Google Revs Up Mobile Web With AMP, But What About Marketers?

Delivering Content and Ads at Blazing Speeds Via the Mobile Web Is Only Half the Battle

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A group of top-tier publishers will help launch Google's answer to Facebook Instant Articles on Wednesday as the search titan attempts to reinvent the mobile web with its Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative. But Google may need brands' help before too long if it really wants to build a new standard.

"It is part of what we are thinking about from an innovation standpoint long-term," said Craig DiNatali, director-news and magazine partnerships at Google. "I'm sure they [brands] would be interested in the experience of being able to render a landing page faster. I certainly see the appeal there."

Unfortunately for Google, and perhaps for consumers as well, marketers are still struggling to adjust to the mobile web as it stands, so they may not be quick to jump into AMP.

"Brands will be watching this space with great interest as they want to enjoy the best mobile presence that they can," said Trevor Fellows, head of global media sales at The Wall Street Journal. "But as we all know, there are many brands that have yet to fully optimize their own mobile experience, so I expect that we'll see uneven adoption."

AMP pages, which Google says load 85% faster than standard mobile web pages, are Google's answer to proprietary platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. Unlike those, AMP is open source, meaning anyone can use it. That's because Google wants AMP to be the new standard for the mobile web, which it desperately needs to remain vibrant even as consumers spend far more of their time with apps. Google makes the bulk of its money from keyword advertising on the open web, not in the walled gardens of apps.

Publishers, too, are eager to see the mobile web improve, potentially drawing more readers to more articles with a better experience. The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed and Vox are all introducing AMP sites this week.

"The majority of major publishers we work with are either actively working on AMP or have plans to work on AMP later this year," said Kunal Gupta, CEO of ad tech company Polar, an AMP launch partner that deals with more than 2,000 publishers. "They have expectations to drive revenue from it."

Those expectations may be complicated, however, until and unless advertisers adopt AMP themselves. Consumers who grow accustomed to AMP speeds might be turned off if they click ads on AMP sites that take them to the older, slower mobile web. That would just evoke bad ad experiences going back to the desktop web.

"The reason people don't click on mobile banner ads—or mobile ads in general—is because they can anticipate what is going to happen after the click," Mr. Gupta said. "So they don't want to engage. The moment we have low-quality advertising in AMP, the whole purpose behind AMP goes away."

Ads on AMP

Since the announcement in October that AMP was coming, the conversation has mainly focused on publishers and ad tech vendors, and rightfully so. Along with Google, these are the ones trying to create a new mobile web standard, one that would rid consumers of slow-loading pages and, at the same time, generate more revenue for themselves.

But plenty of publishers will remain on the sidelines at the start, along with a benchful of ad units that are being ejected despite their popularity with marketers.

Jake Goldman, president and founder of ad tech company 10UP, which had been working with Wordpress and some of its clients to get ready for AMP, said, "A lot of publishers have adopted interstitials—Forbes does a lot of these—and those are totally off the table."

Elements that are script-based and video that visitors have to watch before they get to the content they want are also off-limits.

Mr. Goldman said he and others are watching to see how Google search results will index AMP pages with more than three ads, for example. "Google has not been incredibly clear about what they are really going to allow," said Mr. Goldman.

Of course, AMP's success will rely on its ability to generate revenue for publishers, turning around a mobile experience that has been subpar for them at least as much as for consumers. "There is a sense that publishers screwed up on mobile," said Jonah Goodhart, CEO at Moat, an AMP launch partner and ad tech company that gives publishers insight to viewability, among other things.

"I don't think we ever sat down as an industry and said, 'Let's create a mobile-first universe,'" Mr. Goodhart added. "We all said, 'Let's build mini versions that are smaller versions of our desktop pages."

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