When Speed Matters Most: AMP in a Hurricane

On most days a fast, light mobile page is a convenience. During a disaster it’s essential.

As the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project celebrated its one-year anniversary last week, Google published a series of encouraging infographics and case studies about AMP’s speed, engagement and monetization benefits.

At the same time Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the southeastern U.S., giving news publishers a very real use case for AMP — not as an ancillary format, but a component of their core audience strategy and public service mission.

The Perfect Storm

While AMP traffic typically spikes during big stories, a hurricane (or other widespread emergency) takes things to another level.

A few things are going on:

  • Mobile usage spikes as people who are away from their televisions and desktop computers — and sometimes without power — rely on smartphones to stay abreast of the rapidly developing situation.
  • Search spikes as people hunt for specific information such as storm path projections, evacuation routes, traffic updates and shelter information. Since AMP is currently surfaced primarily in search, any mobile search event is now an AMP event.
  • Volume spikes overall, not just among residents affected by the storm but also loved ones concerned about friends and family.

Sometimes this surge of demand overloads mobile networks, causing already sluggish pages to become excruciatingly slow or not load at all. Even on a stable network, 19 seconds (or even 10 seconds) can feel like an eternity to someone looking for critical information.

With its enforced performance standards, use of Google’s speedy CDN and lazy load of non-essential elements, AMP offers a solution. As users become accustomed to a 10x faster AMP experience, their tolerance for slow pages — every day and especially in emergencies— will evaporate.

Hurricane Matthew AMP Audience

Relay Media supports a number of local and national media sites on our AMP conversion platform. For the week of October 1–7, we saw AMP grow from 15% of nationwide mobile article traffic to 21% across all publishers for whom we can track AMP and non-AMP article traffic.

For individual properties in states in Hurricane Matthew’s path, we saw AMP rise as high as 60% of total mobile article traffic on certain days. The average peak for properties in southeastern coastal states was 39%. This underscores the heightened reach of AMP for a heavily mobile, heavily search-driven story.

AMP as a percent of total mobile article traffic (iOS and Android) for publishers using Relay Media’s AMP solution.

AMP Publishers Are Absolutely Advantaged

If those AMP numbers seem surprisingly high, get ready for them to go even higher:

  • Only AMPs are eligible for Google’s mobile Top Stories carousel. As more AMP content is created, Google’s AMP Top Stories carousel and other AMP experiences will appear more often, pushing down non-AMP content in general search results. An October 8 search for “hurricane matthew path” returned the following results page:
Google search for “hurricane matthew path.” Only AMP content is visible in the first viewport.
  • Only AMPs will be eligible for the upcoming Live Coverage carousel. Google is developing a Live Coverage carousel for breaking news, elections, sports and other ongoing events. The carousel will be populated by AMP content which publishers push to Google’s real-time index. (Relay Media will provide real-time index support for publishers on our platform as well as publishers who are handling their own AMP conversion. Contact us to express interest.)
  • AMP content is highlighted in search. While Google says it won’t discriminate against non-AMP content in general mobile search results (but may penalize slow sites), users may learn to favor AMP. The lightning bolt icon that identifies AMPs in search results (similar to Facebook’s Instant Articles icon) is relatively subtle, and its absence won’t stop people from clicking on content they want. But it’s safe to bet that it will make a difference when users are choosing between similar-looking results and speed is not just convenient but essential.
AMP label in general mobile search results.

Best Practices (No Basic AMPs!)

From an editorial standpoint AMP shouldn’t require any special effort or workflow. Google finds AMPs by crawling the standard (canonical) page for the AMP URL in the page source, so an AMP should inherit the SEO benefits of its standard counterpart.

Likewise, an AMP should inherit all of the content enhancements of a standard web article — assuming all of those things are converted to AMP.

When an AMP falls short, it’s often because the technical implementation is incomplete and key elements are not converted. Bare-bones AMPs are common; many publishers have learned the hard way that building and maintaining robust AMP support can be resource-intensive.

As a result, many AMPs are missing video and image galleries, navigation menus or links to key sections, social embeds, related stories, breaking news and weather notifications, or key third party integrations and revenue products. While a basic AMP is eligible for Google’s special AMP presentation experiences, a watered-down page can be just as disappointing to users as a slow page and may counteract engagement or revenue benefits.

We’re encouraged to see some publishers improving their AMPs, tracking the AMP roadmap closely and adding new features and integrations as they become available — as we do for publishers on our platform.

No basic AMPs! We put serious effort into our full-featured AMP conversion engine.

We’re eager to see a publisher take AMP a step farther and use it as their only article format, replacing the standard web article completely — or choose to redirect all users to the AMP version. A publisher could redirect all inbound article referrals to AMPs, temporarily or for an extended period.

Need A Lifeline?

If AMP is on your roadmap for next quarter or next year, or if you’ve been struggling with the last mile of an internal AMP solution, contact us to get up and running immediately while you sort things out.

Unlike a lot of projects on a publisher’s to-do list, the benefits of AMP are immediately obvious to users — and become profound at the times that matter most.

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