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Google’s AMP Project: Insider SEO optimization tips

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Episode Overview

Mobile users expect answers to their searches lightning fast. Cindy Krum, author and CEO of MobileMoxie, provides her brilliant insights on Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages Project—designed to decrease load time to one second or less. How can SEOs optimize for maximum performance and visibility? Cindy explains:

  • Why the Google AMP Project is controversial and how it impacts different industries
  • How to structure your page so that it’s easy for Google to understand
  • What trade-off is better—more analytics or more conversions?
  • Are the design limitations more important than being AMP valid?
  • Why is Google hosting and caching pages in the cloud?
  • Information on the streamlining of HTML and external assets for better rendering

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Ben:                             Welcome back to mobile optimization week on the Voices Of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day covering what you need to know about the technical optimizations that will improve your performance and visibility on your mobile sites.

Ben:                             Joining us for mobile optimization week is Cindy Krum, who was the founder and CEO of MobileMoxie, which is a mobile centric set of tools and APIs that help SEOs gain better insights into their mobile site experiences. Outside of leading the charge at MobileMoxie, Cindy is also the author of Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are. Today Cindy is going to give us her tips for optimizing your mobile sites to use AMP.

Ben:                             But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic where a member of our digital strategies group will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website, content, and SEO strategies can all be optimized. To schedule your free digital diagnostic go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.

Ben:                             Okay, here’s the third installment of mobile optimization week was Cindy Krum, founder and CEO of Mobile Moxie. Cindy, welcome back to the Voices Of Search podcast.

Cindy Krum:                  Thanks. Good to be here.

Ben:                             Great to have you. We’re here halfway through the week and we’re talking about a little bit of a controversial topic, you know, Google’s use of AMP. Let’s just start off for, you know, we have some content marketers and some general marketers that are here and maybe even some early SEOs. Let’s do our best to define what AMP is and how it’s being used, then we’re going to get in some tips for how people can optimize it. Tell me a little bit about AMP.

Cindy Krum:                  Okay. AMP stands for accelerated mobile pages. It’s something that Google partnered with a group called the AMP project to create pages that would ideally load in one second or less. They did this by really streamlining the HTML and external assets that were needed for a web page to render correctly. So what that meant was a very limited set of HTML, a very small; singular CSS style sheet for the page, and very limited set of JavaScript that once Google kind of narrowed down the expectations of the browser might have to render it sped things up. Because, actually browsers I’ve gotten so good at rendering crappy code that part of what takes them so long is to go through all of the mistakes that developers or webmasters might make when they’re building a page, and they have to think so hard about what this website might be trying to do. But if you limit the rules and you say, “You must follow these rules exactly,” then the browser can do a lot of things much, much faster. And so that’s kind of how AMP works.

Ben:                             So the idea behind AMP is … we’ve said this a million times on this podcast, we’re moving towards an on-demand world, right? People expect answers quickly, mostly when they’re on their mobile phone. I mean, I know that this is not right and people shouldn’t do it, but there are people that are conducting search queries while they’re driving cars. They need those answers fast because they’re judging whether they should make a right turn but the red light or not. And so people are evaluating–don’t drive and use your phone–their experience based on speed as much as they are with the content.

Cindy Krum:                  Yes, totally.

Ben:                             So the way that I think of AMP is very much like a Jack in the Box, right? There is, you know, you have to make a rotation of the crank side of times to get the Jack in the Box ready then on the sixth crank the door opens and the Jack in the Box pops out in the music happens, right? AMP is basically you are setting it up so your browser can basically run the first five cranks because they know exactly that it’s going to be five, so they can hurry up that process and just get to the point where they’re looking at what content actually needs to be rendered at the moment of the page being published. Am I thinking about this the right way? Can you pick my metaphor apart?

