- Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages have presented a headache for publishers since they first rolled out in 2016.
- Publishers and media companies are reconsidering whether it’s worth continuing to use AMP at all as Google deemphasizes its importance and other major platforms such as Twitter end their support for it.
- Some publishers have already opted to switch off AMP support.
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages have presented a headache for publishers since they first rolled out in 2016. Now, publishers and media companies are reconsidering whether it’s worth continuing to use AMP at all as Google deemphasizes its importance and other major platforms such as Twitter end their support for it.
AMP has posed a particular challenge for publishers operating subscription and membership products over the past six years. Getting paywalls, meters, logins and data syncing to function correctly with AMP pages has been an ongoing battle, and one that’s proved particularly irksome for smaller companies with limited technical resources and budgets. Getting ads to function optimally within AMP also requires constant maintenance.
Subscription publishers are now weighing if the benefits of AMP outweigh the technical and logistical downsides of supporting it.
“From a technical perspective both Paywalls and Ads work better and more effectively outside of AMP. If a publication is making money off of either, I’d imagine it would be very advantageous to flip it off, especially if they’re paying an engineer to keep up the code base,” said an engineer at a major news publisher.
What’s changed with Google AMP?
As part of the Page Experience update it rolled out last summer, Google no longer requires AMP support for publisher content to be included in its “Top Stories” carousel on Google Search. Traffic from Top Stories was a key motivator for many publishers to support AMP in the first place, particularly for those primarily publishing news. Google said any content that meets its Google News policies is now eligible for inclusion in Top Stories, regardless of whether or not it carries AMP formatting.
Other major traffic-driving platforms are dropping their support for AMP as well. Earlier this month, Twitter stopped directing traffic to AMP pages by default on iOS and Android devices. Twitter had previously been a significant driver of AMP traffic for some publishers.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit brought against Google by a number of US states has alleged that Google deliberately throttled the loading of ads into non-AMP pages in order to make AMP pages appear more lucrative to publishers, and Google has experienced some crawling outages with AMP pages.
Is it time to end AMP support?
In light of developments over the past few months, some publishers are now taking the plunge and ditching support for AMP pages entirely. Search Engine Land said it was switching off AMP support in November after seeing a significant drop in traffic to AMP pages since August, which it attributed to increased competition in the Top Stories carousel after the inclusion of non-AMP pages.
“For a small publisher with limited resources, the development work is considerate. And not being able to fully understand how users migrated between AMP and non-AMP pages meant our picture of return and highly engaged visitors was flawed,” wrote Henry Powderly, vice president of content for Search Engine Land’s parent company, Third Door Media. “We know what a road to oblivion looks like, and our data suggests AMP visibility is on that path,” he added.
For subscription publishers, the inability to understand how users migrate between AMP and non-AMP pages is even more problematic. Metering becomes a significant challenge, for example, as does keeping readers logged in, understanding their consumption habits and preferences, and providing them with a tailored experience across platforms.
Considerations for ending AMP support
While AMP support may no longer offer publishers the clear benefits it once did, withdrawing support for it immediately may not be the best option. Depending on publishers’ content, products, revenue mix, technology stacks, engineering resources, business priorities and more, there remain a number of pros, cons and considerations to take into account when evaluating the ongoing importance of AMP for their businesses. These include:
Site speed and performance
Google has clearly stated that AMP is no longer a requirement for inclusion in its Top Stories module, but it continues to emphasize that site speed and performance is a key ranking factor. For publishers with slow or poorly performing sites, therefore, the increased speed and performance baked into AMP pages may still result in better rankings and, as a result, more traffic from Top Stories and search results pages in general. For publisher sites performing well on speed and Core Web Vitals, however, AMP may now provide little advantage as it relates to performance. Internal bandwidth and resources are also a consideration here. If publishers have other initiatives and priorities to focus on, ensuring their non-AMP pages are fast enough to compete with AMP pages may not be deemed the best use of their resources.
Maintenance and upkeep
Perhaps the biggest consideration (or upside) of removing AMP support is the easing demand on engineering and product resources. Some publishers have described maintaining AMP versions of their content as effectively keeping up two versions of their sites. Even if removing AMP support does result in dips in traffic or other downsides, it’s possible that saving time, resources and money — or directing them to other initiatives — could be favorable for some publishers, particularly those with smaller budgets and more limited resources.
Better data and greater visibility
Maintaining a somewhat accurate view of reader behavior across AMP and non-AMP pages has been difficult for all publishers, but an incomplete view of audience behavior is arguably more detrimental for subscription publishers, which rely heavily on being able to understand what types of content and features help drive new subscribers and engage and retain existing ones. An inability to track users across page types can stifle data collection, measurement, segmentation, personalization and, ultimately, revenue. Removing AMP support could help some publishers gain a more complete view of audience and subscriber behaviour.
Consistent paywall experiences across platforms
As noted above, getting paywalls to play nice with AMP pages has been an ongoing headache for subscription publishers, particularly those without robust engineering teams and/or budgets. Even those with robust engineering resources have had difficulty getting their paywalls to render and perform optimally within AMP pages over the years, and paywall technology providers haven’t historically been able to offer much support or aid since the nature of publisher tech stacks and implementations vary. Removing AMP support may therefore have a number of advantages for subscription publishers, including:
- Keeping users logged in: Maintaining a logged-in state for subscribers across AMP and non-AMP pages has proved tricky for many publishers, leading to frustrated customers, customer service needs and potentially a reduction in content consumption and engagement for paywalled AMP content.
- Paywall design, marketing and branding: Working within AMP has limited the control publishers have had over the look and feel of their paywalls (in addition to their pages more broadly). This has had significant implications for paywall designs, branding, marketing and messaging. What’s possible on publishers’ sites often isn’t on AMP pages, and that’s led to AMP versions often feeling inferior for presenting subscription products and offers in their best light.
- Accurate metering: For publishers who operate volume based meters for their content (for example: 5 free articles per month) AMP has presented a problem. Getting meter counts to accrue accurately across AMP and non-AMP pages has proved near impossible, and meter limits have arguably been easier for readers to avoid with AMP pages by using incognito mode or otherwise evading publishers’ consumption tracking efforts.
Advertising and other revenue streams
While dropping AMP support may help publishers’ subscription businesses for the reasons outlined above, it’s of course important to note the potential impact on other revenue streams, such as advertising. Depending on a publisher’s product and revenue mix, ad sales strategy, reliance on programmatically sold advertising and more, withdrawing AMP support could result in a dip in advertising revenues, a change in traffic volume and quality, and other negative effects that might outweigh benefits to their subscription products.
Search traffic and indexing impact
Although Google has plainly stated that AMP is no longer a requirement for Top Stories inclusion, some publishers remain nervous that moving away from Google’s own format could negatively impact their search performance. It’s also possible that AMP pages could still see preferential treatment in other areas of Google’s ecosystem, such as within its apps.
Ultimately AMP’s significance for publishers appears to be dwindling, especially for those operating subscription and membership products.
That said, publishers should carefully consider their own circumstances, content, products, strategies, resources and priorities before making changes to their current AMP implementations.. While some will pull their support for AMP imminently, we expect others to take a more cautious “wait and see” approach over the coming months.
For more practical guidance on building sustainable subscription and membership products and businesses, see the Subscription Publishing Toolkit.