Why are publishers shifting away from AMP?

Announced with a big fanfare in 2015, Accelerated Mobile Pages [AMP] looked like the golden ticket to faster loading times and a better user experience. So what happened next?

Why are publishers shifting away from AMP?

Digital publishers should be looking at the solution that best solves their problem, not just the best known one, argues Jacopo Gerini, Chief Commercial Officer, Clickio

Google launched its Accelerated Mobile Pages [AMP] at the end of 2015, with the goal of improving the performance of mobile sites. At the time, it was said to load content four times faster than its standard equivalent. This had the effect of creating a better experience for users, driving traffic and making publishers more appealing to consumers and advertisers alike. 

Fast forward to today and AMP is falling out of favour. Digital publishers, like the Irish Independent, have already moved away, while BuzzFeed is testing its own mobile optimisation pages – expected to generate at least 20% more revenue than Google’s AMP without a noticeable increase to site latency. On the social side, Twitter also no longer sends users to AMP pages, further reducing its relevance.

So, what is driving this shift away from AMP and does it still serve a purpose?

Understanding AMP

Google designed AMP as an open source project to help publishers create web pages optimised for mobile, with content loading instantly on devices. It could therefore be considered the predecessor to Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWVs), promoting the key components that make up the user-focused metrics: performance, responsiveness, and visual stability. 

This is because AMP has structures, such as deferred layout, that keep web pages ‘light-weight’ and prioritise essential elements, like asynchronous JavaScript and specific re-layout rules. AMP also uses content servers to minimise loading times.

As such, it serves as a solid foundation for compliance with the CWV metrics – First Input Delay [FID], Cumulative Layout Shift [CLS], and Largest Contentful Paint [LCP]. Indeed, publishers using AMP are five times more likely to hit these CWV benchmarks than non-AMP equivalents, creating a better user experience and driving loyalty, traffic, and revenue in the process.

Sounds positive – so why the move away?

Firstly, AMP pages are cached on Google servers, meaning that users landing on AMP pages do not contribute to the publisher’s website traffic. This can be a real headache when it comes to analytics.

Furthermore, since AMP limits publishers to a standard page format, they cannot freely define the look of their webpages, leading to potential revenue loss due to limitations on ad options. Standard AMP ad units also restrict the use of additional monetisation tools that may be more suitable to individual business needs. Another disadvantage in this category is the incompatibility between AMP and PreBid.js. As the de-facto industry standard for header bidding, PreBid.js is an important platform for attracting advertisers.

In general, any specific customisation needs or technical issues are more difficult to solve when confined to AMP functionality (which explains why many rich-media and video vendors also don't fully support AMP). And while faster loading speed is a clear positive, this only works when users are specifically browsing through Google search rather than visiting a website directly, where AMP can in fact slow down loading compared to native Javascript implementations.

The final nail in the coffin is the matter of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages. Where initially only AMP pages were displayed in Google Search’s Top Stories section, this is no longer the case. Since the introduction of CWVs in 2020, those privileged positions can now be filled by both AMP and non-AMP pages, as long as they respect CWVs page experience criteria. 

What’s the alternative?

For mobile publishers, there are certain technologies that provide the benefits of AMP without the drawbacks. One of these is Progressive Web App (PWA) tools: mobile web pages with the personalised, navigable features of an app.

Another course of action includes compliance with Google’s CWVs. As previously mentioned, non-compliance with FID, CLS and LCP will negatively impact search rankings, so it’s important to monitor site performance against CWVs benchmarks and optimise accordingly. Understanding how sites perform for users at any given time provides publishers with a deeper understanding of what is working, what isn’t, and why. This means they can address issues quickly and efficiently and better-demonstrates their value to advertisers. 

In terms of other supportive tech, there are a number of platforms specifically designed to improve page speed, comply with and monitor CWVs for a more detailed analysis of page performance, and while the largest publishers are looking to create AMP alternatives themselves, smaller ones may want to use these ready-made options instead.

The internet and its structures are constantly evolving, but in some cases it’s less about what everyone else is doing and more about the solution that works best for your business. 

Whether it’s AMP, CWVs or PWA tech, or something else entirely, publishers need to ensure they’re doing what’s right for their bottom line and, most importantly, for their users. As the shift away from AMP continues, publishers will need to remain flexible and adapt quickly to optimise sites where necessary, positioning themselves in the best light to users and advertisers.