Google Wants Us to Jump Through Hoops. Again.
Sneak Peak: What this post will cover
- Why 150 million AMP pages is not that big of a deal
- 2 Examples where it would have been smart NOT to be an early adopter of a Google initiative
- A possible course of action in a world where mobile speed does indeed matter
Last week I published a post describing what Accelerated Mobile Pages are. Originally I decided to publish on the topic after a friend of mine, Eric Fettman (a Google Analytics instructor and coach over at E-Nor), asked me whether I thought it would be important to migrate some or all of a website’s content to Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
It’s natural that a savvy Internet Marketing consultant like Eric would be aware of Google’s AMP push, but what about typical webmasters and business owners? Most importantly, should professional web marketers be pushing their developers or development team to start coding AMP framework for their current and future content?
As I covered last week, mainstream publications like Forbes and Fortune have been drawing attention to AMP. I quoted Christopher Ratcliff, managing editor at Search Engine Watch, who advised readers to “get your lightning fast skates on” when it came to AMP adoption. Although he advised readers not to “panic” and said “If you haven’t enabled AMP on your site, don’t worry just yet,” the strong implication was that the time for panic and worry might be just around the corner.
I don’t know Ratcliff, but he has a solid reputation in the world of search and so definitely his advice is worth considering. And as even AMP skeptics have pointed out, Accelerated Mobile Pages do have some attractive features and do deliver on their promise of significant speed improvements.
Nevertheless, I tend to remain more on the AMP-skeptic side of things and I am not advising my clients and students to rush into AMP just yet. This second post on the subject is to explain why (I certainly hope these don’t constitute “famous last words”!)
I have three reasons for intending to be a slow-adopter when it comes to AMP
AMP Adoption so far is not that significant
Forbes, SEW and others point to Google’s own trumpeting of the fact that 150 million AMP-compliant pages are now in their index with another 4 million being added weekly. Just hearing the raw numbers might make you feel like there’s a stampede and you’ll be the one trampled if you don’t get yourself moving.
Those are big numbers, to be sure, unless we compare them to the size of Google’s index. According to Google they now have 60 trillion pages in their index – that’s right, trillion (just a bit smaller than the number of McDonald’s hamburgers served, I believe).
So let’s do some simple math. The number of AMP documents currently constitutes 25 ten thousandths of a percent of Google’s index. 1 percent of their index would be 600 billion pages. 1/10th of 1 percent would be 60 billion.
If the Google index remains constant (no more likely than if McDonald’s stops serving reconstituted meat burgers), and if AMP adoption proceeds at 4 million per week, it means that AMP content will reach just one tenth of one percent of Google’s index in just a little over 281 years. (Someone may want to check my math on that; I was always more of a language arts kind of guy.)
Am I saying that AMP should be dismissed on the basis of these numbers? Not at all. I know as much as anyone that the majority of those trillions of pages are junk, but at the same time their index was reported at 30 trillion just 3 years ago, which would indicate that half of the index was added recently.
Additionally, I conducted my own very unscientific test: I went to Google’s AMP demo on my phone and performed a bunch of searches. Whenever I searched on a news topic, top stories showed prominent publishers like the Washington Post in the carousel and typically the story led to an AMP page, which makes sense since the initial focus of AMP was news publishers.
However, as soon as I started searching for non-news-related items, AMP largely disappeared from the results. In fact, in one sector where I have done lots of SEO, namely worker safety training, the majority of the results aren’t even mobile friendly yet, much less AMP-compliant. Which brings me to point number 2:
Wasted Hoop Jumping Example #1 – Rushing to Avoid/Take Advantage of that Super Duper, Post-Apocalyptic Mobilegeddon
For those of you new to SEO or unfamiliar with its jargon, Mobilegeddon was a post-apocalyptic phrase applied pre-apocalyptically to Google’s announcement in 2014 that non-mobile-ready sites were going to get hammered in mobile search results come April of that year.
