Google

Google’s New Mobile Web

The Mobile Web’s Beginnings: Search Results

In the distant past of the internet (i.e. 2005) Google started displaying search results differently to mobile users. When we look up a business on our mobile devices it’s often because we want to do something immediately. We might want to see if that business is open and, if so, find a phone number to call or an address to visit that business. We would find the same information when searching from a desktop computer, but we wouldn’t tend to use it immediately. The web page for a business might have been the same for desktop and mobile users, but Google considered certain information more important when ranking search results for mobile users.

Today’s Mobile Web: Mobile-first Index & AMP

Google announced in November that it will index web sites based on the content seen by mobile users. It used to be that if your web site was not considered mobile-friendly that it would get listed less prominently in search results for mobile users. Soon failure to be mobile-friendly will affect search results seen by everyone because Google’s search will be based on the mobile version of a site. In addition, this change in indexing is happening while Google participates in creating Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

Together the mobile-first index and AMP could mean that some sites will be listed significantly less prominently while other sites move higher in search results. If your site is found with searches like “[legal topic] law firm in [insert city],” then you might be well-served by creating an alternative AMP for at least your home page right now. Page speed and mobile-friendliness affect search rankings, and as the switch to a mobile-first index happens AMPed sites will take a double advantage as page speed becomes a part of the mobile-friendliness ranking criteria.

What Are Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)?

You might be thinking something like this. “Good responsive design already adjusts web pages to be displayed at any size. That makes web pages accessible for mobile users.” However, soon a web page that requires mobile users to download all the content that a desktop user must download and then displays the site in an unwieldy, interminably long scrollable rectangle may not be mobile-friendly. More than just making content accessible, an AMP welcomes mobile users by offering an alternative access point to identical content that is actually accelerated for browsing on mobile devices. This alternative access point for mobile users is the work of the AMP Project, and we may be hearing much more about it soon because Google is already marking alternative AMP pages in mobile search results, and is about to begin the mobile-first index.

The AMP Project has created standards to create alternative AMP versions of web pages that load very quickly. By following these standards search engines can let mobile users link directly to the alternative AMP instead of the standard web page. This does more than stop mobile users from having to download all the content that would be displayed to a desktop user. The AMP standards control how content is displayed and where much of the code to display content comes from to make browsing the web faster. The speed at which an AMP loads can’t be overstated easily—sometimes the code to style a site’s content doesn’t even have to be downloaded on the first visit to that site because it’s already been downloaded! For example an AMP doesn’t have its own external style sheets (i.e. AMPs don’t have their own external CSS file). All AMPs use a selection of provided files that have limited functions and load quickly. With all AMPS using the same files, mobile users don’t have to load a new file for each AMP site that they visit because their device just downloaded and saved that file from the last AMP it visited—and this results in even greater speed.

Why might Google come to privilege AMP pages in the rankings? How could Google be sure that the external files are maintained with only AMP Project approved code accelerated for mobile users? How could Google be sure that the AMP project stays on mission and aligns with Google’s own interests in providing a faster mobile web? How can Google be sure that its AdSense will work on these pages to generate revenue and link consumers with products? Google is a part of the AMP Project and provides the Google AMP Cache of files for everyone on the web to use to accelerate their pages.

Your Next Steps

Consider reading about the requirements for AMP pages on the AMP Project page and creating some alternative AMPs for some of your web pages. Your standard page would remain almost the same with only one line of html near the top to tell search engines about you alternative AMP for mobile users. In addition, you might look into some concerns about the AMP Project.

Consider creating a duplicate of your site in WordPress, and then use this free AMP plugin to create AMP alternatives for each post that you could alter to use on your web site now.

Finally, you can also do nothing. Eventually your Content Management System will have its own plugin to make creation of these alternative AMP pages much easier, and when it does you can just install that plugin. You just run the risk of your web site slipping down in the search rankings in the meantime.

For the latest on AMP (and many other things) you can always check the Google Webmaster Central Blog.

About Robert O'Leary

Robert O'Leary
Robert O’Leary is a Reference Librarian and Adjunct Professor of Law at the California Western School of Law Library in San Diego, California. He teaches Advanced Legal Research, coordinates the library’s instance of LibGuides, and occasionally feels frustrated trying to keep up with how the internet affects information. You can follow him on Twitter @roberteoleary.

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