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or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Google’s Embrace, Empower, Expedite takeover of the web.

When I first saw Google’s pitch for AMP, their answer to Facebook’s Instant Articles, I hoped it was a new energy drink. When I read it, though, it sounded a lot like an offer for a protection racket.

“Nice site you have there, sure would be too bad if it got deprioritized in our search index.” — Straw Man[1]

A view of Google's mobile search results, showing the carousel of Google AMP pages presented at the top of the page.I mean, AMP sounds good at the outset—it’s a toolkit for building websites that render quickly on mobile devices.  There are a bunch of cool technical tricks involved, but don’t worry: we won’t go too deeply down the rabbit-hole here.

One of those tricks is pretty complex—Google defined a strict subset of HTML5 and built an intentionally-limited JavaScript library to work with it. It works by making sure that everything on the page is a known size, and by limiting what you can put on the page to things that work well on most mobile devices.

While on a regular webpage, you can write a Turing-complete cellular automata simulation [2], a real-time map of ongoing cyberattacks [3], or a full-fledged first-person video game [4], you won’t be doing any of that on a Google AMP page. And that’s probably okay. AMP is designed to get informational pages to load quickly, not to showcase your design or programming chops.

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.” — Albert Einstein

The other of those tricks is incredibly simple—Google’s going to copy your AMP pages onto its own servers and will show visitors those copies. So they won’t be visiting your servers at all. That really took me aback. I’m going to go to all the trouble of building these special copies of all my pages for Google, with a particular data format in the header so they can easily determine what’s going on in them, and they’re just going to rip me off?

Hold on a minute there, Grumpy Gus!

Let’s step back a minute and remember why we have a website, how people find it, and what we use to keep up with our readers.

Most of us, especially folks working in mission-driven organizations, have websites in order to get our ideas out there. Specifically, we want people to read our words and to take up our ideas. It doesn’t really matter how people get to us and find out about our ideas, but they probably do it through Google. And the reason we know they’re visiting our site, and who they are? These days, it isn’t because we’re reading our server logs, it’s because we’ve got free Google Analytics scripts on our site.

A view of Google's mobile search results, highlighting that three out of four results shown are Google AMP pages.And now, Google’s offering to help us save on our hosting bills, too? Okay. I’m in.

So now what?

So now for the good news. Your website’s content management system (CMS) might already have a plugin to generate AMP-compliant web pages for your content. Those plugins are a great start, but they don’t do everything yet.

While supporting Google AMP isn’t as easy as flipping a switch and walking away, it’s no longer the exclusive domain of large organizations with extra room in their budgets.

With the right development support, your CMS-powered website can be empowered to serve Google AMP pages alongside its existing content.

What do I tell my web team?

The main thing to keep in mind is that AMP pages are, on their surface, simple. Well, “simple” might not be fair, since a lot of work goes into making them efficient… let’s call them elegant. But lest you worry, like I did, about losing your site’s visual identity, let’s poke around a bit. You’ll still be able to put branding imagery on your page. You’ll even be able to include fancier, non-AMP-compliant items in iframes, although after some experimentation, you may not want to.

Instead of just writing some CSS and JavaScript to set up and style your pages, or dropping in YouTube embeds for your videos, you’ll be using AMP-sanctioned scripts for even basic things like forms[5]. Don’t give up hope, though, Google’s a big seller of adverts[6] and analytics[7], and hasn’t forgotten you. New features are being steadily added to AMP via extensions, too, so genius’s limitations won’t hold you back for long.

AMP’s enforced minimalism might remind you of an incredibly popular site taking over the long-form essay world – Medium. Their focus on easily-readable, fast-loading content has made them one of the top sites on the modern web [8].

Tell your web team not to worry, and that ParsonsTKO can help.

TL;DR

AMP doesn’t force you to make clean, easy-to-read pages that float to the top of Google results, but it sure helps. (And it may even lower your hosting costs in the process.)