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Is AMP the Right Choice for Law Firms?

Is AMP the Right Choice for Law Firms?

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google code project that helps websites load quickly. AMP accomplishes its hyper-fast load times by employing a stripped-down version of HTML; a limited, Google-approved Javascript library; and caching.

This means that in order to use AMP, you need to create an alternate version of your website that conforms to AMP's standards. WordPress plugins exist to help law firms that use the WordPress platform accomplish this.

Typically, an AMP-optimized page will have a separate url, like: www.lawexample.com/page/amp. You could, in theory, use the same address and replace your site with an AMP-optimized site, however, its features would be severely limited.

Google claims that AMP exists to help enhance mobile user experience by serving streamlined pages that load almost instantly. And AMP does accomplish its quick load time goals. Critics, however, claim Google is not maintaining AMP protocols for purely benevolent purposes. By controlling both the language used to write code and the method by which websites are served, Google is claiming even more dominance over the way everyone uses the internet.

Loading pages

Before you see a web page, a plethora of things need to happen. Code is parsed, scripts are loaded and elements are fetched, ideally all in a matter of milliseconds. There are two aspects to this process:

1.DOM ready time: Before any page elements, like images, can load,the browser has to receive and parse the HTML code. The time it takes for the browser to receive and parse the code is the DOM ready time.This includes the time it takes the browser to receive information from your servers and from external servers.

2. Full-page load time: The full-page load time is the time it takes everything on a page — CSS, images, fonts, etc. — to load. Most users say they will click away from a page if it does not load in three seconds.

These load times will be nearly imperceptible to users on AMP-optimized sites.

What does AMP change about your pages?

AMP HTML: AMP HTML is a subset of HTML that includes some AMP-specific tags. It restricts the types of tags that can be used to create website code.

AMP JS: AMP JS is a Javascript library that is strictly limited to a few custom tags that help control how page elements are rendered.Since Javascript often slows page loading, this protocol is extremely effective.

AMP Cache: The cache is the most significant change to the way sites are served, and it is the object of much ire from AMP critics. A large reason AMP pages are able to load so quickly is that users are seeing cached pages. Your AMP pages are not being loaded from your server; they are being hosted on Google’s AMP Cache servers. Google has confirmed that AMP content cannot appear in prioritized results unless it is served through Google's cache.

Responsive web design vs AMP

Responsive web design is the practice of using CSS to automatically adjust a website for maximum functionality across devices. With responsive webdesign, images and text will adjust to fit the users' screens,whether they are using a smartphone or desktop. Responsive design also allows you to hide or show content on certain devices, or to change the way page features function, to maximize user experience.

Responsive web design has long been Google’s preferred choice for serving pages on mobile devices. On its developer blog, Google states that responsive design both makes it easier for people to share and link to your content, and for Google to correctly index it.

There are two big differences between an AMP-optimized site and a site that uses responsive design. First, an AMP site is a stripped-down version of the original site, often one that sits on a separate url. A responsive website is just your site; it will adjust to any screen size using the same url without the need to load a separate AMP-optimized mobile site. And a responsive site can use any HTML you choose. You are not limited to Google's AMP library.

Also, AMP sites are cached by Google and are being served by Google,whereas a responsive site is being delivered to visitors from your host. If you are using AMP, all of your content is running through Google's servers.

A primary goal of responsive web design is flexibility, while the primary goal of AMP is speed. Both aim to make mobile user experience better.

Benefits of using AMP

AMP's primary advantage is speed, which can lead to positive SEO results. The pros of using AMP include:

1.Faster loading times: The AMP project does accomplish its goal of making the mobile web faster. If you take the time to create an AMP-optimized site, your mobile pages will load extremely quickly.AMP sites will almost always load more quickly than sites that are designed responsively.

2.Priority in mobile results: Google places AMP content in a featured carousel at the top of mobile search results. If you do not optimize your site according to AMP standards, your pages will not be given preferential treatment to appear in the mobile search carousel.

3.Potential increase in traffic to AMP articles: According to one Google case study, Slate experienced a 44 percent jump in monthly unique visitors through Google searches after adopting AMP. You could also see an increase in mobile traffic if you are able to get your pages displayed at the top of mobile results.

Criticisms of AMP

AMP's speed comes at a cost, which some website owners find outweighs the benefits. Following the AMP protocol forces developers to make decisions they may not otherwise make. Some of the cons of using AMP include:

AMP is not easy to implement: According to Google's AMP design principles, developers should always “do what’s best for the end user experience, even if it means that it’s harder for the page creator to build or for the library developer to implement.” AMP's focus is entirely on the end user, making it difficult to adopt for those not familiar with HTML and CSS.

Branding can suffer: Most AMP-optimized articles look the same. You have few opportunities to brand your pages because of the limited code.You will lose any of the uniqueness you have built into your website design on AMP pages.

Google recently rolled out AMP Stories, which allows publishers to create more immersive articles that include full screen graphics and interactive features. This is an attractive product because it helps publishers create more visually compelling articles. However, Stories must also be built through Google's platform, with the graphic capabilities its developers have chosen.

Conversion rates: While AMP-optimization can help increase traffic, it may not have the same effect on conversion rates. AMP's limited functionality does not work well with forms, hindering an important lead-generation tool. Additionally, AMP takes visitors away from your hosted site onto pages served from Google's cache, and may decrease the time visitors spend on your site.

Google is changing the way the web works: Some critical of the AMP project believe it should be killed because of the influence it gives Google over how sites function. Google is controlling what code is used, and it is controlling how that code is served.

Traditionally, before the AMP project, Google's bots crawled the web and indexed pages, then Google's search results directed users to pages on other websites, hosted by other servers. However, if someone lands on your AMP page through a Google search, then shares the link, that link will point to Google. It's url will not be www.lawexample.com/page/amp, for example. It will instead be google.com/amp/lawexample.com/page/amp. Rather than directing people out, to sites across the web, Google is directing people in, to pages on its servers.

Should law firms create AMP sites?

The AMP project has clear benefits for publishers that produce large amounts of content daily. News organizations that vie for the top spot in mobile results minute-by-minute can benefit from the increased exposure and traffic.

Law firms that rely on conversions and lead-generation a different category of website owners. While they benefit from increased traffic, visitors are only good for the bottom line to the extent that they are interested in the firm's services. Proper optimization of a responsive site can help pages load quickly while creating an unified experience for all users on all devices. Responsively designed pages will not be as fast as AMP pages, but they may be fast enough, given the downfalls of the AMP platform.

AMP optimization may work for a narrow set of law firms that frequently publish content. Others should focus on directing traffic to a fast,responsive site that delivers a positive, consistent, branded experience to all users.

Kristen Friend
Kristen Friend holds two bachelors degrees from Indiana University and an associates degreee from the International Academy of Design. As Art Director for Custom Legal Marketing, her work has been awarded Webby Honorees, WebAwards, Davey Awards, Muse Awards, W3 Awards, and many others. She is also a contributor to Entrpreneur Magazine through the Entrepreneur Leadership Network.