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Google AMP Gets Mixed Reviews From Publishers

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Google is stepping up its efforts to serve speedy content to mobile internet users with its Accelerated Mobile Pages, but the initiative is getting mixed reviews from publishers as some worry about its impact on their advertising revenue.

Google unveiled AMP about a year ago and hundreds of companies are now publishing AMP versions of their articles, including the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Hearst, The Guardian, the New York Times, Vox Media and many others.

In recent months Google has begun including many more links to stripped-down AMP pages in its mobile search results. This has directed more traffic to those AMP pages and less to publishers’ full mobile websites. Google said in a Sept. 21 blog post that AMP search results would be introduced across search engine results pages worldwide “in the coming weeks.”

For some publishers that is a problem, since their AMP pages do not currently generate advertising revenue at the same rate as their full mobile sites. Multiple publishers said an AMP pageview currently generates around half as much revenue as a pageview on their full mobile websites.

That’s largely because of limitations related to the types of ad units AMP pages will allow and the ad technology providers that are currently integrated with the platform, those publishers say.

For example, AMP pages rely heavily on standardized banner ad units, and don’t allow publishers to sell highly-customized ad units, sponsorships or pop-up ads as they might on their own properties.

It’s a similar dynamic to the one many publishing executives described in the early days of Facebook’s Instant Articles platform, which enables publishers to post content directly to the social network. Facebook eventually tweaked some of its advertising policies in an attempt to address those concerns.

Google’s vice president of news, Richard Gingras, said the company is happy with the progress AMP has made in terms of the ad capabilities it offers publishers.

However, he believes some publishers are failing to wring maximum revenue from their AMP traffic because of the way their advertising technology systems are implemented. Publishers that make full use of the ad tools available to them in AMP are seeing revenue results comparable to what they earn on their full mobile web pages, he said.

“We want to drive the ecosystem forward, but obviously these things don’t happen overnight,” Mr. Gingras said. “The objective of AMP is to have it drive more revenue for publishers than non-AMP pages. We’re not there yet”.

Publishers who are critical of AMP were reluctant to speak publicly about their frustrations, or to remove their AMP content. One executive said he would not comment on the record for fear that Google might “turn some knob that hurts the company.”

A website’s ranking in Google’s search results isn’t impacted by whether it has AMP pages, Mr. Gingras reiterated.

Still, some publishers believe an eventual prioritization of AMP pages is inevitable.

“Publishers who are not using AMP will probably be penalized,” said Philippe Guelton, chief executive of SheKnows Media.

Publishers who were willing to speak on the record were generally happy with AMP. They acknowledged the shift in traffic from their full mobile sites to AMP pages, but have a positive outlook on AMP’s ad revenue potential.

Visits to CNN’s AMP pages are beginning to replace visits to the full version of its mobile website. CNN has seen an 80% increase in AMP traffic since September, and more than 20% of search traffic to CNN now directs to AMP pages, according to CNN chief product officer Alex Wellen.

For CNN, visits to its full mobile site and its AMP pages “largely monetize at the same rate,” Mr. Wellen said, although that could change as it begins to introduce more ad formats to its mobile web pages.

“We’ll need assurances from Google that the AMP pages can accommodate these executions; otherwise, we’ll have to reevaluate whether the economic and product tradeoffs make sense,” he said.

Vox Media’s The Verge has witnessed a similar trend, according to a recent post published by Editor-in-chief Nilay Patel. As The Verge’s AMP pageviews have increased, pageviews to its full website are decreasing. AMP represented 14% of traffic to The Verge in September, Mr. Patel said.

The Washington Post is able to generate approximately the same amount of revenue from AMP pages as it can from pageviews on its full mobile site, according to its director of product, Joey Marburger. Some 15% of mobile traffic to The Washington Post is now directed to AMP pages, he said.

Mr. Guelton said SheKnows “doesn’t really mind” if search traffic is directed to AMP pages or the full version of its site, since it can generate ad revenue in both places.

In terms of ad limitations within AMP pages, Mr. Guelton suggested those are necessary to fulfil AMP’s promise of improving the user experience by loading content faster.

“Consumers are indicating that they want a better experience overall, so I don’t think it’s a negative,” Mr. Guelton said.