With the release of Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) technology in 2016, Semetrical have decided to take a look back into the history of mobile technology and internet usage. We want to understand how user behaviour has changed over the last 10 – 15 years due to the ability to access the internet from a mobile device, and how marketers have adapted to reach their audiences.

The seismic shift towards mobile usage for content consumption in recent years has led major publishers and technology companies to work together to develop a better mobile content ecosystem which would benefit users, creators, consumer platforms and publishers. This ecosystem is an Google & Twitter-led open framework named the AMP project.

How did it all start?

It all started in 1996 with Nokia introducing the Nokia 9000 communicator – this was the first smartphone of its kind to render graphics in a browser.

Sony were then the first to release a handset – called  the T68i – with a colour screen in 2001 at Christmas.

One of the first 3G enabled smartphones was released in 2003 by Nokia called the Nokia 7600. This smartphone had a fully integrated web browser with a screen resolution of 128 x 160.

Apple introduced the first generation iPhone 3G in 2007, as more people used their smartphone to access information via the internet.

Current mobile technology and 4G internet infrastructure has improved ad delivery and quality – attracting greater revenue and investment in developing the technology.

We’re going to explore the good aspects, the bad aspects of the mobile user experience; and how the impact of AMP will change the mobile user experience – considering the historical and future challenges and opportunities for online marketers…

The Good

The development of smartphone technology, and the shift in focus from publishers, creators and content platforms to provide a high quality mobile user experience has helped to create a better world wide web for everyone. Below we’re going to highlight the key positive aspects.

Changing user behavior

As mobile technology has improved over the last ten years with the introduction of sophisticated smartphones and the development of an infrastructure for a high speed 3G and 4G internet roaming – user behaviour on the web has shifted towards mobile.

Users could now access the internet to find great content which entertained and educated them anywhere, at any time. This benefited brands and publishers as this resulted in a greater opportunity to advertise, and connect with their customers.

The advancement of mobile technology has meant brands can bypass traditional media and communicate directly with their audience online via their smartphones. The social media revolution has fueled greater mobile user activity, and forced marketers to create better, more engaging content to reach their audience. There is no doubt that this has helped to create a better mobile user experience on the web.

Mobile optimisation

For those publishers which invested resources in a mobile-first approach early on, Google announced in April 2015 that it was introducing the mobile-friendly algorithm – this offered the opportunity to optimise for mobile.

This was good as it started making publishers seriously take note that a mobile-first approach, which focused on providing a users with a better mobile experience was key to long-term success on Google in organic search.

The Bad

As user internet activity has increased on mobile devices in relation to desktop, there have been a number of problems faced for users, publishers, creators and content platform providers. Below we’ve listed issues that have been faced during the

Slow load speeds on mobile devices

Browsing the internet on a smartphone has often been a painful experience for users, as slow page load speeds increase the time taken to find content, or perform a desired online action. Developers previously did not need to worry about cleaning up the CSS on a website, and implemented Javascript elements which failed to load quickly on mobile devices.

Slow load speeds encouraged mobile device users to bounce from websites, which consequently affected publishers and creators who witnesses their user traffic and engagement metrics decrease.

Initial adoption of smartphones & the mobile experience

Long before user-queries and user agent redirects, mobile phones would attempt to load ‘raw’ HTML and Javascript web pages – this delivered a primitive version of the website for the user, with a poor user experience due to design issues, and lengthy load times.

As mobile phone technology advanced, website developers were forced to spend resource to improve the design of web page templates and content to be served for mobile users. During the early years of adoption for sophisticated smartphones, the total audience size was not as large as it is now. This meant that brands had to debate the importance of optimising their websites for mobile users, and consider whether their development resource was better spent on other projects.

Multiple ways to serve content

As the requirements for developing a website which is mobile-friendly have changed over the years, it has given a headache for brands and publishers as they constantly had to keep up with the ever-changing requirements.

Dynamic serving responds with different HTML & CSS depending on which user agent a user is requesting the web page from.

By implementing a separate URL set-up; the content is delivered on different URLs depending on the user agent. This can provide a mobile device, or tablet, with a different URLs than desktop. Annotations are added to desktop, (e.g. rel=”canonical” & rel=”ampcanonical”) for SEO purposes.

