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Publishers decide to abandon mobile web initiative supported by Google

Several major online publishers are moving to abandon an Alphabet Inc. Google program that was touted as a way to optimize readers’ mobile browsing experience, claiming it generates less ad revenue.

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Companies such as Vox Media LLC, parent company Complex Networks, and BuzzFeed Inc.’s Bustle said they’ve begun testing or considering using their own mobile-optimized versions of article pages, instead of creating them from scratch. using the Accelerated Mobile Pages framework, which Google introduced in 2015 and is backed by an open-source working group. The Washington Post went further by dropping AMP last summer.

A potential exit from AMP would make media companies a little less dependent on Google, whose dominance in digital advertising has strained its relationship with publishers and was referenced in a December 2020 lawsuit by state attorneys general alleging a anti-competitive behavior.

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A recently unredacted version of the lawsuit alleged that AMP pages, which are hosted on Google’s servers, were specifically designed to make it more difficult to auction ad space on platforms other than the online exchange. ads from Google. He also alleged that Google created ads that did not use AMP payload with a one-second delay.

A Google spokesperson at the time said the lawsuit’s claims about AMP were false and said its engineers designed the system to load web pages faster.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Alphabet Inc. is expected to release earnings numbers on Feb. 1. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Media executives said ditching AMP would give them more control over their page design and ad formats, and make it easier for them to sell ad space in auctions that include a more ad markets through a system known as header auctions, which would ultimately drive competition. and the prices of their advertising space.

Google said it’s possible for publishers to sell ad space on AMP pages through header bidding, but this practice has its downsides, including using more data and causing web pages to load slower. .

“AMP continues to be a useful way for sites, even those without large digital teams, to easily create great web experiences,” a Google spokeswoman said.

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

“You can make your own web pages work great without making the compromises required by Google to make AMP work.”

– — Tyler Love, BDG Chief Technology Officer at BDG, which owns brands such as Bustle, Gawker, Nylon and W

Google said it offers its own alternative to header bidding, which it calls Open Bidding.

Some publishers said they began to scale back their AMP efforts after Google changed its algorithm last year so that page loading speeds, interactivity and visual stability factored into its search rankings. The new standards were designed to improve users’ content experience and publishers’ search results performance, Google said, without having to create separate AMP pages. At the time, Google also said it would stop featuring only AMP content in its Top Stories carousel.

“If there’s an equal chance of creating AMP and non-AMP pages, we’ll focus on non-AMP pages,” said Christian Baesler, CEO of Complex Networks and COO of BuzzFeed. His publications include Complex and Sole Collector.

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Washington Post product manager Dave Merrell said the news agency stopped publishing AMP versions of its stories last summer after Google rolled out its new technology standards. Two other major news publishers, New York Times Co. and Dow Jones & Co. — publisher of the Wall Street Journal and a unit of News Corp — declined to comment.

Signage at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Alphabet Inc. is expected to release earnings numbers on Feb. 1. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Ryan Pauley, chief revenue officer of Vox Media, whose titles include The Verge, Vox and New York Magazine, said that beyond increasing ad revenue, he expects non-AMP pages to facilitate the growth of paid website subscriptions. Google said publishers can take steps to limit the number of free articles readers can see on AMP and non-AMP pages.

The relationship between news publishers and Google has been strained over the years and goes beyond digital advertising. Executives from major news outlets, including News Corp, have long criticized Google for using news content in its products without paying the publishers who provide it. Google said in 2020 it would pay publishers a total of more than $1 billion over three years to license news content. News Corp is among the publishers that have entered into content licensing agreements with Google.

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When Google introduced AMP in 2015, the company said it would create a better experience for publishers and digital readers. Media companies have stepped up, creating special article pages that are supposed to load faster on mobile phones, eliminate some pesky ads and make content easier to find. Google said at the time that the program would make the “World Wide Web great again”.

Some publishers say they’re worried that dropping AMP will hurt their traffic.

“The only thing that worries me is the missed opportunity costs that we’re not aware of,” BDG’s Mr. Love said. For example, it’s unclear if AMP would hurt organic search in the long run, or if a non-AMP page would have the same chance of appearing in a special section of Google like the Discover feature for Android phones. , did he declare.

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Google declined to comment on specific concerns and said AMP has never been a ranking signal in search results.