Technology

Google to make reading news on mobile devices quicker, easier with AMP articles

Google is about to change the way you search for and read news articles, making use of a technology that loads pages faster and consumes less data than usual, seeking to ease frustrations with navigating the web on mobile phones.

Google said it will put websites built with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) technology in front of more eyeballs by displaying the pages, when relevant, in the Top Stories section of a search results page.

A story from Mashable appears in the AMP format. AMP-enabled stories have already started appearing in Google searches ...
A story from Mashable appears in the AMP format. AMP-enabled stories have already started appearing in Google searches in the US. Photo: Google

AMP sits alongside similar efforts by Facebook, via Instant Articles, and Apple, via Apple News, to speed up the rate at which articles load on mobile devices. Pages built with the technology load about four times faster and use 10 times less data than typical pages, Google said in a blog post.

AMP-enabled articles will appear in search results with a large image, a headline, the name of the news organisation and a lighting bolt 'AMP' logo. The article will open instantly when you touch it, and you'll be able to slide left and right through other relevant AMP-enabled articles without having to back out to the search page.

AMP is set to debut in Google search results in the US this week, but has been pushed back to mid-March in Australia to give interested publishers time to make their content compatible with the technology.

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The AMP technology improves the experience of reading pages on smartphones as well as more efficiently presenting the advertising that drives Google's search business. It also indirectly parries one of the main threats facing digital ad companies — the growing use of ad-blocking software in response to slow, buggy and hard-to-use web pages — by stopping ads from slowing down access to articles. AMP works by having developers rewrite their pages in a slightly simpler and more limited language, with the pages hosted on Google's infrastructure.

"No matter how many ads you put on the page the content comes first," said David Besbris, a Google vice president of engineering for search. "If a user taps on something they will get the content immediately."

Julia Beizer, the Washington Post's director of product, said the key difference between Google's initiative and similar efforts from Facebook and Apple is that Google allows publishers to control the platform and the advertising.

"What's important to me is that it is still your website," Beizer said. "We can decide what we want it to look like, what we want it to feel like, where we want to put the ads, what we want the ads to be."

A limited test of AMP was started last October. Google has worked with publishers around the world, including the New York Times, The Guardian, BBC, and Fairfax Media to deploy the technology. The New York Times plans to post half its news articles in the AMP display format, according to Kate Harris, the paper's director of mobile products. The Times posts far fewer — about 30 articles a day — on Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News.

"We're going to launch a segment of our traffic as AMP — and a segment not — and continue to evaluate," Harris said.

For publishers, one big unknown is whether Google will rank their articles higher in search results if they participate in the project. "If I were a betting woman I'd think they'd be ranking AMP files higher than non-AMP files just because of their performance," Harris said, referring to the speed the new articles will load.

AMP isn't "a signal we use in ranking" pages, Besbris said. He declined to comment about whether AMP pages would rank higher, though he said some of the signals Google uses for search include whether a page is mobile friendly and how rapidly it loads — two problems that AMP seeks to tackle.

"We do think AMP documents will deliver users great experience," he said.

Bloomberg, with Fairfax Media

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