AMP & Instant Articles - What You Need to Know


AMP & Instant Articles - What You Need to Know ...

Stats from
Kissmetrics suggest that 40% of mobile users will leave a site if they've been waiting more than 3 seconds.

That's a big deal.

You've almost certainly experienced ultra-slow load times too - whether you're on 3G, or a patchy Wi-Fi connection.

Frustrating, right?

What's worse is that

web pages aren't getting any smaller - web performance firm SOASTA found that the average web page is more than 2 megabytes.

Average web page size, visualised. Data from SOASTA

Web giants to the rescue

Facebook and Google agree - web page loading times need to be faster - and they're not waiting for a solution to magically appear.

The two companies have approached the problem with completely different motivations:

  • Facebook want to give their mobile users a snappier reading experience within their mobile apps
  • Google want to deliver mobile-optimised pages directly within the search results page

Let's take a dive into the opportunities and how you (if you''re a publisher) can make the most of them.

Instant Articles - the Facebook solution

In May last year, Facebook announced
Instant Articles, a tool for publishers to post articles which can be quickly loaded within the Facebook mobile app.

If you've got the Facebook app open, when you click a link to an
Instant Article,it'll rapidly open up within the Facebook app, boasting some immersive features.

Photo of a National Geographic "Instant Article" on Facebook for iPhone

Image courtesy of Facebook

The publishing platform, currently being tested by major journals including the New York Times and the Daily Mail is opening up to all publishers on April 12th 2016.

In the announcement post, the main reason for the move was that:

Web articles in the Facebook app take an average of eight seconds to load

- Michael Reckhow, Product Manager at Facebook

Instant Articles leverage Facebook's advanced server infrastructure, meaning your articles will be served to mobile users at break-neck speeds - Facebook claim
Instant Articles load
“as much as 10 times faster” than regular mobile sites.

How do Instant Articles work?

Facebook require that you have the following:

  • A Facebook page
  • A website
  • An
    RSS feed for showing all published articles you want turned into
    Instant Articles
    this allows Facebook to detect new articles when they appear on your site - check with your tech team to see if you have RSS capabilities
  • 50 articles

Once you've configured the above with Facebook (see the
full details here) and you've been rubber-stamped as a publisher, you're ready to go.

Facebook will then pull in articles from your feed within 3 minutes of publication, and you'll be able to optimise the article for viewing on Facebook right away.

Then, when one of your readers posts a link on Facebook to your article (as long as you've set it up as an
Instant Article), mobile users will be shown the hosted-by-Facebook version.

The benefits

You won't need to write the article within Facebook - it's built so that it can automatically show your articles as soon as they're published on your site, so all you need to do is check over, tweak if necessary then publish.

Instant Articles have built in advertising capabilities - you can stick your own ads in articles, keeping 100% of the revenue, or you can let Facebook manage the ads in exchange for a 30% cut. You'll have access to
analytics for your articles, so you'll be able to nerd-out over stats on reach, engagement and demographics for your readers.

Following this, the faster page load means fewer dropouts, more ad views - and potentially more revenue.

In addition, there are a whole host of extra features you can take advantage of - from high resolution image support, through to autoplay video, audio captions and interactive maps.

Ultimately your
Instant Articles will becustomised in your brand style, and they'll be super-fast, with some cool features for displaying rich content.

The drawbacks

It's not going to help your search rank

Instant Articles are limited to within Facebook's ecosystem, all your hard work (for now) is only going to be viewed within the Facebook apps - it's not going to help your search rank, as it's independent of your website.

Not only this, you're not going to rank any higher in the Facebook newsfeed either, so if you're hoping
Instant Articles will turn you into a viral publisher overnight, expect to be disappointed.

All this assumes Facebook will approve your application for
Instant Articles. You've got to make sure your
Instant Articles fit with Facebook's rigorous
design requirements - so there's likely to be some back-and-forth before you're on the program.

