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What is AMP and Why Do You Need It?

by Daniel Chen - February 19, 2016

AMP is a solution to a problem, and that problem is poor mobile development. Despite numerous and detailed best practices from Google’s likes, most companies continue to have inferior mobile practices. Mobile optimization is a mixed bag, and mobile consumers (which is, increasingly, the majority of consumers) continue to deal with poor performance. Sites load slowly, pages return errors instead of content, and nothing is scaled appropriately to mobile screens.

This is an enormous problem from a marketing perspective because mobile consumers make speedy decisions – if a page doesn’t load within a second or two, consumers will almost always skip to an alternative to find an answer or product as quickly as possible can.

Enter AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages, an HTML subset developed by The AMP Project (a collection of interested parties, including Google). AMP limits what JavaScript and third-party scripts you can use in exchange for pre-loading web pages for mobile devices so that your page always appears quickly and reliably.

Getting AMPed

It isn’t the first time this web development problem has happened, just the first time it has happened to mobile devices. When quality control began to affect early Web pages seriously, developers eventually reached a sort of stability (mixed in with a hefty amount of “survival of the fittest”) using CSS and other well-known page building tools that helped ensure acceptable performance. AMP is a solution to this similar issue related to phones, tablets, and other mobile screens: It creates pre-renderable pages that intelligently pick the right components to pre-render for mobile viewers.

So, from a conceptual view, there are a lot of similarities between AMP and CSS. The mobile pages are designed to render all modern browsers and web views without exception, on both mobile and desktop. It works almost entirely with static content and does not include potentially troublesome features like third-party scripts or original JavaScript, which could throw wrenches in the works.

In case you screeched to a halt at that JavaScript limitation, we should note that AMP does allow for custom elements that use acceptable forms of JavaScript but integrates them with all necessary AMP components, so there are workarounds here. The good news is that there are far fewer problems when it comes to traditional CSS: Except for the sloppiest CSS work, most are allowed and encouraged when building AMP.

The Future of Mobile

AMP is being adopted first by the large companies that understand its worth and have a relatively simple offering that is easy to translate. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others have a whole lot of static content that is already chomping at the bit to adopt AMP. These companies are currently experimenting with beta versions.

Because it’s still in the early days of conception, putting numbers to AMP is a risky game. However, research so far indicates that using AMP improves mobile speeds anywhere between 15% and 85%. It’s worth noting that these speed boosts don’t depend on endless tweaks to your pages: If you use AMP, the boosts are automatically there.

Even if you have limited static content and a robust mobile development process, AMP is still worth adopting when it continues to evolve. The acceptable JavaScript library is still growing; documents are still being formed to create a useful resource for companies to draw on…the whole project has a way to go. But because AMP is the most promising future for efficient mobile development, we suggest that you get ready for it as the commonly accepted mobile standard.

What does that mean for your company right now? Generally, it means that priority should be given to clean your web design that allows for AMP adoption. Specifically, you should consider:

  • Reviewing Google’s updates: Google is often at the forefront of mobile development and is a core contributor to AMP, so pay attention to its updates.
  • Put less focus on JavaScript: This is self-explanatory. Consult the AMP library and create web components ready for mobile pre-rendering instead of depending on older, unsupported scripts.
  • Focus on the other mobile problems: AMP takes care of many performance issues for you, and even more as time goes on. But it would help if you still managed content decisions, readability, touchscreen compatibility, and many other important factors in mobile development. Think of AMP as a way to free up your resources to focus more on what really matters.

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