Seen that little lightning symbol and the letters AMP in Google mobile search results? Haven’t got the foggiest what it means? You and 99% of other Google users, because the king of search has done an appalling job of explaining what that baffling icon represents.
AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages and it’s something Google is effectively forcing every regularly updated website to use.
It’s essentially a stripped down, lightweight version of web pages designed to load quickly on smartphones. Out goes fancy design, scripts, forms and almost anything else that might slow down the browsing experience. You simply get the text and pictures in the most compact form possible, so that the page appears almost the instant you tap on the search result.
Most websites will have two versions of their pages: an ordinary version containing all the design bells and whistles for desktop users, and an AMP version for mobiles. Each has its own unique URL (or web address). On The Big Tech Question, for example, you can get the regular version of this story at http://bigtechquestion.com/2017/08/15/news/what-does-amp-in-google-search-results-mean and the AMP version at http://bigtechquestion.com/2017/08/15/news/what-does-amp-in-google-search-results-mean/amp – note the extra /amp at the end of the URL.
If you click on the AMP version on a desktop browser, you’ll see a stripped back, uglier version of the same story – it looks much better in a mobile browser and, more importantly, loads much faster.
Most of the big news sites now support AMP. Here, for example, is an AMP version of The Guardian’s brilliant takedown of Noel Edmond’s latest television venture, and here is the full version. If you look closely at The Guardian’s URLs, it has amp right at the start of the web address, rather than at the back end like we do.
Google’s AMP obsession
Why are all the big publishers (and The Big Tech Question) supporting AMP? Because they don’t have much choice. Google is favouring AMP sites in its mobile search results. If you search for a newsy term such as “Donald Trump”, the top result is an AMP site, a little carousel appears beneath the top result that is exclusive to AMP sites, and almost every result on the first page carries that little symbol. If you don’t support AMP, nobody’s going to find your stories in mobile search.
Google is the Pied Piper of web traffic. It sets the tune and everyone else follows.