Image showing "Instant Articles" pros and cons

Accelerated Mobile Pages - the Google solution

Google have been raving about how important speed is to the user experience
as far back as 2009. In 2010 they
wrote that site speed is a factor in your search rank.

In October, Google announced
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a bold new framework for publishers to build rapid mobile webpages.

Screenshot from Accelerated Mobile Pages'' official website - headline "Seamless, simplified publishing"

So what is AMP?

In human speak, AMP are web pages on a diet

AMP are web pages built on a bare-bones modified HTML specification (the language of the web), cached by Google for super-fast loading. In human speak,
AMP are web pages on a diet.

Here's a screen recording of how AMP pages load within mobile search results pages:

GIF Animation of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in action

To understand how this is an important step forward, let's look at how things work right now.

Right now, when you load a responsive website on a mobile phone, you're downloading the exact same page that would load on a desktop or laptop, along with every possible style that could appear across the website and a bunch of code which helps make things snazzy.

Essentially - right now,
our mobile phones are downloading far more than they need for every single webpage.

AMP is limited by design. By cutting pages down in size to ensure they have a tiny footprint, sites will load rapidly on mobile. Most excitingly, Google will store a copy of your page, serving it to users on your behalf when your page appears in search results - meaning
your website can benefit from the power of Google's infrastructure.

How does it work?

Alongside your regular webpage (for desktop devices), you need to create an
AMP-optimised version. Google will detect this, then store a copy on their servers.

When a user runs a Google search on a mobile device, Google will display
AMP pages within the “Top Stories” carousels, accompanied by a green AMP logo. If you click on the article, it'll load up
within your search results page in an instant.

Handy diagram:

Diagram showing how Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) work within your website ecosystem

The Benefits

Your website visitors will benefit from speedy loading - they can get straight to your content in a flash, regardless of where they access your site.

AMP is well supported across mobile browsers and platforms,so you'll benefit from the 
impact on mobile friendliness
, which may improve your search rank, as your site is guaranteed to work well on mobile devices.

As Google store a copy of your
AMP pages on their servers, you'll also benefit from having your site served from Google's powerful server infrastructure - an absolute win.

Finally, it's open source - you can see how everything works behind the scenes and contribute to the future of the
AMP project - if your organisation loves pushing the envelope of what's possible and contributing to the future of the mobile web,
AMP will be right up your street. As Twitter, LinkedIn and Wordpress have
partnered up with the
AMP project, it's likely we'll start seeing Tweets, LinkedIn articles and Wordpress blog posts loading from the search results pages in a snap.

Expect things to move fast.

The Drawbacks

AMP pages will only load within Google Search results… for now

While itseems like a perfect solution, AMP pages will only load within Google Search results
...for now. That means, if a user navigates directly to your website from their device, they won't see the AMP-optimised version. Time will tell, but for now,
AMP is for search visitors from Google only. It'll be worth watching which other search engines join the AMP project - will Yandex, Yahoo and Bing take part?

The downside of having a limited HTML specification is that you won't be able to have all the bells and whistles you might usually put on a webpage. While you
will be able to insert images, ads, sliders, lightboxes and embedded tweets, you won't be able to use Javascript, objects or external stylesheets.

If you're a developer, take a look at the
full documentation to see what's possible.

Depending on how your site is currently set up, it may take some time to get set up with
AMP - so expect your web team to take a few weeks to work on it - although the benefits certainly justify time spent setting it up.

Image showing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) pros and cons

Which should I choose?

This really comes down to your audience.

It's worth setting up with
Instant Articles if: 

  • You want your articles to load faster on the Facebook apps on iOS and Android
  • You have 50 articles ready for posting
  • Facebook is a major source of traffic to your website

It's worth setting up with
AMP if:

  • You want your site to load faster for Google search users on mobile
  • You want your articles to improve in mobile friendliness

There's no reason you can't set up both
Instant Articles &
AMP - if you want to improve your experience on both Facebook and Google, a combination is certainly possible.

Both methods will take your tech team some time to set up, so it comes down to who you value:

  • Facebook users
  • Google search users

Go forth and mobile.


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