18 months down the line, what has Google AMP really achieved

In early 2016, Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for publishers who wanted to have their content loaded in a flash on mobile devices at a much faster rate.

At the point of writing this article, 65% of all traffic in Asia (and this is higher for developer countries) is on the mobile. A bulk of these users are on mobile data networks which may not be as fast as a steady broadband connection.

What Google did therefore was to launch a series of initiatives, Weblight and now AMP that would help the search engine load the publisher’s content faster for the user.

Google is focusing on the user

The rationale that Google gave to publishers was that it focused on the user’s experience. If a user is doing a Google search on a choppy data connection, the search results might be presented in the blink of an eye, however, because the publisher’s site was taking too long to load, the user would get a bad experience … or worse, the user would say that Google is too slow!

With Google Weblight, what the organization did was to load the content on an interim site (which was Weblight) and display the content there. This created two problems –

  1. Publishers lost traffic, and Ad Revenues
  2. Publishers lost control on the format of their content and their style guides

Both reasons were strong enough for a lot of publishers to stay away from Weblight.

AMP gets introduced in the mix

To give some control of the content formats back to the user and also to incorporate both analytics and ad scripts into the publisher’s content, Google created another mark-up language. This is AMP.

AMP allows the publisher to present the content on their own site, in a style that’s acceptable to the publisher. It may not have too much flexibility, but at least the publisher is free to design that style instead of the Weblight approach.

This may not be an ideal situation, but atleast it ensures that users are shown the content they are search for the fastest.

Have people embraced AMP?

Well, it’s a bit hazy there. For those of us who were on existing Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla it was much easier to transition. It just meant having to install some plugins and do the configuration.

However, the folks who have made their own web apps and products, they are completely clueless as to how to go about implementing AMP.

The sad part is that a lot of the product developers that I have spoken to, are of the opinion that AMP is just a new thing that “SEO folks” have to do. Add to the mental model of SEO being perceived as a much lower the value chain task – that pretty much means that developers are simply not aware about the benefits of AMP.

What irks me is that people’s individual bias is used to mask their ignorance about how to make their products perform better on search.

So, if you are leading a product team or are working on building products, then definitely head on to the Accelerated Mobile Pages project.

As a publisher who has embraced AMP, how does that impact me?

It surprisingly does not help me much with acquiring more traffic. The website is shown a bit differently in the search engine results, and that perhaps is getting me a bit higher click through rates. However, the numbers are not significantly high enough for me to assess based on the data provided.

One major problem with all new initiatives that Google is doing with Search is their stubbornness on keeping things completely opaque.

Not a single publisher is in the loop when it comes to knowing what was the exact payoff of any of the optimization activities they did. It is left for these teams to dig in and figure it out themselves before they are able to attribute the success of this activity. I believe that’s a major deterrent for a lot of product managers to make this choice of embracing AMP.

Data anomalies in Search Console

In the past 5-6 years or so, a lot of online businesses, especially the ones who are hungry for growth have relied on organic traffic as one of their key sources. Now growth could mean an increase in pure numbers (traffic, sessions, users) … or it could mean an increase in more tangible business parameters (revenues, profits). One of the things that I have learnt is that depending on which success metrics we chase, our own identity undergoes a shift.

Search as a major source of traffic

The major contributors to organic traffic are search and social. Wherever there is a site which has great and unique content by the loads, there is a chance for driving organic traffic.

At different points in time, I have been skeptical about Social Media and me-too posting that most brand pages do on platforms such as Facebook. However, Search for me has always been fascinating and I still have faith in Search :).

SEO can’t be a method

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has evolved over a period of time and I have blogged about it on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, the number of times the algorithm changes and the rate of evolution of what Google (the market leader in this space) construes as quality content ensures that you can’t have a steady SEO “process”.

Having said that, SEO involves a fair amount of design thinking.

The reason behind this statement is because the problem behind search visibility (and the factors that control that) keep changing. It’s a wicked problem. Design thinking can solve such kind of problems because of its test and iterate mechanism.

Data to drive Design Thinking

This is where having the correct data to decide on next steps is crucial. Having a data driven design thinking approach would entail that there are periodical reviews of what kind of data we have available to make the right choices.

Search data has always been plagued with incomplete information. Starting from the 2011 encrypted search announcement, where a bulk of the data in Google Analytics was being reported as (not set). There have been ample approaches to clarify this data, unfortunately, as Google Search goes more towards handhelds and as digital privacy increases, the percentage of data where there is clear visibility will keep going down.

This can’t be helped. What can be done is take these “anomalies” into account and factor those in while doing your analysis.

So what kind of Data anomalies in Search Console do we expect to find?

Google Support has compiled this list. They keep updating their data reporting logic and keep updating this page as well.

One of the major changes that you can see is that last month, they started reporting more data in Google Webmaster Tools. Please bear in mind that this is just a change in the data that is being reported and not the actual search traffic that is on your site.

The link also explains why there is data disparity between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and any other third party tool that you could be using to generate keyword data.

So, my data is incomplete, what to do?

Don’t panic.

Work with the list of data anomalies and identify which ones are impacting you the most. Having visibility on which parts of data are not available to you is also better than not knowing anything and assuming that the data you have is complete.

In iterations, the first comparison is always your previous state. In both cases the data being made available to you is pretty much the same. Hence, a week on week comparison report is much more valuable as opposed to a comparison report with your closest competitor.

As long as the measures of success is on the same tool, the data anomaly should be cancelled out. Please bear in mind that for most of our data work, we do not need precise data but can work with coarse data.

A simple approach to identify this would be – if you work with charts and graphs more, then you can work with coarse data and absorb the anomalies. If you work with more than 4 decimals, then you might want to add 3-4 lines of disclaimer below your data.

Life without Google – Gives me the heebie jeebies!

For all the awesome things that Google does, there are always concerns about privacy, data sharing and access to insane personal information. So much so that there is an interesting site out there in the blue nothing – One Day without Google.

This got me thinking. As a collective, we criticize the Search Giant so much, but if it were not for Google, what would we be doing now?

How would life be without Google?

Continue reading

Mobile usability GWMT Flash
People Manager Google Chrome