March 1, 2022

Publishers Correctly Giving Up on AMP

Page speed has been one of the significant improvements Google has encouraged publishers to make with their websites. In 2015, Google offered the Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) framework, which would make it easier for publishers to introduce fast, mobile-first pages.

The benefit for publishes was two-fold. First, the pages were faster, which was good. Second, Google appeared to prioritize AMP pages. For publishers starved for traffic, they appreciated any advantage. But starting in June 2021, Google stopped prioritizing AMP.

It should come as no surprise, then, that publishers are giving up on AMP. According to The Wall Street Journal:

Media executives have said dropping AMP would give them more control over their page designs and ad formats, and make it easier for them to sell ad space in auctions that include a greater number of ad marketplaces through a system known as header bidding, ultimately boosting competition and prices for their ad space.

Media executives and consultants said they expect non-AMP pages to garner at least 20% more advertising revenue than AMP pages in most cases, without affecting loading speeds.

Publishers are wise to make this change. Depending on Google for so much put publishers at a disadvantage and likely interfered in their monetization efforts. A 20% increase in advertising revenue just by changing to fast, non-AMP pages is significant.

But as reported in the story, not all publishers are gung-ho about it.

“The only thing I worry about is missed opportunity costs we’re not aware of,” BDG’s Mr. Love said. For instance, it is unclear whether having AMP would harm organic search in the long run, or whether a non-AMP page would have the same chance of appearing in a special Google section like the Discover feature for Android phones, he said.

It’s a fair worry, but I suspect any potential drop in traffic is more than offset by an increase in potential revenue and publisher control over their pages. Managing regular and AMP versions of your website is additional work for developers. I remember the day Google announced it wouldn’t be prioritizing AMP any longer, a developer I worked with asked if we could immediately strip it from our codebase.

While I think the increase in revenue can offset the drop in traffic, that assumes you’re replacing AMP with speedy, native pages. If you’re just going to revert to slow-loading pages, you’ll see a significant drop in traffic. Why? Speed matters a lot.

In October 2020, I wrote this about Google’s push for publishers to make their websites faster:

Back in 2010, Google started telling site owners that site speed was becoming a ranking factor. At this time, this was only for desktop, but the message was clear. If it comes down to two sites—a fast one and a slow one—Google would likely prioritize the fast one if all else is equal.

The logic made sense… Google’s users are looking for information and they don’t want to wait. To ensure that the users think of Google as a helpful tool, Google wants to help users get their information as fast as possible.

In mid-July 2018, speed a ranking factor was rolled out across all mobile devices as well. Google was going to prioritize the fast pages over the slow pages because that’s what users wanted.

Google’s priority is giving its users as pleasant an experience as possible. Delivering slow pages on the search results page isn’t in Google’s best interest, so they’re likely to deprioritize that content compared to faster pages. So, if you’re going to get rid of AMP, you will need to learn about Google’s favorite thing.

Enter Core Web Vitals. Back in July, I wrote this:

Core Web Vitals look at page speed and then supercharges it, asking for even more improvements to user experience. And since it is an update to Google’s search algorithm, ignoring it can have a serious impact on the number of users that find our content.

There are three parts of Core Web Vitals:

– Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
– First Input Delay (FID)
– Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is what you need to pay attention to regarding page speed. LCP focuses on how long it takes for the user to interact with the page. In other words, even if the article has loaded, if images and other things are still loading in the background, in Google’s eyes, the page isn’t loaded.

A primary complaint publishers had with AMP was that monetization was limited. Unfortunately, publishers notoriously bloat their websites with a ton of ad tech. This will slow the site down. You need to be critical of ad partners that take too long to load. They may pay a higher CPM, but if it means your rankings are lower, are you coming out ahead?

If your engineering and audience teams have not started talking about Core Web Vitals, you should schedule that meeting immediately. It plays a big part in how Google ranks websites.

I am a big fan of publishers moving away from AMP, but it’s only the first step.

When digital publishers buy magazines

Axios did a deep dive into the state of magazines and how many digital publishers have been acquiring magazine brands. According to the story:

The U.S. consumer magazine industry shrunk by more than 20% in the past five years, due largely to print advertising declines, per PwC data. But the rate of decline is expected to slow slightly in the next five years, thanks to new efforts from online media companies to acquire and digitize traditional print brands.

Why it matters: “If you make the right acquisition in the right vertical … it can give you real scale that is meaningful and major clout in that vertical very quickly,” said Jason Webby, chief revenue officer at Future, which owns over 200 print and digital magazine titles, including The Week, Marie Claire US and Kiplinger.

We’re at an interesting inflection point where digital media has finally figured out how to sustain itself. Whether it’s subscriptions, commerce, and 1st-party and contextually driven advertising, digital media companies have an arsenal of options available to them.

What these magazines have in spades are brands. Think about the Dotdash Meredith deal. Meredith had well-known brand names, including Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, and People. You could argue that these brand names are stronger than many of Dotdash’s brands, which have been in existence for less than a decade. Entertainment Weekly launched in 1990; InStyle in 1994; and People in 1974. That’s multiple decades of brand building.

The play makes a lot of sense, and we can see how Dotdash Meredith is executing it.

  • Step 1: Acquire the brands
  • Step 2: Integrate the digital tech stack
  • Step 3: Track print revenue and if it drops too low, cut the print product

Dotdash Meredith made that decision in early February, shutting down the print editions of six magazines. The revenue opportunity there was likely not compelling enough to keep the team around. Despite getting rid of the magazines, it still owns the brands. And with continued investment in content, it can benefit from decades of brand building.

An interesting tidbit jumped out in Axios’ coverage of Dotdash Meredith closing the six brands:

After the cuts, around 19 print magazine titles will remain within the Dotdash Meredith portfolio. A source familiar with the company’s plans says it plans to invest in all of its remaining print products by enhancing paper quality, photography and editorial.

As I wrote in December, there might be an opportunity in magazines.

But because of this, the product will be different. Rather than matte, cheap-feeling paper, I imagine it’ll be glossy with a ton of money invested in photography. I love airplanes. I’m sure it’ll be incredible seeing a centerfold of a plane. That costs money, but at $12.50 per issue, it’s worth it.

I think the play for magazines is for them to become much smaller and of a far higher quality.

These are great brands. But if you’re going to continue operating a magazine, it’s crucial to push forward with creating a higher quality product. If not, pay attention to print revenue and when margins are gone, cut the product. Then, at least you’ll have the brand.

Thanks for reading today’s issue. If you have thoughts, hit reply. Become a premium member, so you will receive the Friday edition of A Media Operator and receive an invite to the Slack channel. Have a great week!