The Breakdown

The question I wanted to see answered: Does AMP help local small and medium size websites get more traffic?

With the release of Google’s AMP across all search result pages and the subsequent debate about its merits, I wanted to see if it would provide value for my local SEO clients. Much of the conversation around the AMP project has been around the benefit it offers to news sites, where content consumption is the main objective. So I wanted to take a look at how it affects businesses where content consumption is a secondary goal to booking and inquiries. We also wanted to get answers to a few general questions:

  • Do AMP pages perform better in the SERP?
  • Does AMP retain readership?
  • Does AMP help local SEO?

Setting up AMP on WordPress

This was surprisingly easy. You can always count on someone to create a plugin to simplify the process. Using the Glue from Yoast and AMP plugins, we changed only the blog posts to be converted to AMP. The reason we did this was to not interfere too much with the user journey on our high-conversion pages.
We saw some initial errors across all three sites. The most common error was User-authored JavaScript found on some pages. After some Google searching, I discovered that this was being caused by the Google Analytics plugin that we were using. So we switched over to the MonsterInsight GA plugin and it resolved the issue. Once we resolved all of the errors, the new pages started getting indexed between September 3 and October 10, 2016. amp errors in search console

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves…

What is AMP?

Accelerated Mobile Pages is an HTML markup that was created by Google to help speed up the loading time of webpages on mobile devices. In practical terms, it strips down the webpage to its most basic form, removing any elements (namely Javascript and some CSS) that would hinder the page from loading quickly. There are some sources saying it loads pages four times faster and use eight times less data than traditional mobile-optimized pages.

To be clear, AMP is not a ranking signal in itself. But… since it does improve pagespeed, it does play a factor. It also contributed to other factors that are ranking signals; mobile-friendliness, pogo-sticking, time on page. So although it doesn’t directly translate to a lift in your rankings, it does have a positive impact on your SEO.

There are some noticeable design changes. Since you won’t have any Javascript elements on the page, you don’t get any of those nice interactive elements. And you definitely won’t see any pop-ups. Iframes can’t appear close to the top of the page, without messing things up. But the thing that had the biggest impact on the sites I was testing was the removal of the footer menu. It leaves users with no clear place to go when the get to the bottom of the page.

Here’s What We Uncovered

After three months of AMP running our test sites, we were able to answer our theories. Our theory was that we would see an increase in time on page and rankings, but bounce rate would remain consistent.

 

Do AMP Pages Perform Better in the SERP

There are several factors that contribute to a page’s improvement in the search results. The first factor is the rankings. The average rankings didn’t really change all that much, but click-throughs did see some positive movement. We also saw a substantial increase in the number of impressions, in some cases by nearly 300%. Of the total views across the three websites, 92% were new users, compared to the sitewide ratio of only 68% of mobile visitors being first-timers.amp pages comparison - local seo consulting

Does AMP Retain Readership

AMP appears to have a positive effect on the Time on Site metric, which is a strong indicator that more people are reading the articles in their entirety. If you look at other retention metrics – pages per visit, bounce rate, goal conversions – then it isn’t effective in keeping people on the site. In our samples, bounce rates increased and conversions remained consistent with the non-AMP version. In the example below, we can see a significant drop-off in engagement for AMP pages compared to all other pages on mobile.

amp vs mobile engagement - local seo

Does AMP Help Local SEO

For our experiment, we looked at the top blog posts for three sites in three very different industries. We compared the Google search impressions, rankings, and click-through rates to see if the AMP versions performed better or worse than their non-AMP counterpart in a comparative time period. We then also looked at the on-page metrics – time on page, pages per session, and bounce rate to see what the engagement levels were like. Overall, there was no correlation to the AMP pages improving the rankings for local type search terms.

Which takes us to the results of our experiment…

The blog articles marked up with AMP did see some considerable improvements in the visibility and engagement in the search listings. We also saw improvements in the time readers spent on the page. Ultimately, AMP didn’t provide any clear lift to our local search rankings or the overall business goals.

Making the choice to use AMP on your site will come down to whether you use blogging to build your brand or to nurture leads. If it’s the latter, then AMP might not be the right choice. But if readership and building your authority in your space are the goal, then you should jump on the AMP wave.

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