The Importance of Mobile: Explaining AMP

Published on 17th November 2017

Earlier this week, I was on the bus at the end of the day and on the way home. Looking around, I saw that my fellow passengers were a wonderfully diverse bunch of people, but all with one thing in common: they were all locked to their phones, staring intently at the little screens they all held in their hands, oblivious to the outside world.

This isn’t an isolated incident either. According to Statista, last year in the UK we spent an average of two hours and nine minutes online on our mobiles every single day, and that’s not including the time spent talking or texting on our devices. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising so many of us walk into signs or streetlights whilst distracted by our phones (come on, we’ve all done it).

Mobile First

If you speak to anyone in the digital marketing world, sooner or later they will mention the ‘mobile-first index’. All they mean by this is that next year sometime, Google will start ranking your website based on how it sees your mobile site as the main factor, and then on the desktop version. And there’s good reason for this too, as The Telegraph tells us that in October 2016, 51.3% of all webpages were loaded on mobile devices. That date is important, as it was the first time in the UK that desktop traffic wasn’t the major device. Business Insider UK shows us that we’re also shopping online more as, just two months after that, 54% of online sales came from Mobile as part of a 16% Year-on-Year increase in overall online retail sales in the 2016 Christmas shopping period. These facts and figures, along with an increase in bruised foreheads and a plethora of £250 cheques for people who happened to film someone walking into street furniture, illustrate just how important it is to make sure our websites work on mobile devices.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

There’s something else they might start talking about too; something called Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP for short. Now, here at Footprint Digital, whenever someone says AMP, we think of the 1984 mockumentary masterpiece This Is Spinal Tap. And rather appropriately, AMP takes web pages and turns the speed up to 11 for mobile devices.

You may have noticed a little lightning bolt in a circle alongside some pages when searching on Google on your phone: that’s AMP. It’s an open source thing that has the backing of Google, Twitter, and WordPress, and it’s kind of a response to Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. There’s some big names that are using it too, such as wego, The Washington Post, and CNBC, the last of which has seen a 387% decrease in mobile page load time through using AMP. Whichever way you cut it, that’s fairly rapid.

What is AMP?

That’s all well and good, but what actually is it? Well, here’s the technical bit. You basically create a new version of your webpage that is then optimised to work really well on mobile. This new version has a special top level tag in the HTML that marks it up as being special. Because it’s a duplicate page, you have to include a ‘canonical tag’ that tells Google it’s the same as the normal webpage so that it doesn’t penalise you for have duplicated content.

Why is AMP Faster?

AMP is so quick because it uses a restricted version of HTML, which makes it much faster. Likewise, JavaScript is basically not allowed at all, and the AMP JS Library means that the AMP HTML pages render really quickly. It caches a lot of stuff too, so that it doesn’t have to load it from the website every time you go to that page. Your website doesn’t have to be HTTPS to use AMP either, although some things, like videos, do need to be HTTPS in order to work. Also, Google really likes HTTPS, so it’s probably worth going secure anyway.

Okay, tech over, you can breathe again now. The long and the short of it is, AMP makes pages load almost instantly on mobiles. It’s designed for readability and speed, and is clever in how it goes about it. Images, for example, don’t load until they’ve scrolled into view. A little bit quicker here, a little bit quicker there, and soon the incremental gains all add up to being a lot quicker overall; just ask Team Sky! Quite exciting, this computer magic!

Now AMP isn’t something that has a direct impact on your organic search rankings, but it makes a big difference to your mobile page speed and that is important. It is, however, really good for your users, who hate it when things load slowly. Considering the big names backing the project, it’s unlikely that AMP will be going away any time soon, especially with that new mobile-first index just around the corner. It’s no substitute for good hard work in making your website quicker overall, but it’s certainly going to help, particularly in a world where most webpages only go to ten.

These go to eleven.

Written by Thomas Rowson, Relationship Manager

Image by Peter Coxell