How AMP Pages Increase Google Search Traffic for Trending News

Baron Ginnetti on August 27th, 2018

Do AMP Pages Increase Google Search Traffic?

Google is obsessed with speed, and AMP pages are fast. But can your AMP speed actually help you increase search traffic? Our recent client case study will show you how much additional traffic you can drive with AMP implemented specifically from Google’s Top Stories Carousel unit.  

While it’s getting easier to track AMP traffic, it can still be tricky to understand where your AMP traffic is coming from and which Rich Results might be driving that traffic. If you publish any trending news topics we will help you carve out your AMP traffic and the inevitable visitor volume delivered from Google's Top Stories Carousel Rich Results.  

What are AMP pages?

In short, Google initiated AMP, and the purpose of AMP is to make your pages load lightning-fast for the best mobile user experience. Check out Google’s AMP intro video for a quick primer:

 

If you’re a news publisher, you know that you drive high volumes of traffic by winning a spot in the Top Stories Carousel both on mobile and desktop, but how much do AMP pages really influence or promote this placement, and how can you track it?

We will demonstrate the value of AMP to your search traffic and its influence in terms of winning a spot in the Top Stories Carousel.  If you don’t have AMP or can’t have AMP then we are going to tell you how to mark up your pages to increase the likelihood of appearing in the Top Stories Carousel. And for a deeper dive, here are more details: benefits of AMP.

Top Stories Carousel-- Mobile:

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

How we got here:

Recently, a few of our trending news entertainment clients asked us to investigate a month-over-month traffic decline for two of their premier brands. We won’t get into SEO troubleshooting tactics because there are so many great posts on the topic.

What we did:

We performed a manual audit, and the results will help confirm and tell you how to track and increase your traffic from the Top Stories Carousel in Google. We will address the following:

  • Do AMP Pages increase Google search traffic?
  • How to appear in the Top Stories Carousel.

  • How to track your search traffic from the Top Stories Carousel.

How we researched the decline:

We worked with the clients' product teams to confirm every product and engineering release to each site over the last 6 months.

When we annotated these changes in Google Analytics (GA) we quickly learned that each of these sites had disabled AMP for General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance and that the dates they disabled AMP appeared to have a high correlation to the traffic decline. We let this correlation guide our investigation, and this offered us an opportunity to learn an incredible amount about AMP performance in "Top Stories.”

Do AMP Pages Increase Google Search Traffic?

If you are news publisher or any form of publisher who can appear in Googles' Top Stories then AMP pages directly impact your ability and frequency with which you can be featured in the Top Stories Carousel. If you're a news publisher, and you have AMP implemented, then you're winning big time traffic.

Google states clearly that AMP is required to appear in the Top Stories Carousel.

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

 

BUT WAIT!  You’ve probably seen non-AMP pages in Top Stories too.  No surprise here-- Google wants to feature the best content as quickly as possible.  So is AMP really  a requirement as stated above?  Hell no! Google goes on that non-AMP pages with right structured data could appear in Rich results. If there are circumstances preventing you from implementing AMP then how much traffic are you potentially missing? Are you showing in the Top Stories Carousel with the same frequency with AMP enabled as with AMP disabled? How can you tell?

Top Stories Desktop Carousel:

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Given that Top Stories is one of many “Rich Result” types we confirm which types of "Rich Results" would appear in Google for our clients' sites.  The following is simply a sample set of common "Rich Results".

How to determine what "Rich Results" your site is featured in on Google:

  1. Anecdotal searches

  2. Use tools like Ahref’s or SEMRush to understand what percentage of your keywords appear in "Rich Result"s and which type of "Rich Results".

  3. Export the data and sort or use filters to determine the percentage of "Rich Results" and the percentage of "Rich Results" by type.

 

Here’s what that would look like in Ahrefs.

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Based upon our clients' data we know that 95% of our top "Rich Results" traffic does in fact arrive through the Top Stories Carousel unit as opposed to a featured snippet.

So we've got multiple sites driving millions of visits a day with AMP suddenly disabled; we were sitting on a lot of data to answer loads of questions! 

So here are the questions:

  • How much impact did AMP pages have on being featured in the Top Stories Carousel
  • How much traffic do we actually drive (or lose) via the Top Stories Carousel without AMP enabled.

Can you accurately split true AMP Carousel traffic from standard search listing traffic?

