AMP for Retail E-commerce Sites

So, what is AMP? Almost a year ago, on October 7, 2015, Google unveiled its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative for publishers. It was touted as an open-source framework for mobile pages that gave publishers the ability to provide lightning-fast downloads when a user clicked on an AMP page. These articles were displayed in a carousel at the top of the mobile search results, identified with a lightning bolt and the ‘AMP’ label, and described as a way to minimize page speed load times. At the time of the initial rollout, iProspect published a POV explaining why implementing AMP was not (yet) a good idea.

Why are we telling you things you already know? Because Google is now including AMP results directly in the SERP listings, making things much more interesting for performance marketers. In a recent statement, Google said, “Later this year, all types of sites that create AMP pages will have expanded exposure across the entire Google Mobile Search results page, like e-commerce, entertainment, travel, recipe sites and many more”. These pages, which will still be identified with the lightning bolt icon and ‘AMP’ notation, will soon be competing for search-shelf space alongside mobile websites and app listings.

With the recent updates, Google has also made AMP accessible to a wider audience.  In addition to publishers, online retailers with mobile e-commerce sites will now be able to get in on the act. Most notably, Ebay and 1-800-Flowers have both implemented AMP programming on their respective mobile sites.

Importance for retailers

If you’re wondering if your retail e-commerce site should start investing in AMP development, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, there are not many public case studies regarding the effectiveness of using AMP on your pages, but we do know that AMP decreases page speed load times. We also know that page speed load times will become very important to the mobile search engine ranking algorithms in the near future. Additionally, 40% of users may abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load, a behavior that could negatively affect conversions.

While AMP is not yet a ranking factor, it will likely play a larger role in Google’s Hummingbird algorithm in the future. Moreover, if users become more familiar with the lightning bolt icon and AMP marking in mobile search result pages, these code-optimal pages could see increased click-through rates, leading to higher conversion rates.

Benefits for e-commerce sites

Many of the previously stated reasons against implementing AMP have been rendered irrelevant by these recent updates targeting retail e-commerce sites. Specifically, AMP pages are now handling e-commerce analytics through the expansion of the AMP-analytics variable. This variable will also enable the tracking and analysis of the AMP page performance metrics and provide the ability to compare those metrics to the mobile site performance. For instance, this will allow you analyze whether the AMP pages are outperforming the mobile site in terms of traffic and revenue generated, click-thru-rate, and bounce rate.

It has also been reported that the AMP Project is in the planning stages on a project that will enable better mobile payments via AMP pages after the addition of login-based access, which is slated for Q4 2016.

The drawbacks

Unfortunately, there are a few down sides. For one thing, AMP coding is still a work in progress, and there are frequent updates currently planned, which we anticipate will continue beyond the current list. With so many changes and enhancements being made to the platform, there will potentially be the need to continually update AMP pages to maintain performance. In addition, the proprietary code used in the AMP pages requires developers to become fluent in yet another coding language.

There have also been a number of discussions around concerns that AMP pages could potentially create a disjointed user experience if the AMP-optimized content links out to the mobile site on the first click off the AMP page. (See the example below where the AMP Page has no internal search, login, or cart features.)

There is also the possibility that the functions that make your site unique amidst the competition may not work the same way (or at all) on AMP as they do on the mobile site. (The difference in functionality is due to the simplified JavaScript and CSS coding needed for AMP pages.)

And finally, the biggest drawback is the time and effort required to implement AMP pages effectively. The question of whether to move forward with coding AMP pages or just optimize your mobile site page speed is one that will need to be evaluated as a business decision. Using the Google Mobile Page Speed testing tool, search marketers are able to identify site areas that might be responsible for increases in page speed load time. It is possible that remedying these issues on the m-commerce site would require less time and effort than coding and maintaining a completely separate site for AMP.

Our recommendation

With the need to improve page speed load times on mobile pages (particularly in light of the near certainty that load time will soon become a more important ranking factor for the Google mobile algorithm), it is recommended that brands start making improvements now. Whether the plan is to move forward with AMP pages, or to update the existing site will be up to the brand. When first exploring the possibilities, it may be wise to test the implementation of AMP pages against the current mobile site using a specific subset of pages. This will help you determine, on a manageable scale, whether there is an increase in key performance indicators (KPIs). If the AMP pages do show improvements, the next logical test would be to update the coding of the m-commerce site to reduce page load times and then retest against the AMP pages. Once again, depending on which set of pages shows the best performance marketing opportunities, you will have gained valuable insight into which approach will provide the best the way forward for your site.