google_page_experience_update

The future of AMP with Google 2021 Page Experience update

On the 28th of May 2020, Google has announced that they will roll out a new search update in 2021. And, this update is closely related to page experience metrics. What does not come as a surprise is that Google cares about the experience people have on the web. This is why they have introduced the concept of Core Web Vitals (the subset of Web Vitals).

What are Web Vitals?

One important metric to measure user satisfaction is the loading speed of your website. This is where the technical SEO plays an important part. Your website’s speed is mainly determined by how fast your server works. It also matters how you built your website (coding standards and best SEO practices). You could have the most unique and good quality content on your site but if your pages load slow, users are unlikely to come back. This is because they will remember it as a frustrating experience.

Web Vitals is Google’s initiative and its aim is to provide marketers and web developers with guidance on the quality metrics for every website. In Google Lighthouse speed test, you will find six performance metrics (Web Vitals) such as first contentful paint, speed index, time to interactive, etc. These metrics allow to measure page loading speed and improve the scores by implementing the recommendations from opportunities and diagnostics sections of the Lighthouse report. Core Web Vitals, on the other hand, are a new set of performance metrics (CLS, FID, and LCP) that will soon be added to the Lighthouse speed test (and other Google tools) and will take precedence over the current metrics in determining the user experience on the Internet. The current metrics are still relevant and will serve as supplemental metrics for the Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals:

  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This refers to visual stability. In simpler words, it is when text suddenly changes or an image moves when you are browsing a website. Or worse, a button changes its position when you want to tap it, and you end up opening a different link. This happens when JavaScript loads synchronously (one script after another; sometimes going back to grab additional elements and thus blocking the main rendering path). 
  • First Input Delay (FID): This refers to how quickly the site responds to your interaction during load (main-thread work). Let’s say you tap a button on a page but there is no response. You try again and yet you fail again. It can be that your browser is busy loading a script ‘behind the scenes’ and therefore cannot respond to your action straightaway.
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This is to measure when the main content of a page has loaded. And, the main content is loaded when the largest element is rendered (usually images, videos, etc.). It is because the largest element determines the final layout of a page. And, no more size recalculations need to take place.

Google Top Stories and the future of AMP

As Wikipedia states, AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, a project initially created by Google as a competitor to Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. AMP allowed for creating stripped versions of heavy-coded pages. The benefit was faster speed hence the possibility of appearing in Google Top Stories carousel in search. It was especially useful for news sites, online magazines, etc. AMP was very limited in terms of using CSS and JavaScript. But, this has significantly changed. You can create fully-customised and creative websites with AMP now. With the new algorithm update and Core Web Vitals though, Google officially says that AMP is no longer a requirement for Top Stories if your website meets the speed metrics.

AMP versus standard websites

What is so special about AMP and how do they compare against standard websites? See the below comparison:

AMP WEBSITESSTANDARD WEBSITES
ready templates to choose from; development expertise for more customised designCMS systems; usually broad development expertise for more customised design
asynchronous JS (multiple scripts can be executed at a time) – shorter waiting time for a usersynchronous JS (one script executed at a time) – longer waiting time for a user
pre-set layouts (browser does not wait for all the resources to load to determine the layout of a page) – decreased rendering timelayout of a page is set once all the resources have been downloaded – increased rendering time
thrid-party scripts are loaded directly into an iframe what keeps JS out of the critical pathsynchronous loading of JS overall can temporarily block other internal JS from downloading
inline CSS; limits on the size of the CSS stylesheet – fewer server requestsone or more CSS stylesheets; no limits on the size – more server requests
fonts download firstmany standard sites do not preload fonts (fonts are heavy and can cause delays)
GPU-accelerated animations – faster loading of images, gifs etc.CPU-accelerated animations – slower but better quality

What do others have to say?

Search Engine Land, for example, says that it is a good idea to wait before deciding to drop AMP. Further analysis will show whether Top Stories results will get dominated by AMP pages or not.

Andrei Prakharevich published an article, where he claims that it highly depends on your situation whether you should invest in AMP in 2021. Generally, if your website is already well-optimised for speed and you are not a major news publisher, you may refrain from using AMP for the time being.

On 6th of May, 2020 AMP has issued a blog post that describes how AMP features are designed to support Google Core Web Vitals. First Input Delay (FID) scores, for example, can be lowered by the asynchronous use of JavaScript, sandboxes, chunked processes, and deferred layout. Cumulative Layout Shift (CSL) metrics can be diminished by statistically-sized layout system, the interaction required for dynamic content, and efficient font loading. Lastly, intelligent resource loading and preloading and prerendering can make a page load significantly faster hence decrease the user’s waiting time.

CONCLUSION:

Back in 2015/2016, AMP has been offering very limited design options mainly for online news and magazines. Over the years, they have evolved and expanded their range of offers to enhanced CSS and JavaScript features that are now available not only to online publishing sites but also other websites on the web. Mobile has always been the main focus for AMP and it has stayed this way up until now. I would say that the two main areas of focus for AMP are mobile and speed.

With continuous efforts that Google makes to enhance the online search experience for its users, AMP seems to have its place. This is simply because both aspects of mobile and speed are very important to Google. According to me, AMP is going to develop and evolve and maybe take over the mobile aspect of search in the future.

All in all, if your website runs on a good server and is very well-optimised for speed then you may not need to think of AMP for now. However, you will have to think of other options of speed optimisation for mobile in the future. What are your thoughts? Do you think AMP is a good SEO investment in 2021?

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