Cindy Krum:                  Yeah, I mean, part of that what you’re talking about with the Jack in the Box, that’s a good description of all the preloading and prefetching and stuff like that that happens. There’s also something that I think is easier to think about, like a machine or a well-choreographed ballet. Ballet is better. But what it is, is it’s called the AMP JavaScript runtime. What it does is it kind of takes all of the assets that you’re going to need to load on a page and instead of expecting the person building the page to be really great organizing those things so that they show up and are downloaded in the exact best way possible, this AMP JavaScript runtime choreographs that ballet so that there’s no wasted second, no lag, that everything in the loading process is super duper optimized. So the prerendering, prefetching, precaching, all that stuff, that’s part of it too. That works with the ballet but it’s not the thing in the ballet. There are other pieces to it.

Ben:                             AMP is making sure that the crack is on the right hand side for right handed people and that the knob is a certain size and it’s sort of … now I’m just absolutely butchering this metaphor, but basically setting up the environment so that you can crank as quickly as possible when the time is there.

Cindy Krum:                  Yeah, sure. Also not Loading more than is needed, because in AMP they do a really good job of loading what’s just below the fold, but not loading stuff way down because that’s a waste of loading.

Ben:                             Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about what SEOs can do to take advantage of AMP. What are some of the optimization tactics? Just tell us a little bit about the actual implementation of the AMP system.

Cindy Krum:                  Sure. So the most important part about AMP to know is that you have to have code pointing from your desktop version of your page to the AMP version of the page. They’re kind of in the same vein as the rel=alternate/rel=canonical, except it’s rel=amphtml, and then a rel=canonical. And the canonical is on the AMP version of the page, pointing back to the original version of the page. The other thing to know is that Google, again, really doesn’t want you to have two versions of the page anyway.

Cindy Krum:                  They would prefer that everyone just built in AMPs natively, and they call this AMP canonical or canonical AMP because they’re saying, “Look, we’ve done a great job with AMP. You can actually have a really pretty page with AMP now. Why would you build a whole blog and then build a new template that’s faster? Why would you ever want to send someone to a slow version of a page? Hey, maybe you should just do AMP canonical for all of your stuff.” And that’s the way Google is pushing people now.

Cindy Krum:                  Again, part of the thing that makes AMP so fast is not just the AMP JavaScript run time, not just the precaching, preloading, all that stuff, but it’s also the fact that Google hosts and caches a version of the page in the Google cloud. So it’s a free CDN. So if you’re on a site that’s not using a CDN you get a free one when your AMPed. CDNs stands for … Do you want to tell them? You tell them.

Ben:                             Content delivery network. All right. Okay. There’s a couple of different components to AMP. It is basically a structure of your page that is easy for Google to understand. Google is essentially also doing the hosting. Are there any detractors or reasons why people should not use app for their mobile sites?

Cindy Krum:                  Yes. Number one, AMP is hard to measure, partially because of the limited JavaScripts. They’ve done work arounds, but a lot of companies still struggle to get AMP measured correctly. Even when you measure correctly, you have to kind of roll up the canonical and non canonical version of every page since you now, again, have two versions of every page. If you want to see how well a blog post is doing you have to look at the original and the AMP version. So that’s kind of a problem.

Cindy Krum:                  Other things are designers feel like AMP is limiting. And it is, but they don’t get to do as much JavaScript, as much cool stuff, or it has to live within an AMP version of a slider, of a carousel, whatever it is. You have to choose the AMP JavaScript version or else it won’t validate. I’ll go off on a tangent here, some people care a lot about being AMP valid. I propose that being AMP valid is great, especially if it’s easy for you, but using AMP HTML, AMP JavaScript, AMP CSS is a great idea even if you’re not going to be AMP valid because it’s JavaScript, CSS, and HTML that was built by the best developers in the world and it’s super duper fast, and super duper fast is great for conversion even without a little AMP lightening bolt.

Ben:                             Okay. Are there specific industries where you see AMP adoption being broadly accepted and some where there aren’t? I’m just trying to get an understanding, you know, faster is better when it comes to mobile optimization, and also on your desktop because it affects conversions. Where has AMP seen adoption? Basically, I guess the question is where is the design limitation less important and where are people holding off and not using it?

