Google boosts the speed of the mobile web

8 Oct 2015

Speeding up the mobile web will help publishers retain readers and defeat the ad blocker trend

With its new Accelerated Mobile Pages project (AMP), Google aims to take on Facebook, Snapchat and Apple by making it possible for publishers to load articles faster on mobile web browsers. Google is also seeking to counter the threat posed to publishers by ad blocking software.

David Besbris, vice president of engineering at Google’s Search division, said that, although publishers are using the mobile web to reach smartphone and tablet-toting readers with the latest news, the experience often leaves a lot to be desired.

“Every time a web page takes too long to load, they lose a reader, and the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions,” Besbris said. “That’s because advertisers on these websites have a hard time getting consumers to pay attention to their ads when the pages load so slowly that people abandon them entirely.”

Working with publishers, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, Adobe, LinkedIn and WordPress, internet giant Google has created code that publishers can use to speed up how web pages open.

‘Every time a webpage takes too long to load, they lose a reader, and the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions’

This happens because AMP simplifies the HTML code that sits behind most mobile web content and prioritises speed over other functions.

In effect, AMP allows websites to build light-weight web pages.

Google AMPs up the mobile web

“We want web pages with rich content like video, animations and graphics to work alongside smart ads, and to load instantaneously,” Besbris said.

“We also want the same code to work across multiple platforms and devices so that content can appear everywhere in an instant, no matter what type of phone, tablet or mobile device you’re using.”

He said that, over time, it is expected that Google products like Google News will also integrate AMP HTML pages.

Some 30 publishers from around the world have been involved in the development of AMP.

“Publishers want people to enjoy the great journalism they create anywhere and everywhere, so stories or content produced in Spain can be served in an instant across the globe in, say, Chile.

“That means distribution across all kinds of devices and platforms is crucial. So, as part of this effort, we’ve designed a new approach to caching that allows the publisher to continue to host their content while allowing for efficient distribution through Google’s high-performance global cache. We intend to open our cache servers to be used by anyone free of charge,” Besbris said.

Can Google outflank the ad blockers?

He also acknowledged that ads fund free services and content on the web.

However, this model is being disrupted by an increase in the use of ad-blocking software by consumers who do so in order to speed up the delivery of content.

“With Accelerated Mobile Pages, we want to support a comprehensive range of ad formats, ad networks and technologies,” Besbris said.

“Any sites using AMP HTML will retain their choice of ad networks, as well as any formats that don’t detract from the user experience. It’s also a core goal of the project to support subscriptions and paywalls. We’ll work with publishers and those in the industry to help define the parameters of an ad experience that still provides the speed we’re striving for with AMP.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years