Yes, you can! Within Google Analytics (GA) you can segment by AMP but you can’t parse which Google features the AMP traffic is coming from. If you want to segment AMP traffic in GA, here’s an easy tutorial or you can set up AMP as a referral source: AMP as referral source. Both of these methods are helpful but limited, so we dug into Google Search Console for greater insights.  

  1. Go to the new Google Search Console use the following filters:
  2. Performance ---> Device Mobile + Search Appearance + Rich Results:

For clarification, the Top Stories Carousel unit is a "Rich Result" feature.

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Here’s what the data looks like like for Publisher #1 with these filters executed. We will display visits only for a cleaner view.

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

This is pretty wild... The image above shows an average of 35k visits/day via Top Stories Carousel with AMP enabled and a drop to ~12k/day with AMP disabled. Do you need AMP to appear in Top stories? No! Does AMP help you appear more in Top Stories? Yes! In this case AMP enabled increased traffic by 65%.

Ok, but that’s just one site - and correlation is not causation. There could have been a host of other factors at play, so we took it a step further with Publisher #2; an entertainment brand that drives even more search traffic.

So let’s sum up what Google said above: “The Top Stories Carousel requires that your content be published in AMP.” Clearly, it does not need to be because it behooves Google to have the best and most recent content in Top Stories. However, it greatly benefits Google to have the best, most recent, and fastest (AMP) content in the Top Stories Carousel. If you publish trending news, it’s evident that AMP plus stories equals big traffic win.  

Publisher #2 AMP Disabled, Re-enabled and disabled annotations:

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

The image above shows an average of 150k visits/day via the Top Stories Carousel with AMP enabled and a drop to ~8k/day with AMP disabled; although it looks like ~0.  Then ~150k/day with AMP re-enabled --minus the the excessive spike due to the royal wedding that day-- then down to ~8k/day with AMP disabled again. Do you need AMP to appear in Top stories? No! Does AMP help you appear more in Top Stories? The answer is a resounding yes. In this case, 94% more traffic arrived through Top Stories with AMP enabled.

As mentioned, Google states that schema markup can help you appear in the Top Stories Carousel without AMP implementation, so it should also be noted that Publishers #1 & #2 have the same schema markup. 

Does AMP have any impact on inclusion in Top Stories Carousel on desktop?

Even though Google doesn’t serve AMP pages from the desktop carousel we wondered if having AMP might be a factor in being included here. Let’s take a look at Publisher #1 and #2 again across the same date range for desktop only. 

Desktop Carousel Traffic only-- no mobile: 

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Does disabling AMP influence desktop traffic to brand #1 from Top Stories? No.

We can see above that desktop carousel "Rich Results" traffic continues the same average ebb and flow that their trending content delivers.

Let’s take a look at desktop carousel traffic for Publisher #2:

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Does disabling AMP influence traffic to brand #2 from the Top Stories Carousel? No.

We can see above that even through all of the disabling and re-enabling desktop, the carousel traffic persists with the same average traffic ebb and flow that their trending content delivers.

Let’s review how can you prepare your site to appear in Top Stories:

  • Implement AMP (not required but even a basketball with no air in it will bounce a tiny bit).

  • Image sizes now must be at least 1200 pixels wide. Ensure this is marked up in your schema tags.

  • Include schema headline

  • Include schema Article or Blog Post

  • If your content is legitimately news, then markup NewsArticle

  • While our clients had to have AMP disabled we also included alternativeHeadline and populated this with the SEO Title/Meta-Title as we felt this could help Google better understand the content. Note, at the time of publication, we haven’t tested the efficacy of this, but we believe this can only help and will not go against Google Guidelines.

  • See Google's markup suggestions for non-AMP pages to determine all markup that may apply to your brand's unique content.

Based on our findings let’s review the benefits of AMP for trending news sites that produce content that are Top Stories worthy:

  • Increased Traffic - Publisher #1 sees a 65% increase in traffic and an average increase of 690k visits/month via top stories with AMP implemented.

  • Increased Traffic - Publisher #2 sees a 94% increase and 4.2million additional visits/month

  • Desktop traffic via Top Stories Carousel: negligible-- neither diminishing nor increasing

  • You’ll receive the “lightning bolt” under your listing, which will over time increase click-through rates as users understand that this indicates a super fast loading page.

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Screenshot taken by author, August 2018

Okay, so that's a lot.... What's the distillation?  If you publish trending news, go for the AMP lightning.-- get more traffic. Final Caveat: you'll need to weigh your AMP monetization against the value of increased traffic.  

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