Responsive web design (CSS media queries) serves the same HTML code on the same URL regardless of the user’s device – but can be specifically written to respond with different versions.

Webpage size & data roaming costs

Data usage and roaming costs on mobile devices has been expensive for users, despite decreasing in recent years. Websites often host webpages which are large in size, and this has made internet browsing via a mobile device an expensive way of consuming content.

The AMP

We’ve explored the good aspects on user experience as mobile technology has evolved; along with the bad aspects that have caused issues for both users and marketers alike. Now, we’ll look at how AMP technology is changing the game for consumption of content on the web, and give our verdict on how the AMP framework will change the web.

AMP improves page load speed

Research by Soasta has suggested that web pages which load just 1 second faster can increase conversion rates by a staggering 27%. Clearly – speed is of the essence for mobile users, and AMP should help publishers generate a greater number of subscribers, consequently increasing ad revenue.

Studies have previously shown that people abandon websites after waiting for three seconds for a page to load. AMP technology means that page load speeds have decreased greatly, which is providing a better user experience.

The Washington Post have reported that accelerated mobile pages have improved their website load speeds by 88% – which is an average load time of 400 milliseconds. This has helped them to increase returning users from mobile search by 23%. This is because that users remember The Washington Post will offer content which is quick to load via AMP technology.

AMP and online advertising

There has been concern over the delivery of adverts within the AMP framework. The content of an accelerated mobile page is loading 10x quicker than on a normal webpage, and if the advert is not optimised to the same extent either the user will not see the ad, or the user experience will be affected. This is a real headache for creators and publishers who rely on advertisement revenue from their content.

On July 19th, Google announced an AMP for Ads program, which has provided the opportunities for marketers to develop similarly optimised adverts. These adverts will be able to work effectively with the fast loading AMP-formatted articles. In a blog post, Paul Muret, Google’s Vice President, claimed that the AMP for Ads program, “allows advertisers to build beautifully-designed ads in AMP HTML so that the entire AMP experience, both the publisher’s content and the advertisers’ creative, load simultaneously at AMP-speed.

AMP is not a ranking signal for Google

Google has stated that AMP technology is not a ranking signal for it’s algorithm, which led brands to re-consider the true value of implementing AMP technology. However, Google has introduced a carousel at the top of the search results to display content from Google news which is built on an AMP framework. Despite AMP technology not providing a direct ranking boost, it will improve search visibility of brands and publishers who employ the framework.

AMP really is changing the mobile search. Research has already indicated that 80% of local mobile searches ended in a purchases, so website owners will have to take extra care making their page mobile-friendly.

AMP is rolling out in the main search results & e-commerce

Until recently, the AMP framework only worked with article based news content, however on August 2nd 2016 Google released a statement on the Webmaster Central Blog they were expanding AMP support across the entire search results page – not just the “Top stories” section.

Users will see the AMP icon next to content in the main SERPs which will provide a speedier reading experience on the mobile web. This is likely to result in many seeking to ensure their content is supported by AMP. The AMP icon can be seen below:

AMP

Currently, the technology does not allow for web forms to be submitted. This is a clear limitation of the current AMP framework, as it does not allow for call-to-actions or conversion points to be included within the content. This raises questions on AMP’s viability as a long-term solution for an improved mobile user experience on the web.

However, eBay have recently announced a partnership with Google to begin developing the open source Accelerated Mobile Pages technology to improve the mobile browsing experience on its platform. This is a significant development as eBay is pioneering a fully-fledged e-commerce experience for it’s platform with AMP technology. It will involve several changes, such as adding smart buttons (e.g. “buy now” and “add to cart”). Along with input elements such as advanced tracking and text boxes for form submission.

Conclusion

Brands are now taking aim with a new technology for serving great content. There has been a discussion as to whether AMP technology is just another re-invention in the long journey of mobile user experience. However, with the prominence that Google has given to AMP content in the mobile search results pages, and Google’s project to improve ad delivery, along with large retailers, such as eBay, striving to improve the e-commerce opportunities within the AMP framework – we believe AMP is here to stay.

It’s been a long journey to improve mobile user experience whilst mobile technology advanced, and the internet infrastructure developed. The introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages in 2016 is another giant step towards improving the world wide web for mobile usability, which is something that will please users, creators, publishers and consumer platforms.

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