An Inside View of AMP’s Search Impact

As Google prepares to expand AMP links in search results, here’s a look at what AMP-enabled publishers are seeing today — and what those on the sidelines might be missing.

Barb Palser
Aug 8, 2016 · 5 min read

Later this year, Google plans to start linking to Accelerated Mobile Pages in all search results. That announcement sparked new interest and urgency among publishers hoping to understand the current and potential benefits of AMP.

Relay Media provides an AMP conversion engine to publishers — and since April, we’ve been monitoring performance trends for the local and national news publishers using our service.

AMP is designed to improve content performance on the open mobile web in three areas: Engagement, monetization and reach. We’ll cover engagement and monetization in future posts; here are some observations about AMP’s initial reach impact at this early stage.

We see exposure benefits to AMP-enabled publishers in a few specific contexts:

Location-Based News Search

Local publishers in particular see a modest flow of search traffic from general location-based queries, for example “Local News” or “Des Moines News.” Google frequently uses the AMP Carousel to display results for these queries, which clearly benefits AMP-enabled publishers:

AMP carousel featured in location-based search for “Des Moines News.”

(The carousel for location-based queries is a bit inconsistent at this point; it appears most of the time but not always, and the featured stories are not always the most recent or relevant.)

Big Stories

Today, AMP exposure comes mostly (not exclusively) from Google, and mostly (not exclusively) from the AMP search results carousel, which is invoked when a search returns multiple relevant AMP articles. As a result, AMP traffic tends to be consolidated among stories with enough significance and interest to appear in the carousel. When that happens, the AMP version of an article can easily get 20–40% of total traffic to the article, including desktop and mobile views from all sources:

Typical article with sustained traffic over time. AMP views may spike to 50–60% of total article views initially, leveling off over time.

It’s impossible to know when AMP traffic replaces standard mobile views vs. providing incremental lift, but we can make informed assumptions. When a publisher’s article appears prominently in the AMP carousel but the standard version is not prominent in desktop search results, we assume some AMP-driven lift. When the article is equally prominent in desktop search results, we assume the publisher would have gotten top billing in mobile results if AMP didn’t exist.

One thing is certain: Non-AMP-enabled publishers are exempt from the carousel and therefore disadvantaged to some degree in mobile search.

AMP Spikes

We see a high incidence of what we call “AMP Spikes,” when an article of national or viral interest is vaulted into the #1 or #2 slot in the AMP search results carousel, resulting in a dramatic albeit short-lived traffic spike.

For example, a publisher’s article might briefly appear in the #1 carousel slot for a search term such as “Pokemon,” “Powerball,” or “Trump.”

Typical AMP spike in which traffic is clearly driven by the appearance of an AMP article in Google’s AMP carousel. The AMP version gets anywhere from 60–90% of total desktop and mobile views for the article, but traffic falls quickly as other articles rotate into the carousel.

Often, an AMP spike propels a small uptick in social referrals to AMP content, as users share the AMP version of an article. Sometimes, a secondary traffic boost occurs when the non-AMP version is featured prominently in search results.

Some AMP articles spike in the carousel before there is any significant traffic to the non-AMP version. In this case, a non-AMP spike occurred several hours after the AMP spike.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to AMP; publishers have always experienced random traffic windfalls thanks to the idiosyncrasies of search algorithms. AMP spikes seem to occur with particularly high frequency and impact — perhaps due in part to the carousel’s eye-catching display, and the fact that many publishers still are not AMP-enabled, creating more opportunity for those who are.

Overall Lift

Taking a top-down view, publishers we’ve worked and spoken with aren’t reporting an obvious lift in overall traffic from Google.

This is not too surprising, as the initial opportunity for AMP exposure is generally limited to search referrals to mobile articles. Not only that, but the carousel is geared toward very recent news; older, long-tail AMP articles are unlikely to be surfaced in the carousel or Top Stories area. We only have a toe in the water.

At the same time, AMP-enabled publishers are clearly getting better exposure in mobile search than non-AMP-enabled publishers, which must lend some comparative advantage and might reveal long-term benefits as well.

What Happens Next

Sometime this fall, Google is expected to start consistently linking to AMP articles in text search results (aka “blue links”). This is already happening in the Top Stories area of search results, in a limited manner:

Google sometimes surfaces AMP articles in Top Stories text links when there are relevant AMP results but not enough of them to invoke the carousel. With the coming expansion, AMP versions will be surfaced throughout search results.

When the expansion occurs, Google will send significantly more traffic to AMP articles, and long-tail AMP content will get exposure that doesn’t occur today. So will non-news content; AMP was never intended to be limited to news publishers.

While Google has stated that AMP content won’t get preferential treatment in its algorithms, it has indicated that page load speed will be considered in rankings because it’s a major factor in user experience and engagement. With the average mobile page taking 19 seconds to load, it’s reasonable to expect that load times under 700 or 800 milliseconds (very achievable for AMP content on an optimized CDN) will be a plus.

SEO shouldn’t be the main incentive for AMP adoption, though. AMP isn’t about gaming the system and the eternal jockeying for incremental advantages. A publisher who checks the box by rendering basic AMP pages may see some short-term benefit but will fall behind in the long-run.

AMP is a canvas for delivering a fast, clean user experience that allows quality content to shine, and provides a well-lit environment for performance-based monetization. Its objective is broad participation across the digital content ecosystem, driven by demonstrable benefits to publishers, users and advertisers. Get the engagement and monetization parts right, and other metrics will rise as well. This is Relay Media’s focus.

Contact us if you’d like to join a growing group of reputable publishers using our AMP solution, and follow us for future posts and updates!

Relay Media offers an AMP conversion engine that’s feature-rich but low-cost and easy to integrate with any website. We offer the benefits of a robust AMP implementation, plus shared insights and best practices, with none of the development cost.

Relay Media

Relay Media converts publishers’ standard web content to…

Relay Media

Relay Media converts publishers’ standard web content to AMP HTML, the new format for instantly-loading mobile pages with support for ads, analytics and paywalls. Relay Media’s AMP Converter technology was acquired by Google in October 2017.

Barb Palser

Written by

Head of Product, Relay Media, Inc.

Relay Media

Relay Media converts publishers’ standard web content to AMP HTML, the new format for instantly-loading mobile pages with support for ads, analytics and paywalls. Relay Media’s AMP Converter technology was acquired by Google in October 2017.