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This past year, SEO and digital marketing circles have been buzzing with news and speculation about the impending launch of Google’s Core Web Vitals.

But just a few short years ago, Accelerated Mobile Pages (now known simply as AMP) were all the rage.

Each of these initiatives can dramatically improve page speed, which has some marketers questioning — do we still need AMP if we’re optimizing for Core Web Vitals?

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • The difference between Core Web Vital scores and AMP validated pages
  • The benefits and drawbacks of both Core Web Vitals vs AMP validated pages
  • Is it necessary to use AMP for better Core Web Vitals?

Finally, we share our verdict. Read on to learn more about Core Web Vitals, AMP and which one best suits the needs of enterprise local brands.

What are Core Web Vitals?

Core Web Vitals are three scoring factors that indicate Google’s understanding of the user experience a webpage is able to provide. These scores are for Largest Contentful Paint, First Input Delay, and Cumulative Layout Shift. 

Google page experience update for brands

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

Largest Contentful Paint is the page load speed for the user, essentially the time it takes for the majority of the on-page content to load. To provide the best user experience, LCP should only take 2.5 seconds once the page starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID)

First Input Delay measures how quickly a page responds to a user’s input. This input can include clicking on navigation links, pressing keys to enter emails into a field, tapping on images that redirect to other landing pages, or opening up “drop down” options on mobile devices. 

For a good user experience, pages should have an FID score of fewer than 100 milliseconds. 

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

Cumulative Layout Shift measures the visual stability of landing page elements during page loading. 

In other words, CLS measures how much videos, images, navigation links, etc., shift or jump during the loading process.  Also Google has recently adjusted CLS scoring to be more fair for long-lived pages.

 

What are the benefits of Core Web Vitals?

Google officially announced in November 2020 that Core Web Vitals would be a ranking factor by June 2021. Webpages will now rank higher with strong Core Web Vitals scores.

A landing page that scores well with Core Web Vitals will have all the same benefits as an AMP landing page.

 

What are the drawbacks of Core Web Vitals?

Only three Core Web Vitals

Three factors are not enough for a thorough measure of performance. A fourth metric, First Contentful Paint, is being talked about for some time in the future. 

CLS can’t score for single-page applications

Since CLS is cumulative and there is no separate server request, CLS will be continuously measured as the user goes from page to page. 

FID is affected by JavaScript loading times

The loading time for a JavaScript-supported button can have unusual effects on the FID score. If a user clicks the button before or after the JavaScript has loaded, the FID score will be high. If the user clicks while the JavaScript is still loading, the FID score will be poor.

Inconsistent image considerations for LCP

Google considers images that take up the entire screen as a background image, not counting them for LCP. However, if a site has a small menu that pushes a background image down just a bit, it no longer fills the screen and counts for LCP.

 

What is AMP?

AMP is an open-source project backed by Google that was officially announced on October 7, 2015. AMP Pages are designed specifically to provide the extremely fast load times and performance that make for a great user experience on mobile devices.

AMP offers a bare-bones version of your site’s mobile pages. It displays essential content while stripping out elements that reduce website speed and performance.

These pages need to be validated as either pass or fail. This differs from Core Web Vitals, which has gradient scores for mobile and desktop results that go from 1-100.

 

What are the benefits of AMP?

Speeds up site loading time

AMP strips out unnecessary elements to improve download speeds, which can enhance the mobile user experience. While AMP itself is not a ranking factor, download speed is a positive ranking factor.

May increase mobile rankings

AMP can positively influence user behavior thanks to quick load times and might also reduce bounce rates as more users stay on the page. However, this might also mean sacrificing user-friendly functionality (which can also negatively influence user engagement).

Improves server performance

If your site generates a lot of traffic from mobile, AMP will reduce the load on your servers and improve their performance.

Possible placement in Google’s mobile carousel

Originally, AMP validation was required to be placed in Google’s mobile carousel.  However, in May 2020, Google officially announced this was no longer a requirement.

Improved quality scores for pay-per-click campaigns

AMP landing pages can now be used for Google Adwords destination URLs. The improved download speeds can have a positive impact on text ad quality scores and potentially improve costs per click and conversion rates.

Coincidentally Higher Core Web Vitals scores

AMP pages in themselves have much fewer inhibiting elements that can negatively impact Core Web Vital scores.  They are “bare bones” landing pages that are much faster given that validation requires limitations on CSS & Javascript.

 

What are the drawbacks of AMP?

Development workload

Development skills are needed to strip out certain elements to pass Google’s AMP verification tool. You’ll find a boilerplate with the required AMP markup on the AMP Project website to help you get started.

AMP strips out user-friendly elements

AMP requires the removal of some elements that could impact the mobile user experience, including Javascript for custom geo maps on location pages, for example. If the user experience on an AMP is negative, the resulting SEO signals (reduced user engagement, lower conversion rates, higher bounce rates) can take their toll. Constant monitoring and testing are required in early AMP experiments.

Google is saying less and less about the benefits of AMP

It’s not likely that Google will completely abandon AMP especially given that it uses mobile-first indexing. However, there is always a risk and lately, the benefits are shrinking.

 

Is it necessary to use AMP for better Core Web Vitals?

No, AMP is certainly not necessary in 2021 for optimized Core Web Vitals scores.  If you choose not to use AMP, you will need to check that you are optimizing your pages for LCP, FID, and CLS.

The verdict

AMP’s relevance today is kind of an open question. While it’s always been great as a quick and easy way to increase page speed, privacy concerns and Google’s control issues can be problematic for some developers and brands. Even though AMP validated pages inherently have optimal Core Web Vital scores their drawbacks can make their implementation unnecessary and even counterproductive (limited user experience).

While it’s tough to imagine that AMP will fade away completely within the next couple of years, the issues with AMP combined with the cost of maintaining it might spell the end of it being a widely used practice. If AMP can be applied without impacting the local user experience then it can be beneficial.  However it’s likely that local maps can’t be applied on location pages.  This is definitely a negative user experience.

Optimal Core Web Vitals, on the other hand, are not a technology that needs ongoing support and updating but a set of metrics for measuring user experience. Google also explicitly announced that Core Web Vitals is a ranking signal making this a very important development. One thing is for sure — consumer demand for lightning fast online experiences that deliver on their immediate needs is not going away.

Want more actionable tips and takeaways to help improve your pages’ experience? Download your free copy of our Ultimate Guide to Google Page Experience for Enterprise Brands.

The Ultimate Guide to Google Page Experience for Enterprise Brands