How publisher pushback on Google’s AMP impacts marketers

Linda J. Dodson

More publishers are looking to drop a Google technology that had been touted as a way to speed up downloads for mobile web pages and improve their appearance on smartphone screens. The move away from Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) may give marketers more flexibility in the kinds of advertising they buy from publishers.

Vox Media, BuzzFeed’s Complex Networks and BDG, the publisher of Bustle and other sites, began testing or are weighing whether they should abandon AMP and use their own methods of creating web pages optimized for mobile viewing, The Wall Street Journal first reported. The publishers wouldn’t be the first to exit from AMP after The Washington Post did so last year.

“Publishers have learned the hard way that ceding control of traffic, audience and monetization to conflicted platforms like Google and Facebook is not a smart strategy,” Adam Berkowitz, chief of staff at marketing platform LiveIntent, told Marketing Dive via email. “Fortunately, this is changing. Over the last two years, in particular, we’re seeing more publishers take back control.”

Google in October 2015 introduced AMP as part of a broad initiative to speed up web browsing on mobile devices. The company planned to implement a system to prioritize web pages that were optimized for mobile, but after several delays it introduced a method of evaluating mobile usability in its search rankings last year. The change meant that publishers didn’t have to make separate AMP versions of web pages in order to appear more prominently in search results.

At the same time, AMP also has invited controversy, with Google being accused in an unredacted version of a lawsuit by state attorneys general for several kinds of anti-competitive activities. The suit alleges that AMP pages make it more difficult for publishers to sell ad space programmatically outside of Google’s ad exchange, and that the company delayed the load time of non-AMP pages. Google has denied the claims as false or misleading.

‘You want everything to look superlative’

Amid these conflicting claims about AMP, marketers who buy digital ad space are left to sort out how their brands appear to online consumers. Their display ads may not be seen on web pages that aren’t optimized for mobile viewing.

“Marketers obviously care about the user experience. They don’t want their ad to be associated with content that’s annoying, awkward, bulky, slow to load,” Mike Woosley, chief operating officer of data-management platform Lotame, said in an interview. “If you’re Anheuser-Busch, you just want everything to look superlative.”

“Publishers have learned the hard way that ceding control of traffic, audience and monetization to conflicted platforms like Google and Facebook is not a smart strategy.”

Adam Berkowitz

Chief of staff, LiveIntent

It’s possible that more publishers may abandon AMP amid concerns about monetization and other unalleviated suspicions toward Google, which has a dominant role in the way online advertising is sold through automated auctions. Some media executives said non-AMP pages can generate 20% more ad revenue than AMP pages, the Journal reported.

“It was pretty obvious to publishers early on this was a Trojan horse for Google to prioritize their ad monetization products over others,” said Thomas Anderson, chief marketplace development officer at Emodo, the ad platform owned by mobile technology giant Ericsson. “They did not make it easy as a third-party SSP [sell-side platform] to work in AMP and not many did much monetization from it.”

5G buildout brings faster mobile speed

AMP may become less necessary with the buildout of 5G networks that have more bandwidth to deliver rich, multimedia content such as video, gaming and augmented reality (AR) experiences. As cellular carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile upgrade their networks and more consumers replace their phones with 5G-capable models, marketers will face fewer concerns about slow downloads and abandoned web pages. Advertisers will still have to confront the difficulties with mobile ad targeting as Google adopts stricter policies on data-sharing and consumer privacy.

“With all that’s going on with cookies and mobile ad ID deprecation right now, it’s an interesting thought experiment to think what actually needs to be built as an app versus a website,” Anderson said. “Progressive web apps have the potential to take some market share back from the app space as they continue to grow in appeal.”

He pointed to the online game Wordle, which became a viral sensation and this year was bought by The New York Times, as an example of progressive web app (PWA) popularity.

AMP will disappear from the internet as Adobe’s Flash platform for multimedia content did before it, Lotame’s Woosley predicts. As much as Google continually introduces new technologies, the company also has scrapped or replaced multiple products such as its Google+ social network or Hangouts instant messaging app.

“Technology in digital execution is constantly improving, and now that publishers have a few years of experience, and a better handle on the impact and numbers,” he said. “It’s no surprise that these guys are finding their own solutions and workarounds … and voting with their feet.”

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