the essential FAQs. If you still have questions, you could also peruse the official FAQ page. For those of you who don’t run WordPress, you’re going to need to quiz your web developer or software provider for further help.

As mentioned, AMP is relatively new and the tools to help are also in their infancy. Despite these adequate tools, many are reporting any number of implementation problems. Here’s an article from Search Engine Watch wherein the author expresses his utter frustration with AMP implementation given the huge amount of time he’s invested into it.

My own tests on two guinea pig sites have proven more fruitful. I am now in the process of AMPing all of my own websites to take advantage of this new development. I’ll post updates to this article in the weeks ahead below (toggle to view). Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to stay in the loop.

Get Help!

If you run a WordPress site and fear to tread where angels wince, I offer an AMP integration service. Get your website AMPed today!

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