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6 Reasons Google AMP is Not Great for eCommerce Websites

Coming out of the holidays, ecommerce conversion rates on mobile devices are still trailing conversion rates on desktop. Slow mobile page load times are the biggest culprit. As a result, many retailers are looking for new ways to make their mobile websites faster, and Google AMP is one approach.

Google AMP sets guidelines for building faster mobile pages for any type of website, and utilizes Google infrastructure to serve content. Early results from media websites that use AMP have been positive, but eCommerce websites are a different beast. Is AMP the right approach for eCommerce websites?

Don’t put down that RWD book and start coding new pages just yet. Let’s first understand what the AMP Project is all about. 

What is Google AMP?  

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project sponsored by Google sets a standard framework for creating fast-loading mobile pages. The open-source Project has published tutorials for building AMP pages, and provides a way for validating that pages are compliant with AMP standards. These standards restrict developers from using many features that delay page loading, such as JavaScript, advertising tags, etc. In order to publish an AMP compliant page, you must only use Google approved HTML, and host the page content on Google infrastructure.  

What’s the benefit?

For websites that cater to mobile visitors, Google AMP carries two significant benefits.

1. Faster mobile pages – The changes they recommend are good ones if your goal is to make pages load faster on mobile devices. AMP enforces the removal of the most problematic page elements that delay page load times, and includes edge caching through Google. This can make website content pop onto a device almost instantaneously.  

2. Higher mobile SEO rankings – AMP pages should rank higher in Google search results, driving more traffic to your site. This happens for two reasons. First, Google has stated that page load speed will factor into a website’s Google search ranking. Second, the Google ranking algorithm appears to prefer Google AMP pages. Google often places AMP pages at the top of the page in a carousel (for media content), and marks AMP pages with a small lightning icon. The intent is for users to recognize that these pages load faster, so they begin clicking on these listings more frequently.  

When should I NOT use Google AMP?

AMP is great for static web pages. AMP is also great for media websites competing for impatient mobile visitors. AMP is not as great for eCommerce websites. There are many complications for eCommerce websites that move to AMP. Here are a few to consider.

1. Feature Restrictions – To be accepted as an AMP page, developers must use Google’s library of approved HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and analytics tags. Many of the JavaScript driven features that both shoppers and retailers love (recommendations, payment options, A/B testing) are not allowed on AMP pages. So AMP makes pages faster, but you may see lower conversion rates and order sizes from ditching these features.

2. Poor Support for Dynamic eCommerce Pages – AMP doesn’t work with dynamic pages and features such as faceted search, search results, and shopping cart pages. If you embrace AMP, you need to direct visitors to your old mobile site or PWA for these parts of the shopping journey. If you go this route, Google has published guidance on how to do it.  

3. Lower ad revenue – Advertising tags are restricted which would have an impact on sites that rely on incremental revenue from manufacturer advertisements and ad networks.  

4. Development Investment – This is yet another coding framework to learn, implement, and support. And it likely won’t be the last. As soon as you finish your AMP training and recode the mobile site, there’s a good chance a new standard will have emerged. Wasn’t it just yesterday that responsive web design was the great new standard we were all supposed to follow?

5. Low eCommerce Adoption – Based on my own Google searches (a small sample set), it looks like the primary eCommerce adopters of AMP are eBay and Overstock. Until more eCommerce sites deploy these pages and publish results, you may wish to wait and see if the benefit outweighs the investment and loss of functionality.

6. “Killing the Internet” – Google is giving websites strong incentives to invest in their infrastructure. Google hosts AMP pages on their domain and serves AMP content from the Google cache. Google featured spotlights on media sites will even drive visitors to other Google hosted websites. Some people see this as Google conspiring to take over the internet. In fact, one group articulated the implications in a public letter against the AMP project. If you aren’t comfortable being so invested in Google, or keep a “Free and Open Internet” bumper sticker on your car, then AMP might not be the approach for you.   

What is the best approach?

We think eCommerce development teams should be focused on building mobile experiences that delight customers. You should not be crippling those efforts by rebuilding your site to new standards that change every few months. Especially when those standards eliminate features that customers love. Here are a few alternatives to using AMP.

Alternative 1: eCommerce acceleration technology (outside the code base)

An entire industry of eCommerce acceleration technology exists so you can improve the speed of mobile eCommerce pages. And this technology doesn’t force you to change your development approach or build new pages. This acceleration technology layer sits outside the eCommerce website code base, optimizing mobile pages as visitors request them. As a result, no matter how you build the site, no matter how often standards change, this optimization layer will accelerate page elements so all devices get the fastest possible experience. Not just those accessing AMP pages from a mobile device.

Alternative 2: Apply best practices without the AMP restrictions

Retailers can always incorporate performance best practices into their current development process. And these would make both their mobile AND desktop websites load faster. AMP’s biggest benefit is probably the forced compliance with a very broad set of best practices focused on mobile websites. These best practices could simply be implemented without using AMP. That way retailers can cherry pick the best ones, without facing the restrictions and challenges listed above.  

Conclusion: eCommerce should wait on AMP for now

If you do experiment with Google AMP, limit it to your home page and product detail pages. If you don’t want to roll-out piecemeal, then wait until the AMP project catches up with support for more eCommerce features. But the better long term solution is to apply specialized eCommerce acceleration technology (like Yottaa). You’ll get the same results without coding new pages or removing features that you and your customers love.

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