David: Hey, Mike. Well, we’re finally back to Daylight Savings Time. Not sure why we ever go off it, to be honest, but happy to have my longer evenings back.
Mike: It’s a good thing you mentioned that. I would have totally missed that train. At least we were able to meet on time for this, finally!
David: I wondered if we might go a little further afield from our usual set of topics this week and talk about Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project. There has been a flurry of announcements in recent weeks, at the AMP conference in Amsterdam, via Gmail, and most recently “instant loading for non-AMP web content.”
Mike: Well, as a “super aggregator” they seem to have the ability to drive these standards. From where I sit, it is easy to wonder what their end game (besides world domination) is. Up to this point, the AMP efforts have not been around an open web but a Google web. It’s interesting to see them trying to make it a new web standard.
Here is a quote from the announcement:
“We are taking what we learned from AMP, and are working on web standards that will allow instant loading for non-AMP web content. We hope this work will also unlock AMP-like embeddability that powers Google Search features like the Top Stories carousel.”
David: AMP has become a major component of Google’s push to become the presentation layer of the internet (h/t Cindy Krum, Mobile Moxie) and complements the moves they’ve made with featured snippets and Knowledge Panels.
In addition to keeping people on the Google SERP for an immersive search experience, I’ve always seen Knowledge Panels partly as a consumer-focused solution to the experience of the average SMB website and average enterprise store locator — both are overwhelmingly crappy.
Presenting the information that consumers care about directly on the Google SERP really does improve consumer experience in most cases even as it disintermediates website-building agencies and in-house marketers.
Publishers have complained about AMP, but adoption (and retention) has still been dramatically higher than for Facebook’s Instant Articles.
Mike: AMP certainly stood Google in good stead with publishers and helped Google outpace Facebook in the battle for publisher mind share over the past six months. The publisher traffic from AMP has been moving up while Facebook’s has declined dramatically. While it has been a net positive for readers, it’s not clear it’s a net positive for cash to the newspapers. And in accepting either AMP or Instant Articles, publishers relinquish their most critical asset, subscribers, to the duopoly.
David: Well, yes. But despite Google’s assertions to the contrary, the SEO benefits to implementing AMP are pretty remarkable.
While Google’s statement that AMP won’t improve your organic ranking is technically true, that’s equivalent to saying claiming your GMB listing won’t either. But the amount of real estate specifically reserved for AMP results makes it increasingly less likely any searcher will even bother scrolling to organic results.
Google has forced publishers’ hands.
Mike: The small business has a different problem. From where they sit, they don’t really care where the client comes from and they don’t really care whether the consumer makes a call from the Google search result or their own website.
David: Yup. I wholeheartedly agree that the less work a business needs to do to get calls, emails, and in-store visits from their customers, the more likely they are to see those results as a positive—regardless of the long-term risk it may pose to their business.
Mike: While the SMB still needs a website, AMP has been too technical and geeky to really make a play in the small business web market. And to a large extent, the Knowledge Panel has filled the need for quick consumer answers.
I frequently ask the question about when AMP would make sense to recommend to the small business. And it has yet to achieve that honor. Do you think the recent announcements about AMP and WordPress and AMP and HTML Standards will change that relationship?
David: Well, I’ve been saying for the last 9 months or so that Google’s preferred website is basically a JSON file. They’d love nothing more than for you to present everything you’ve got in unformatted but well-structured HTML so that they can crawl it quickly and present it however they’d like, depending on what query the searcher has entered. (This is basically what featured snippets do.)
But not every query is simple enough to be answered with a featured snippet, which is where AMP will play a role. If Google can pre-load that content and surface it in its own presentation layer, it’s yet another hook that keeps searchers addicted to Google results.
As far as AMP and WordPress, it feels like a good starting point. I suspect that other major CMS / website platforms like Squarespace and Duda (whose sites already load pretty fast in my experience) will follow suit quickly. And I certainly won’t miss the “joys” of visiting an SMB website built on Wix or Weebly when they’re replaced by an AMP version.
Mike: I guess if Google succeeds at improving AMP with WordPress and AMP for HTML, it will still be two to three years before SMB adoption has significant impact given how slowly the SMB moves on this front. And that is long enough in the future that it may never happen. Certainly not a slam dunk for Google, but I guess I never count them out.
And then there is email. Which seems an even steeper hill to climb. How can any business that is actively working in email do AMP in email without Apple and Microsoft adopting the standard? As it is, Apple iPhone mail has greater market share than Gmail.
David: Well, from painful personal experience, it’s already a huge hassle to develop an email template that renders well across so many different—and in the case of Outlook, substandard—email clients.
For a product like ours, I honestly don’t see an additional AMP standard adding much headache once it becomes available. We’re already making heavy use of structured data to generate emails for our customers, and the biggest pain point is actually in formatting HTML. If AMP removed that pain point across the board (i.e., other major email clients announced support for it), I’d be a happy guy!
From Day One, our focus has been on content and branding, not on heavily customized visuals and layouts. And I see AMP as having a potentially enormous positive impact on engagement for Gmail / Gsuite subscribers.
The bigger issue might be at the ESP and ISP level where an additional MIME type has to be supported.
Mike: I too would love widespread adoption of an easy-to-format email, but I have trouble seeing Microsoft or Apple agreeing with that utopian vision. So where does that leave the over/under on AMP winning the web, the SMB, AND email? What would you suggest for the SMB or those servicing them vis-à-vis AMP?
David: As long as Google is such a major player in the consumer world, fighting against any product they push heavily is folly. There is always going to be the question of the relative payoff to resource commitment (see: Google Plus), but thus far with the WordPress partnership announcement and the relatively favorable reception they’ve received from publishers, it feels like they’re trying to minimize the hassle factor as much as possible.
There’s still the very important outstanding question of whether AMP will remain proprietary, but if something like AMP truly becomes a web standard, then I’m all for it.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.