‘Juice isn’t worth it’: Why Future said goodbye to Google’s AMP and didn’t look back

Four weeks ago, Future plc Inc disabled most of its sites that were on Accelerated Mobile Pages. He knew that this move came with risks: namely losing a lot of traffic since AMP is essentially open-source code that strips web pages so they load faster on mobile devices.

But Future also knew that this move could have a ton of upside: primarily, more alternative mobile pages to AMP on which it could sell ads. So far, the gamble has paid off.

“I estimate that between 80% and 90% of our volume is no longer using the AMP framework now that we have successfully migrated to our mobile sites,” said Stuart Forrest, Director of Audience Operations at Future.

Testing began last September when Future shut down the AMP versions of several sites, including Guitar Player, Live Science and Digital Camera World – titles that gave the publisher a broad representation of its actual readership. In January, it repeated the process, but for larger titles like Cinema Blend, which rely on mobile traffic.

At every stage of the process, Future’s audience operations team waited to see if disabling AMP would negatively impact traffic and subsequently the money made from it. It never was, he added. In fact, Cinema Blend traffic in January was up 30% year over year.

“There was no volume impact, and all the revenue impact that we were hoping for,” Forrest said.

That is, dropping AMP did not cost the publisher traffic from mobile devices. In fact, he made more money as a result of the move.

“AMP was for all intents and purposes a shortcut to a better web experience for readers, but the cost to us as publishers was less than good monetization for a variety of reasons,” Forrest said. “Now the identical monetization is much better.”

Not that any of this is necessarily a surprise to Future executives.

Like many publishers, they had been aware of AMP’s shortcomings almost as soon as it arrived in 2016: primarily, making money from these articles. To speed up the web, Google had to remove pages, which limited the types of ad units publishers could run. This left publishers with limited media on the AMP pages they could sell to advertisers.

To say the editors found the situation frustrating would be an understatement. And yet, they finally accepted it. Without AMP articles, publishers would struggle to display content in Google’s Top Stories mobile carousel, which accounted for the vast majority of organic search traffic for publishers. Few publishers could voluntarily say goodbye to such reach, especially those who can’t always bank on current events to generate interest.

“The advantage of AMP was that it was necessary to get into the Top Stories box, which was important for our brands because if our coverage of consumer electronics could cover the launch of a new iphone, which is a significant event in this area, but it’s not a story about whether Russia will invade Ukraine,” Forrest said.

Simply put, AMP was an offer Future couldn’t refuse — at least until last fall, when Google decided that AMP was no longer a prerequisite for visibility in its Top Stories carousel. From then on, other non-AMP stories started to rank. Future executives have taken notice.

“That means publishers can be in that carousel if their mobile site performed as well as AMP,” Forrest said.

That’s a big if. There is a level of technical skill required for web pages to load as fast or faster than AMP, which has held many publishers back. No wonder many publishers want to leave AMP but don’t think they can, at least not in Europe.

“A lot of publishers look at this [move], but very few take the brave step,” said Forrest, who chairs the organizing committee of the UK trade body Association of Online Publishers and has also launched its audience development task force. “If you look at some of the public domain tools for evaluating site speed, you will see that some of our peers are nowhere near fast enough to be able to disable AMP. So even if they wanted to, they have a lot work to do before you can.

For Future, this happened almost by accident through another project: focusing on core web vitals – specific factors that Google considers important in the overall user experience of a web page and, in ultimately, in search ranking – for its web pages, which included their mobile versions.

“It was the investment in the vital elements of the web that allowed us to move away from AMP,” Forrest said. “Above all, we focused on listening to Google’s advice to publishers to focus on creating a better experience for readers using the vital elements of the web, with ranking being the reward for those who made the investments needed.

The future is not an outlier here. As difficult as it is to replace AMP, more and more publishers are finding ways to do so. Matt Prohaska, CEO of Prohaska Consulting, elaborated on this point: “Most of our publisher clients have made this decision within the last three to six months. They felt the juice was no longer worth squeezing due to changes Google has made to how it ranks non-AMP stories.

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