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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Publishers question AMP’s value

March 8, 2022 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) promised a faster and better user experience on mobile while helping publishers boost traffic and generate more revenue. Recently, however, a number of digital publishers have announced that they are reassessing their usage of AMP.

Google introduced AMP in 2015 presenting it as open-source code available for developers. Before AMP’s announcement, Apple, Facebook, and Snapchat announced content partnerships (e.g., Apple News, Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover) which focused on improving the consumer experience but shifted the publisher’s content to their platforms. Each of these proprietary, closed services promised consumers easy access to content but offered limited publisher monetary upside.

Industry executives feared that publisher brands would fade in the background on platforms. Others debated that these channels would provide a path to new and younger audiences, which seemed like a fair trade-off for content control. However, AMP had a unique proposition for publishers: They would keep publisher’s content on the “open web” and, maybe more importantly, they’d also gain a special shortcut to the top of Google search results through a new carrousel.

Fast forward to 2022, and publishers increasingly question the value of these partnerships because they add overhead and offer limited revenue or consumer benefit. In particular, AMP appears to restrict some mobile page functionality like detailed navigational paths and search icons. Given these disappointing results, some publishers are testing life without AMP, while others are phasing it out altogether.

It is important to note that, in December 2020, a lawsuit filed by multiple states accused Google of “anti-competitive conduct” in the digital advertising ecosystem. An unredacted version of the court document became available in January 2022, offering additional details. The added information explains that AMP pages hosted on Google’s servers made it difficult for publishers to use auction platforms other than Google’s ad exchange. It also alleges that Google made non-AMP pages load with a one-second delay. This gave publishers even more reason to be skeptical.

Publisher’s response

Digital Content Next (DCN) surveyed its membership earlier this year to provide insight into publishers’ experience with AMP, its impact, and its use in the future. The results show that most respondents use or have used AMP (96%), with the majority re-evaluating (57%) their AMP usage. Close to half (48%) report that they have they stopped or will stop using AMP.

Respondents report that their top reasons for using AMP were the promise of more search traffic, faster website performance, attracting new audiences, and industry pressure. Unfortunately, respondents reported mixed results in some core benefits like increased search traffic and audience development.

AMP’s reassessment

A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, Publishers Move to Abandon Google-Supported Mobile Web Initiative, essentially confirms the DCN survey results. WSJ reports that Vox Media, BuzzFeed, Complex Networks, and Bustle Digital Group started “testing or are considering using their versions of mobile-optimized article pages.” These publishers are in addition to The Washington Post, which stopped programming AMP pages last year.

Many publishers said they started to review their AMP usage after Google made algorithm changes in 2021. According to the WSJ, Google made changes “so that pages’ loading speeds, interactivity, and visual stability became factored into its search rankings.” Also, AMP content was no longer exclusively featured in a top-stories carousel in search results. Further, as publishers started testing, they learned that dropping AMP did not affect their load time or search ranking.

Reassessing the benefits of using AMP is triggering many publishers to rethink the control of their content, page designs, ad formats, and paywall. Publishers are rightly taking a harder look at content partnerships to evaluate how they fit their editorial and business strategies and monetization goals. 

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