Cindy Krum:                  Yep. So, the first two types of content that Google focused on with AMP are the ones with the strongest adoption, and that’s news and recipes, and that’s because in both news and recipes you have generally a very simplified page layout without a lot of action scripting going on. People are just reading an article and looking at the images or people are just reading a recipe and looking at images, not necessarily … I mean, those pages didn’t have a lot of whiz bang code in the first place so they were great candidates for AMP.

Cindy Krum:                  Places where AMP struggles: even though AMP has a bunch of product and ecommerce options, usually big ecommerce platforms are just too put off by the risk of bad analytics that they won’t do AMP, and this I think is sometimes a mistake, even if the conversions are higher on the AMP pages they’ll take down AMP cause they’re like, “We want data,” but that’s dumb because you’re in business to make conversions, not to get data.

Ben:                             Yeah. That’s interesting. The first thing that popped into my mind is, you know, are the Squarespaces, the WordPresses, and the Shopifys of the world using this technology? And it seems like the trade off, you know, I’m not sure which one is and which one isn’t, but the trade off is better analytics or more conversions. Which one do you want? Do you want to understand it or just know that they’re happening?

Cindy Krum:                  Yeah, exactly. Would you rather have cash in your pocket or data in your spreadsheet?

Ben:                             I dunno. It’s honestly, I don’t think it’s as simple of a question as, as how you’re framing it, because if you don’t understand why the cash is showing up it’s hard to optimize and figure out what the next step to do to amplify it is, so.

Cindy Krum:                  Absolutely. It’s not always an easy answer, but at the end of the day, I think it becomes an easy answer.

Ben:                             Last question I have for you today is: when we think about AMP in the future, what do you see? Do you think that there’s going to be continued development of this system? Is it going to be more widely adopted? What’s the next near-term future look like for AMP?

Cindy Krum:                  Yeah. So two ideas here. Number one, PWA AMP, Pwaamp is a-

Ben:                             Pwaamp? That’s a good one.

Cindy Krum:                  Yeah. It’s all of Google’s developer conferences that focus on PWAs now kind of assume AMP html. It’s baked into all the demos because the PWA makes things fast and the AMP html makes things fast, so with both of them going it can be a super fast, awesome experience, and it’s better for the next billion users because it’s less code. That’s another selling point for AMP. It works great on a low spec phones. It works great on bad connectivity, same selling points that you would have with PWA. So that’s one thought.

Cindy Krum:                  The other thought about the future of AMP, and I haven’t looked into this as much as I would like, but if I had, if I were a betting lady, I would bet that the Google my business websites that it’s now allowing you to generate a website from GMB, that those are already AMP and maybe they’re PWA too. I dunno, but I bet they’re using AMP wherever they can because they know it’s a better experience. Also, if they’re hosting and caching the content for you, then they have a better idea of when it changes so they don’t have to crawl at random, which has been expensive for Google. It was great when the web was small, but now the web is growing exponentially and crawling can’t keep up. So with AMP when they host it, they can see when it changes and then they just recrawl it. They don’t have to send the spiders out randomly looking for new stuff.

Ben:                             Yeah. Interesting. Okay. AMP, complicated topic. It seems like a great way to get your pages built so they’re faster, some design challenges, lots of think about in terms of mobile optimization.

Ben:                             That wraps up this episode of the Voices Of Search podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Cindy Krum, the founder and CEO of MobileMoxie. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Cindy you can find the link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can send her a tweet, where her handle is @Suzzicks, or you can visit it her company’s website, which is mobilemoxie.com, and Cindy is kind enough to offer you a free month of MobileMoxie when you use the Promo code SEARCHMETRICS in all caps.

Ben:                             If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about podcast you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can send me a tweet at @BenJShap. If you’re interested in learning about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.

Ben:                             If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights and your podcast feed hit the subscribe button in your podcast APP and we’ll be back tomorrow morning to discuss the exciting topic of code consolidation and deprecation for mobile optimization.

Ben:                             Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.