Breaking news: When AMP goes through the roof

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The audience for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) has been growing steadily over the past year, from single-digit to low double-digit percentages of traffic for many websites.

Beneath that topline number is an interesting trend: For many news publishers, certain viral and breaking stories are now consumed mostly in AMP format. And on a huge news day, AMP can be a large slice of a publisher’s overall web traffic.

In those defining moments, a fast and full-featured AMP experience can help a publisher put its best foot forward.

How can AMP be that big?

First, let’s unpack a typical news publisher’s AMP traffic. Adobe reported that AMP contributed 7 percent of total web traffic to top news sites in December 2016. Since then, Google has expanded AMP exposure in search, and other platforms such as Twitter have started linking to AMP pages.

With that in mind, let’s say AMP is now around 10 percent of traffic for a typical news website, give or take. For most websites, that traffic is concentrated in mobile article views sourced from Google, Twitter and other referrers that link to AMP. (Publishers could change that by adopting canonical AMP, as some e-commerce sites have done, or by AMP-enabling more pages.) AMP might be upwards of 30–50 percent of a publisher’s mobile article views on an average day, depending on mix of content and referral sources.

An analysis of dozens of local and national news websites shows that AMP can spike far above that baseline on a regular basis. For viral and breaking news stories, AMP can contribute more than 80 percent of combined desktop and mobile web views. For those stories, AMP is the primary consumer experience, and the non-AMP page is ancillary.

What causes AMP spikes?

Breaking news and viral stories over-index in mobile search referrals because search is a tool of intent, and mobile is a platform of immediacy. Mobile search traffic surges when people want to know about something happening now — from news, weather and sports events to celebrity gossip and watercooler stories.

For AMP-enabled publishers, all of that mobile Google traffic now flows to AMP pages. Since Twitter adopted AMP links in its mobile apps, Twitter traffic flows to AMP as well.

Plus, big stories invoke Google’s AMP-only Top Stories carousel, which funnels more traffic to AMP-enabled publishers.

Top Stories AMP Carousel

Only AMP content is eligible for Google’s Top Stories carousel.

What does an AMP spike look like?

First, here’s the pageview trend for an ordinary story of limited, local interest (road closures). This story was consumed mostly in standard, non-AMP form. Most people probably discovered the article on the publisher’s website or social feed. The graph below shows traffic to the non-AMP and AMP versions of the article over 24 hours:

AMP v Non-AMP Trend for Standard Story

First 24 hours of pageviews to an ordinary (non-viral, non-breaking) news story. Source: Relay Media tracking pixel on standard article page and AMP page.

Now here’s a heavily searched story (celebrity death) that received 3.5 times more traffic to the AMP version than the standard version. An outsized share of AMP traffic is typical for stories like this. The graph below shows traffic to the non-AMP and AMP versions of the article over 24 hours:

AMP v Non-AMP Trend for Breaking Story

First 24 hours of pageviews to a popular, heavily searched news story. Source: Relay Media tracking pixel on standard article page and AMP page.

AMP delivers speed when it matters most

Fast page load is particularly important during breaking news, and particularly noticeable in search. People seeking information and comparing stories from multiple sources will notice whether they’re getting a quick, smooth page or a slow, clunky one. Big stories are a publisher’s chance to satisfy (or frustrate) new and existing users; AMP can help ensure these defining encounters are positive.

The stakes are higher during widespread emergencies when people use their phones to find weather updates, evacuation routes, traffic updates and shelter information. Overloaded mobile networks make slow websites even slower — or totally inaccessible. At these times, a fast-loading mobile page (AMP or not) can be a public service, not just competitive advantage.

Key questions for publishers:

Knowing that AMP skews toward viral and breaking news, here are some questions for publishers to consider:

  • Are you AMP-enabling your best-performing search content, particularly breaking news, sports and weather?
  • How does your AMP experience support your conversion funnel — whether your goals are subscriptions, alert opt-ins, app downloads or just another pageview or session?
  • Do your AMP pages reflect your brand and give a positive first impression? Do they look like a stripped-down version of the standard page, or do they invite engagement and showcase your most sticky features?
  • Do your revenue operations allow you to fully monetize AMP spikes?
  • Eventually, would you consider publishing your article pages as canonical AMP so that all users get the same fast experience regardless of how they encounter your content? What are the metrics and requirements you’d need to make that decision?

By the way, Google picks up the tab

Publishers might not realize that when AMP pages are viewed in Google’s environments, they’re served from Google’s CDN — so Google pays to deliver the code and images. This is a side effect of Google’s practice of caching AMP pages in order to validate them and deliver them with reliable speed.

This does not include video, which Google does not cache and which can be the most costly element to serve. Still, the Google AMP cache could put a dent in publishers’ bandwidth bills as mobile traffic grows, especially when AMP stories spike through the roof.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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