These are interesting times in which ‘content’ operates – in terms of how technology underpins its delivery – where consumer, publisher and brand demands have to play nicely in the same opportunity sandpit. And now, Google AMP is changing everything. Or is it?
There are a number of truths in the current content landscape:
- The consumer wants compelling content that is relevant. They likely don’t want to be interrupted in the content experience by ads, but might be more willing to engage with commercial messaging in and around content, if it is contextually relevant.
- Brands want to get in front of the right consumer and convert quicker than ever. They want a return on investment at scale and they want to stand out.
- Publishers want all the traffic. They want all the consumer attention to take such metrics to brands to justify the vast sums. They want to pair brand messaging with that attention.
There are many things that get in the way of all these wants and needs and when a consumer doesn’t behave the way a brand wants or a brand doesn’t deliver what a consumer wants, we get stuck. And when a publisher is losing the battle on both fronts, things are really stuck. Is technology the great saviour – the lubricant, if you will, of all this content as commercial opportunity? Perhaps.
Pop-ups and banner ads are nothing new. The ‘invention’ of the pop-up is a fascinating story in and of itself. This episode of the ‘Reply All’ podcast is a great starting point.
The sticking point of content and ads has come into sharp focus in recent times, but the proliferation of ‘mobile first’ has exacerbated the content and ad user experience.
Google wants to help you (and itself)
Similar to Apple News and Facebook’s Instant Articles offering, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, otherwise known as Google AMP, has been live for just over a month. Google AMP is an open source initiative that details technical processes for publishers, to allow content and ads on mobile pages to load up to 85% faster.
Publishers who make correct use of AMP could gain the advantage of higher placement in Google’s search results, which would ultimately lead to more exposure for the content and the brands.
Google also intends to exclusively use AMP partners within its carousel – the aggregated search results that users see at the top of many search results pages.
Why the need for Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles in the first place? When the article content loads first but the ads are having to pull from several other sources, with different technology protocols coming into play, that ad spot is useless, so Google AMP et al seek to standardise and refine the process.
As reported on the Monday Note blog article, ‘Google AMP Is Also A Mobile Ads Revolution’:
For the digital content industry, the rampant mediocrity of mobile ads has become an embarrassment: poorly designed ads whose resolution is not adjusted to the phone screen; painfully heavy banners; failing to load properly and thus leaving a blank space in the scroll…
And these are just some of the issues that standardised protocols are seeking to overcome.
Research shows how some leading publishers suffer from slow ad load times, compared to how quickly their actual content loads. When it takes 30.8 seconds for the adverts to load on Boston.com’s page, yet the content itself appears in 8.1 seconds, you can see exactly why there is an issue and something needs to be done about it.
Of course, if Google has a version of ‘doing something about it’, Facebook has an offering and Apple has its own flavour, which ‘standardised’ protocol will prevail? Some publishers just plain don’t care for the protocols of others, and are building their CMS from scratch, with custom-build technology stacks that are serving their own needs.
A great Google stAMPede?
More than 70 digital media companies have announced they have joined the AMP wagon, including Buzzfeed, The New York Times, Outbrain, AOL and OpenX. But there is a game of Chicken taking place, as everybody looks left and right to see who will make the first move to commit to the new standards, and it comes down to whether or not the additional development work has a big enough pay-off.
‘The Daily News has decided to hold off on direct-selling ads on AMP pages, even though that’s more lucrative, because it’s not yet clear if advertiser demand will be worth the extra work required on the publisher’s end’, stated Grant Whitmore, Executive Vice President of digital at the New York Daily News, in an interview with Digiday.com.
Should I rebuild my website?
Do brands need to assume the costly route of reworking their websites so they are fine-tuned to the Google AMP way of life? Not quite. There is a Yoast WordPress plug-in that gets you most of the way there, if that is your CMS of choice. There are other plugins for other CMS offerings coming to the fore also. One thing that is key to note right now: Google AMP is squarely a publisher’s website kind of thing; not all websites assume a publisher model and, therefore, are not suited to Google AMP in its initial iteration. We are not recommending that clients need to pivot and develop solutions today, but it is certainly worth considering your technical setup if you are in a new build or website redevelopment onset phase of a project.
SEO strategy: Stick or twist?
I caught up with Artur Jach, Head of SEO at Unlimited Group stablemate, TMW Unlimited. His take is as follows:
‘We’ve been following the Google AMP developments with most of our ongoing SEO clients and monitoring discussions in the industry. The tech guys have said it’s not easy to implement, but the performance gains are incredible.
‘Right now you’re not necessarily getting any ranking benefit as it’s for news-y type content only. There are statements, blog posts and rumours that Google will make it a ranking factor. I wouldn’t be surprised if they monitor the uptake and will decide how big of a factor it should really be.
‘I think they will make it a ranking factor but would be surprised if it’s a big one. So it’s likely to end up at the bottom of technical SEO recommendations, since it is a low-benefit and high-effort change.’
As with many technological adjustments driven by third parties – albeit hugely influential ones such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple – we will monitor and adjust when the time is right. Let’s see how the online content landscape settles down again once the major players have all made their moves to ‘improve’ the user experience of content and ads… And their business models too.
Control your own content and data destiny
In much the same way as it is imperative for us to own data, own the process of building our own data sources, and the mechanisms for data capture to command control (so we are not subject to the whim of the networks and platform operators as they change their algorithms and rules at their own behest), we too should take greater control of the content opportunity. From the get-go, we should create compelling and strategic content that does a better job than an advert. An advert that may get blocked at the first available opportunity and, by extension, have an impact on the chance to get more and better data.
Do you see Google AMP as a disruption for the better in online content delivery?