AMP Project Turns 2, Automattic Partners with Google to Improve WordPress Plugin

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Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project is two years old today and the company published data demonstrating its growing adoption across the web. More than 4 billion AMP pages have been published by 25 million domains. AMP performance has also increased and Google reports that the median time for loading AMP pages from its search engine is less than half a second.

The AMP team also cited several examples of success for sites that have integrated AMP, along with an as yet unpublished Forrester Consulting Total Economic Impact™ study that linked AMP to a 10% increase in website traffic and a 2X increase in time spent on the page. The study, which was commissioned by Google, also showed that AMP pages on e-commerce sites have a 20% increase in sales conversions as compared to non-AMP pages.

Google credited AMP’s 400+ code contributors and the 10,500 others who have engaged on GiHub, along with Automattic, one of the earliest publishing partners on the project:

We’re also seeing other organizations take an increasingly proactive role in supporting AMP. Automattic, for example, has been working with us to improve the quality of the WordPress plug-in over the past several months. In addition to strong adoption across the community, WordPress.com VIP clients like The New York Post and PMC have seen great results with their implementations.

WordPress.com’s VIP team also published specific instances where their clients have benefited from AMPing up their articles.

“Across Automattic (including WordPress.com and VIP) hundreds of millions of client page views per month are delivered through AMP today,” WordPress.com VIP Strategic Partnerships director Tamara Sanderson said. “Over the last two years, many of our clients and partner agencies have customized and optimized the AMP experience for their particular needs, with impressive results.”

AMP WordPress Plugin Updated after 10 Months

Automattic updated its AMP WordPress plugin two months ago, but the average WordPress site owner doesn’t have the budget to customize and tweak it to achieve success. Users haven’t fared well with the open source plugin, which went for approximately 10 months without any updates. Many have encountered difficulties ranging from activation errors to incompatibilities with other plugins, problems with analytics, and validation errors. Users also cannot get support on the WordPress.org forums and 0/39 support issues have been resolved in the past two months.

Although there are several alternative plugins in the directory for implementing AMP on WordPress sites, Automattic, as a partner with Google on the AMP initiative, seems to the best positioned to author the official plugin with the company’s experience AMPing up pages at scale. Automattic is still committed to improving the plugin but users may need to hire a professional developer for AMP-related plugin support.

Version 0.5, released in August 2017, included just a handful of updates for having been 10 months in development. The release brought the plugin closer to the AMP spec, replaced fastimage with fasterimage for PHP 5.4+, and added support for new embed handlers, including Vimeo, SoundCloud, and Pinterest.

Automattic Aims to Work with Google to Push AMP to be more Open

Throughout the past year, AMP has come under fire from critics who believe that it is harmful to the open web. By default AMP forces users to load JavaScript from the AMP project site, loads the cached content from its own servers, and uses a subset of HTML that optimizes pages to benefit Google and Google search users.

Many critics take issue with the fact that Google is incentivizing AMP’s use by prioritizing AMP pages in search results. It’s easy to forget that Google Search, with its overwhelmingly dominant market share among search engines, is not a public service to the world. It’s a company that seeks to make a profit. Can the AMP project be open enough to stay immune to Google’s drive for profit?

WordPress.com was one of the first publishers to partner with Google on this initiative to speed up the mobile web. While attending WordCamp Europe 2017, I asked Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg how AMP can be good for the open web, despite how much control publishers are required to yield when it comes to their mobile content. Mullenweg said that he sees pluses and minuses in what AMP currently provides to users.

“The things I like about AMP is it removes a lot of cruft and it’s ultra-fast,” he said. “Now if I see an AMP link I’m more likely to click on that than other things. I know I’m not going to get some weird popup that redirects my browser to the app store or anything like that. I think that is good and necessary.” He also said he disliked a few of the downsides that critics bring up but thinks that those can be worked out in time.

“WordPress was very early in adopting responsive pages,” Mullenweg said. “Also some plugins, including Jetpack, that do a mobile version of a site, do create a better experience and are a big reason why people have adopted WordPress in the past.

“AMP is the next version of that. It is more open and standard than what we’ve done in the past and I could see it becoming a much more inclusive thing than it is. Given that that is one of Automattic’s core principles as well, we’re going to work with Google to try to push it that direction and try to bring a lot of the web along with it.

“The alternatives out there, like say Facebook’s proprietary Instant Articles format, are not necessarily better, especially if they tie you into one form of monetization, like Facebook’s ads. So I do believe that AMP has the potential to be much more open and in line with WordPress’ ideal version of that, but it is imperfect as it stands today.”

For now it seems Google considers AMP to be a success, as adoption has increased and the project is undoubtedly achieving its goal of improving performance for mobile pages. The company is working on delivering better, faster ads to users, as many publishers have experienced decreased revenues associated with ads loading much slower than the actual content.

The project is still young and Google has a fine line to walk in order to deliver value without overstepping its reach. It may not be long before AMP support becomes Google’s the next official ranking signal. Site speed is already one of the search engine’s considerations in delivering traffic, so AMPed pages already influence which sites are featured in search results, which in turn affects ad performance and site monetization.

For the average WordPress site owner, adding AMP support still requires overcoming a number of technical hurdles. With Automattic committed to supporting and improving the AMP experience for its VIP clients, it should not be long before the larger publishers and their agency partners are able to iron out more of the difficulties that have kept AMP integration from being seamless for all WordPress users.