With Accelerated Mobile Pages Coming This Month, Google Aims to Reinvent the Mobile Web

Search Giant Tries to Invigorate Mobile Web, Where It Wants Consumers to Stay

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Some publications already have AMP live. At the Guardian, for example, type "/amp" at the end of a URL to see the AMP format. Credit: Google

It's a challenging time for the mobile web. Apps are dominating consumers' time on the devices they carry, and ad blockers are spreading as people try to speed up the mobile web browsing they must do.

But later this month, Google will try to hit reset on all that. It is finally ready to go wide with its Accelerated Mobile Page initiative, allowing any participating publisher to deliver content at lightning-quick speed through the mobile web.

Google's push will surely change the media landscape for both consumers and anyone with a stake in digital advertising. The Accelerated Mobile Pages effort, better known as AMP, is a direct response to similar but proprietary platforms like Facebook's Instant Articles and Apple's News. Unlike them, however, AMP is open source, meaning anyone can use it. And it works for the web, where Google wants consumers to stay, instead of rivals' apps.

In short, AMP is like a diet version of HTML. It is extremely fast and incredibly quick when it comes to loading. JavaScript is essentially non-existent, for now at least, and images won't load until they're in the user's view. AMP will also deliver content much faster because it will be cached via the cloud, meaning Google won't have to fetch it from a publisher's site each time a request is made.

The end result is a near instantaneous content delivery system.

Come launch, publishers will be able to track analytics and sell ads. Solutions for paywalls were put into place Tuesday. And, crucially, Google favors faster* sites over others with the same search score in the results it shows consumers, said Richard Gingras, senior director, news and social products at Google.

"Clearly, AMP takes speed to a point of extreme," Mr. Gingras said. "So, obviously we look to leverage that. Again, it is only one signal. AMP doesn't mean adopt AMP and get a massive boost in search ranking. That is not the case. All of the other signals need to be satisfied as well. But without question speed matters. If we had two articles that from a signaling perspective scored the same in all other characteristics but for speed, then yes we will give an emphasis to the one with speed because that is what users find compelling."

AMP articles will be accessible from Google search, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn or, potentially, anywhere online.

While technological advancements have enhanced online user experiences in many ways, they've also inflated the average web page to 2 to 10 megabytes. "That is huge but slow," Mr. Gingras said. "This is a problem when you are talking about a world that is becoming more and more mobile."

The entire project, from hatching out the idea to rolling it out globally, has taken about nine months. When it first started, AMP had several dozen publishers on board, but now boasts "hundreds if not thousands," Mr. Gingras said.

"Talk is one thing, but delivering on that talk is another," Mr. Gingras said. "The depth of collective collaboration that has happened here has been historical."

Publishers' new landscape
To overhaul the mobile web in such a short time, Google needed to get top tier publishers and ad tech vendors on board.

New York-based Kargo, which is one of about 20 AMP approved ad tech vendors, has been working with publishers like the New York Times, Washington Post and Hearst to prepare for AMP's launch.

"There is a sense among publishers that they messed up on desktop," said Kargo President Ryan McConville. "They felt they didn't innovate fast enough for desktop and that they got left behind. Now, Snapchat's Discover platform comes along. Facebook Instant Articles comes along. AMP comes along -- publishers will now try everything. But it doesn't mean they're really happy about it. They are just trying because they don't want to miss the bus as it's leaving a station."

Allen Duan, office of the chief technology officer at Hearst, has described being on so many different platforms as a continuous evolution of distribution. "We are figuring this out," Mr. Duan said. "The number of partners we are working with, if you look at the ad tech companies, has been growing immensely."

Mr. Duan said the platforms on which consumers encounter Hearst content have expanded significantly over the past three years. So have the costs involved, as Hearst has been forced to hire more engineers, user experience and product and editorial staff.

Still, readership has also grown, Mr Duan said.

Readers who prefer light-hearted content can visit Hearst through Snapchat Discover while those who are seeking more traditional news information might use their mobile web browser, for example.

Mr. Duan added that Hearst is excited about delivering video through AMP in the near future, and seeing how that plays out.

"We don't see it as an 'or' we see it as an 'and,'" said Julia Beizer, director of product at the Washington Post. "Our fundamental belief is that experience will always win. Consumers will gravitate to experiences that load quickly. We have been really excited to work with Facebook, Apple and Google -- there are opportunities in each of them."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Google would favor AMP sites in search results over others with otherwise identical scores. Google will simply favor faster sites. We regret the error.