Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
11 Mar 2019

The Pros and Cons of an Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP)

AMP is an acronym for the Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) project. It is an open source initiative launched by Google and Twitter that increases the loading speed for web pages on mobile devices. At its core AMP is a stripped-down form of HTML, effectively making it a web page designed to be extremely lightweight and fast loading. It derives its speed advantage over regular web pages by limiting the number of tags allowed on an HTML page. It also uses a streamlined version of CSS where only certain parts of the standard can be used to transform particular HTML elements. However, it is its restriction on the use of JavaScript that gives AMP its superior speed advantage over regular web pages.

Fundamental to the AMP specification is that JavaScript is not allowed. It does come with an off-the-shelf JavaScript library that provides some scripting features users have come to expect. By limiting HTML tags, streamlining CSS, and severely restricting JavaScript, AMP pages load much faster and are an ideal platform for displaying content on mobile devices. The core premise of this platform is to allow content creators to deliver information to end users in an easily readable and super fast format. It does this in a few ways. For example, images do not load until the user scrolls them into view. The other factor that makes it so fast is that it is designed to be heavily cached. As the user’s device effectively fetches the content directly from Google instead of the origin server, its load times are significantly improved. However, even though AMP provides various advantages for creators and publishers, there are a few disadvantages that come with utilizing this platform for delivering high-speed content to your end users.

Advertising Revenue

When it comes to making advertising revenue off ads hosted on your website running your site via the AMP platform has a significant disadvantage. Since users are effectively accessing content hosted on Google’s servers, they will be viewing Google ads as opposed to paid content that is hosted on your website. This feature means that there will be more ad revenue for Google and less for the paid content creator. However, Google has acknowledged this shortcoming and allows you to link back to ads on your original site by using an amp-ad script and adding an amp-ad tag to your Accelerated Mobile Page site.

Site Development

As stated, AMP is able to provide superior performance over standard web pages due to its implementation of a stripped down HTML, a streamlined instance of CSS, and severely limiting the use of JavaScript. However, these development features can hamstring the creation of modern websites where users expect a certain level of animation and functionality. It also limits what UX designers can create and align with your site and corporate branding guidelines. The other issue is building the AMP site itself. Since most of the coding needs to be done manually, an architectural decision needs to be made before any development can begin. You either need to build your traditional site and then refactor it, or disregard any aesthetics and features and make it an Accelerated Mobile Page site from the outset.

User Tracking and AMP Cached Pages

Another disadvantage of using the AMP platform instead of having visitors access your regular website directly is that tracking user activities is not straightforward. The fact is that AMP does not work with any visitor tracking that you have already implemented. Google tracks and stores these pages differently. Although some solutions resolve this challenge, monitoring user activity on AMP pages takes effort and a different set of resources. The other negative drawback from using AMP is that the content is served directly from Google’s cache servers. This feature allows Google to serve AMP pages much faster as they do not need to send traffic to an origin server. However, it also means the pages that appear in search results are held on the Google platform. As a result of this cached architecture, your visitors are not receiving content from the pages you originally created. They are effectively viewing a cached copy of your content that is stored somewhere else. Not only does this influence user tracking behavior, but it also means sites that need to serve refreshed content regularly need to factor this mechanism into their overall solution architecture.

Hidden Implementation Costs

In addition to the advertising revenue, user tracking, and the challenges that come with having your pages cached by Google, AMP pages also have a few other disadvantages. The limited HTML and CSS you can leverage, as well as the near non-existent use of JavaScript, means that you cannot develop rich User Interface (UI) experiences. The engineering time needed to build AMP pages is also much longer, so it increases your overall site development costs.  For example, if your AMP site needs forms, adding this feature requires further technical implementation which results in additional time and expense. You also need to factor in the maintenance cost of managing an AMP site. As it would form part of your larger digital strategy, you would need to ensure compatibility across different browsers, devices, and align and design the AMP experience with the equivalent regular versions of your content.

The Benefits of AMP Far Outweigh the Costs

Even though AMP has its drawbacks, leveraging this platform to deliver content to your mobile user base has many more advantages than disadvantages. It offers you standardized mobile optimization, and it gives your site a significant improvement when it comes to search ranking in a mobile-first world. In addition to these benefits, one cannot argue that the speed performance of AMP versus traditional mobile sites is far superior. You may have limitations in what you can do with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but the limited user interface is a small price to pay for the significant improvements in speed and performance. Finally, AMPs have the distinct advantage of rating first in Google’s search engine result algorithm. Site owners who are considering AMP for their websites must weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. They need to evaluate the pros of improved speed and higher search ranking versus the cons of development limitations, complex user tracking, caching issues, higher upfront development costs, and the ongoing maintenance burden of using this platform.