Google AMP and the Publishing Industry: What Happens Next?

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project launched a little over a year ago. Since then, it has evolved and made a significant impact on how search engines and publishing websites interact with the mobile web. However, despite the strong uptake of AMP by many publishers, there are still many questions to be answered. Publishers are seeing more traffic, but revenue has yet to follow suit, and there is, of course, the question of ‘who owns the user?’ This post looks at the current state of AMP, how it is staying ahead of competitors and what the future holds.

The mobile web is the new normal

The early internet was the Wild West: each website had its own individual brand and layout and each was controlled by a vast amount of different people and organizations. This format closely mirrored traditional magazine and newspaper distribution. That parallel made this early incarnation of the Internet an easier transition for traditional publishers  Outside of some exceptions, most local newspapers or online content sites functioned slowly and required a user to visit each individual website to seek out their content.

Currently, it is becoming more common for someone to access online content from a mobile phone than a desktop computer, usually through the catalyst of a social media app. While publishing sites are able to technically create their own apps, the mobile app market is extremely competitive. There is a much better chance of someone accessing their content through a platform such as Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat. Google AMP is essentially Google’s way of competing in this sphere without expecting users to download a separate app to access content in a quick user-friendly way.

AMP’s predecessors: Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and Snapchat Discovery have all had similar goals (making the mobile experience better for the user) all while actually making it more difficult for news websites to monetize their content in the very saturated online content market.

The struggle

There are many different reasons the transition to social media app distribution has been difficult for publishers, the most prominent being monetizing their content. Digital Publishing has been struggling to find a way to better monetize its industry since it became more common for its users to be found online than reading a magazine. According to the IAB internet advertising revenue report, digital ad spending has grown 17 percent each year since 2010. However, the portion of digital advertising spend that is being spent on digital publishing websites is shrinking. Meanwhile, Facebook and Google digital advertising account for 77 percent of the total growth in ad spend in 2015 and the gap is only growing. In response, many digital publishers have begun placing a heavy emphasis on their native advertising efforts. Publishing companies such as Slate and The Atlantic are expecting 50%-75% of their ad revenue to come from native advertising this year. This year, Snapchat even announced that it would start treating its content how the television industry does.

Platforms like Facebook and Google need content from publishers to keep users interacting with them and the publishers need the platforms in order for anyone to see their content. In an attempt to optimize this, partnership programs like Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and now Google Accelerated Mobile Pages have all made attempts to make it even more appealing for publishing sites to focus their energy on making content available on their platforms.

On AMP, are users your users, or Google's users.

Another major question that has plagued publishers concerning modern content distribution is, “who owns the user?” Identifying who your audience is and connecting with your users is a large part of what makes journalism effective as a medium. In the past, journalists had much more control over who sees their content. What many publishers find themselves wondering is “are my users users of my publication or users of this platform?”

The problem with Accelerated Mobile Pages

Google AMP is Google’s attempt at competing in the content distribution mobile platform market with the likes of Facebook, Snapchat and Apple News. Although AMP seems like a win-win for publishers, allowing for faster load times and a place in the top search carousel of the SERP, it does have its downsides. Non-established publishers will most likely not be placed in a prime spot in the carousel, as Google (and its algorithm) are what decides the order. This gives Google more control over which content reaches who, and less control over the people who created the content.

An example of AMP result a SERP and an AMP article.

Another major concern that publishers have with the AMP platform is the lack of custom design elements that they can incorporate into the page. Many publishers are finding that parts of their brand are being lost within the platform. Some of the functionality, such as the inability to add a “read full story” buttons, which are often used to keep mobile users on a page, is another common complaint among publishers.

The new AMP of now

Google AMP is web-based and as a result, it can be used to serve or be directed to from other platforms outside of Google search results, because it does not depend on an app to run. This means that both web-based platforms, as well as mobile apps, can utilize AMP in order to create a faster mobile web and increasing Google’s control over the mobile web. Content platforms that function with Google AMP includes (note the absence of Facebook): LinkedIn, Medium, Reddit, Twitter and Pinterest. Even the Bing mobile app allows for an AMP component.

AMP is currently working towards being a common functionality for e-commerce sites as well. eBay recently announced that it would be moving towards having their entire mobile e-commerce experience served on the AMP engine. This also bodes well for Google as it means that more e-commerce activity stays on the web and out of apps.

Google has also started rolling out its Accelerated Landing Pages project (ALP) which aims to make the ads inside of AMP faster loading when you interact with them. So, the process would allow anyone on an AMP served article that acts on an ad to then be shown another page with minified HTML serving up the ad. This will make the user experience much better and even encourage users to interact with ads within articles more. However, the implementation of ALP will, in turn, give Google more control over the digital advertising sphere.

The underlying pattern throughout all of these additions to AMP is that it is going to keep expanding. It allows the search engine to compete in the mobile app market, without driving users through a mobile app. Google is now able to compete in both the e-commerce sphere and even serve the ads within the articles giving them more control over the internet than they already do.

Looking Forward

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project undoubtedly improves the user experience for mobile web content. The project itself and the tech behind it have benefitted publishers’ traffic numbers and the overall news user experience. However, AMP has not solved publisher’s monetization issues and gives Google even more control over the internet overall.

It will be interesting to see what happens as AMP continues to evolve and impact things such as e-commerce, outside of the publishing industry in the future. Platforms like Google and Facebook continue to gain more and more control over who sees what content online. Their role in not only the publishing company's revenue but also the users who are looking for information to consume will surely be impactful on the future of the internet, and what news and content we see even more than it already does.

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