Accelerated Mobile Pages for WordPress: A Primer on Google AMP

Google’s obsession with speed should come as no surprise. All the way back in 2010 they put everyone on notice that site speed was going to become an important ranking signal in Google’s algorithm. Since then, we’ve all been looking for little ways to improve how quickly our website loads in an attempt to keep the search giant and ultimately our visitors happy.

On October 7, 2015, Google announced the AMP Project — short for accelerated mobile pages. If your search rankings are important to you, it’d be a good idea to get up to speed and make sure you’re well-versed on how AMP works. If you are producing content on a regular basis, AMP offers benefits not only in the SERPs but also for your visitors and advertisers.

Why Accelerated Mobile Pages?

Accelerated Mobile Pages are Google’s answer to a web that has become more mobile friendly in terms of display yet increasingly slow when it comes to rendering. It’s an experience we’ve all had at some point in time when using a mobile device.

One approach to this problem has been the introduction of ad-blockers. However, critics hailed that as a disguised attempt at disrupting Google’s ad revenues. Browsers have even stepped into the mix with solutions like Reader View stripping away all but the bare essentials from a web page with a single click. This is a solution that often works but at the same time, can make the browsing experience somewhat drab.

Google’s solution to the common problem of a poor mobile experience is AMP. Instead of stripping out everything but content, it seems they’ve done a great job of finding a balance between speed, user experience and monetization. To replace a plain-vanilla, content-only experience, Google has retained many features that are most important to website owners and advertisers. At last count, AMP offered support for 20 ad networks along with support for tracking pixels, video and more.

Although not a perfect solution, AMP solves a problem that many website owners are faced with: Optimizing for speed. The cost of optimization in an attempt to improve page speed can quickly become a never-ending pursuit. For interest sake, a great example of a fast loading site (possibly the only non-AMP site that loads faster than AMP sites according to Google) is

The Basics of AMP

Accelerated Mobile Pages are essentially regular HTML pages that must adhere to a strict set of criteria. The result is a page that according to Google, loads on average, 4 times faster and uses 10 times less data — something your mobile data bill will also appreciate.

Creating AMP pages requires some specific markup that is non-negotiable. Beyond that, there is actually plenty of flexibility as far as what can be included in an AMP page. Images, video, ads, third-party content, tracking pixels and iFrames are all possible, as well as external scripts, as long as they are asynchronous.

Many elements require the use of an AMP-specific tag such as amp-img, amp-iframe and amp-video. It’s also important to note that external stylesheets are a no-go and inline CSS is limited to 50kb — an amount that Google determined was more than enough to create a great looking web page.

Along with the unique requirements, there are plenty of things which are disallowed in AMP. For a detailed list, you can check out the AMP HTML Spec page.

Accelerated Mobile Pages for WordPress

Accelerated Mobile Pages WordPress

In addition to the unique requirements for creating AMP pages, there are also several important things to know:

  1. Accelerated mobile pages for WordPress are created and published on your site as you normally would. Those pages that meet the strict AMP requirements are then cached and served by Google. Although it appears the use of Google’s CDN will be optional, most content publishers will likely take Google up of their free CDN offer. As a result, links to your AMP content will actually be linked to Google’s cached version.
  2. AMP pages can still link out to non-AMP content so it’s still possible to link readers back to your original site. Because AMP content will receive priority on mobile devices, I’d expect to see plenty of AMP pages trying to drive traffic back to a non-AMP website where users can once again be bombarded with popups and other unfriendly practices.
  3. At this stage, AMP has received widespread support from major publishers. And while small publishers may lack the capacity to develop AMP-specific content, WordPress has solved that issue with the release of an AMP Plugin. The plugin currently creates an AMP version of all posts on your site — pages and archives are not yet supported.

AMP Results in a Better Mobile Experience for Your Visitors

Not surprisingly, there has been some grumbling about AMP. The need to create and publish two separate version of content can certainly be cause for concern. However, as AMP becomes more popular, the process will probably become frictionless.

With AMP, Google is tackling what has become a major problem. There are far too many websites that while mobile friendly, are basically a scaled down and bloated desktop version. Despite a few small drawbacks, AMP should provide a vastly improved browsing experience that keeps site owners, advertisers and readers happy.

If you’ve recently implemented Accelerated Mobile Pages for WordPress, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.