Last week, Google announced its Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP), in an effort to enable news articles on mobile web browsers to load faster. AMP, which is currently in beta mode, has been launched with a selection of top publishers, with the aim of delivering a better user experience to readers. Google’s key objective of the project is based around its desire to “make the World Wide Web great again,” according to Richard Gingras, head of news products at Google.
For the past few years, publishers have focused on how to serve mobile users. We’ve seen the popularity of apps like Flipboard, Instapaper, Google News and Pocket all act to serve as a way for people to read news on the move (from mobile devices). Whilst the rise of mobile has helped some publishers to increase revenues by being able to re-introduce paywalls, many have struggled to provide a valid option for consumers to digest content on their mobile devices.
For many publishers today, Facebook is one of the main drivers of traffic to their site. Buzzfeed, for example gets 75% of its traffic from social sites. Data shows that, on average, 31.24% of traffic to websites today comes from social sites. Facebook’s dominance in this area has resulted in the introduction of Facebook Instant Articles. Facebook Instant Articles provides a way of speeding up access to news articles, whilst also keeping users within Facebook’s ecosystem, thereby threatening Google’s revenue streams.
Other threats to not just Google, but also publishers themselves, are mobile ad blockers. A study by Adobe and PageFair in August said losses for websites that rely on advertising could be huge — totalling an estimated £14.08 billion ($21.8 billion) this year and rising to £26.48 billion ($41 billion) in 2016, as a result of ad blockers.
Since support for ad blockers was introduced with iOS 9, apps that let people block ads shot to the top of the App Store. This is as a direct result of people becoming annoyed with heavy web pages and adverts that slow down the user experience, use up data and drain battery life.
At the moment, web pages can take an average of eight seconds to load, due to a combination of poor coding and advertising scripts that run in the background. Therefore end users are looking for alternative ways to view content through apps.
Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple with Apple News (which due to launch in the UK at the end of the month with iOS 9.1) have created their own ways to strip the web back to something more basic. Both Facebook and Apple have taken a user centric approach, which provides users with text followed by images and not much else. Whilst advertising is still included on these platforms, they are developed in a way that stripes back unnecessary analytics and advertising modules to allow news content to load faster.
AMP is Google’s attempt to stop shift to platforms like Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News or even Twitter’s recently launched Project Lightning. The project uses AMP HTML, a new open framework built entirely out of existing web technologies, which allows websites to build light-weight web pages.
With AMP, Google is providing an alternative way to provide users with rich news content and a great experience, no matter what device they are using. AMP works by stripping out a large amount of the tracking tools that get added to websites, without stripping out the thing that help publishers to offer free content, adverts.
Whether we like them or not, adverts are essential for enabling free services and content online. “Any sites using AMP HTML will retain their choice of ad networks, as well as any formats that don’t detract from the user experience”, says Google. Google will work with publishers and industry leaders to help define how an ad experience would work, without impacting the speed they are striving for with AMP.
One potential drawback for AMP is that it effectively brings back the idea of a special mobile version of a website, where the industry has been moving to responsive websites.
With Instant Articles, Apple News and AMP, we’re seeing a large amount of focus on how to deliver better mobile experiences. This underlines the huge growth and importance of being mobile first and mobile optimised. All of this supports what Mubaloo has been saying for the past year. In order to increase and sustain adoption, using a user centric strategy is key. When a web or app experience becomes annoying, users will simply move to something else and find alternative ways to do something.
When it comes to speed and providing the best user experience, we always recommend native apps. One of the main benefits of developing native mobile apps is to allow us to view content in a quick and user friendly way. Natives apps show us the content that we want to see almost instantaneously, without the clutter and pinching that is often necessary with mobile web, especially with non-responsive websites.
Although Google has its own agenda with the creation of AMP, Google is cracking down on the increasingly impossible and cluttered way we access news from publisher brands. With on page ads destroying user experience and slowing down access to the information users need, publisher brands need to alter their mobile strategy to keep their readers engaged.