The AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) project, which was first announced by Google in 2015, is an open source framework designed to speed up mobile web pages. The search giant contends that it can cut load times to “less than one second” by balancing the likelihood of a user clicking on a result with device and network constraints, and it’s now used by hundreds of thousands of web domains across billions of pages. But it’s not quite perfect — AMP requires a modified URL to appear in browsers’ address bars and sticks a gray bar to the top of pages, which threatens to put a dent in sites’ traffic and revenue.
Google has developed an ostensible solution in signed exchanges, which is now generally available in Google Search’s AMP web results following a developer preview last fall. It implements an emerging web standard called Signed HTTP Exchanges (a subset of the Internet Engineering Task Force’s web packaging specification) to enable mobile browsers — currently Chrome, and soon Microsoft Edge and others — to show actual domains (e.g., ebay.com) instead of the Google AMP URL (google.com/amp/ebay.com), and to point links on websites directly to their intended destinations.
This will allow visitors to coexist on the same domain, the Mountain View company says, thereby reducing bounce rate — i.e., the percentage of people who enter a site and then leave rather than continuing to view other pages within the same site.
Signed exchanges confers additional benefits, like allowing publishers to direct AMP traffic to their primary website domain, along with cryptographic techniques that ensure webpage content hasn’t been manipulated or compromised. (Browsers trust documents as if they belong to a site’s origin and use first-party cookies and storage.) It’s one better than Google’s previous policy in that respect, which only mandates that the content of canonical pages and those displayed through AMP be “substantially the same.”
Google says that Google Search will link to AMP signed exchanges when the publisher, browser, and Search context support it, and that web administrators need only publish the signed exchange version of their AMP content in addition to the non-signed exchange version.
Some CDN providers, like Cloudflare, are providing AMP signed exchanges free of charge starting today.
“AMP has been a great solution to improve the performance of the internet and we were eager to work with the AMP project to help eliminate one of AMP’s biggest issues — that it wasn’t served from a publisher’s perspective,” said Cloudflare CEO and cofounder Matthew Prince. “As the only provider currently enabling this new solution, our global scale will allow publishers everywhere to benefit from a faster and more brand-aware mobile experience for their content.”
AMP, like Facebook’s somewhat comparable Instant Articles format, has faced criticism over its dependence on Google-hosted servers that can theoretically glean statistics from any website using them. In part to counter allegations of lock-in, the AMP project late last year announced new “open governance” committees consisting of Microsoft, Twitter, and other stakeholders.
But it hasn’t let the controversy sidetrack its development roadmap.
In March, after nearly a year in preview, Google formally introduced AMP for Email, an open source project that enables developers to embed dynamic content like sales catalogs, questionnaires, auto-refreshing promotional offers, and appointment booking flows within email messages. Booking.com, Oyo Rooms, Freshworks, and Pinterest are among the early adopters, as is Google’s own Google Docs team, which tapped it to allow users to respond and add comments to discussion threads within documents. And third-party email design and delivery platforms like Twilio’s Sendgrid, SparkPost, Amazon SES and Amazon Pinpoint, and Litmus already or will soon support the AMP specification.
AMP for Email followed on the heels of improvements to AMP Stories, Google’s open source library that enables publishers to build web-based, Snapchat-like flipbooks with slick graphics, animations, videos, and streaming audio. (Google debuted AMP Stories in February with eight publishers, including Vox Media, Conde Nast, and The Washington Post.) At an event last September, Google said it’s leveraging AI to “construct” AMP Stories and surface them in search results, starting first with stories about celebrities, athletes, and other “notable people.”
As of July 2017, the AMP Project’s website listed around 120 advertising companies and around 30 analytics companies as AMP Project participants.