I have a client in workplace safety training so I naturally was following the predictions of mobile rankings turmoil. In that case I had high hopes that we would see improvement. I spurred my client to get their primary domains mobile-friendly several months before the non-mobile website world was to come to an end. Most of their competitors were not mobile-friendly and remained oblivious to Mobilegeddon. We thought, not without reason, that at least some of our non-mobile competitors would slip in the rankings when they got hit by this Tsunami of mobile-friendliness. Yes, yes – I know that this is just one of many ranking factors, but this was a clear-cut way to see the results of at least one highly publicized change in an almost laboratory environment.
As it turned out, remaining oblivious to Mobilegeddon was a very effective strategy. Not only did the mobile rankings not change for the most competitive terms (and a term like “osha 10 hour training” is quite competitive), but here we are a year and half after the vaunted Mobilegeddon and look at the search results I captured on my phone today: listings 3, 4, and 5 are not mobile friendly. They are outranking all the listings below them that are mobile-friendly.
Again, I know that there’s more to ranking than having a mobile friendly site, duh. And I realize that certainly some mobile-friendly sites were benefited by Mobilegeddon, however in one industry I followed closely at the time there was a total absence of a shake-up and our big rush to get my client mobile-friendly had no discernible impact, positive or negative, on their visibility. And to add insult to injury, did I mention that I hate saying such a stupid phrase as “Mobilegeddon” over and over?
No wonder Google announced this week that they would be removing the mobile-friendly indicator from search results, it’s likely in many searches to reveal how strongly many non-mobile-friendly sites rank, weakening the sense of urgency that Google is striving to convey.
Wasted Hoop Jumping Example #2 – Google Authorship
Remember Google “authorship”? I’d love to forget it.
Google made a big push for sites to set up Google Plus profiles, link them to content creators, tie content to the content creator, and tie domain hosting the content back to the Google Plus profile. It was a convoluted mess that confused my clients and students…heck, it confused me.
I wonder, how many millions of gender-unspecified-person-hours were wasted setting these schemes up? I remember spending hours figuring out why Google wouldn’t show my primary photo next to search results (turns out Google didn’t recognize my face as “human,” which is quite a blow to one’s confidence!)
In our SEO training at the Search Engine Academy, we dutifully complied with Google’s suggestions and taught our students the importance of authorship, the reasons to employ it, the 3 different ways to set it up (yes, there were three). We drank the Kool-Aid and we poured it freely.
As Eric Enge details in this excellent post on the rise and fall of Google Authorship, Google instituted it in 2011, started backpedaling in 2013, and completely removed it in 2014.
For the record, I thought the concept of authorship, which Enge traces to Google’s Agent Rank patent, was sound. It was another way to allow algorithmic assessment of the trustworthiness of content.
I also don’t blame Google for determining the experiment did not suit their purposes and ending authorship.
This Isn’t a Blame Game!
As a matter of fact, this isn’t about blame at all. Rather my point is that slavish compliance with every Google initiative can become counterproductive. It has taught me to advise my clients to avoid the bleeding edge unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Usually, Google and other tech companies will test their ideas out in the marketplace, and I simply don’t find it necessary to participate in every single test.
When we instituted a section on Structured Data in our SEO Complete 5-day workshop, we told our students how to assess whether to implement it or not: watch the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). If structured data starts to have an impact in your particular industry and search niche, then consider incurring development costs to chase after it. Otherwise, consider it a blessed “one less thing” for the moment.
I’m advising the same strategy with regard to AMP. Additionally, I believe the best, most universal approach to mobile is simply to make it fast. If you want to do that with AMP, go ahead. But you can also do it with good responsive design or a well-thought-out mobile specific website design.
If and when AMP content starts making a sizable impact in your industry and in searches for your money keywords, by all means, adopt. Until that happens, let Google experiment, and simply enjoy the show. It might save you a lot of time, frustration, and money.