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April 20, 2016, 1 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Google News is getting its own carousel of AMP stories, and other AMP features in the works

Including better support for paywalled sites, richer ad formats, and ways for publishers to direct readers elsewhere on their site from within an AMP article.

With Facebook Instant Articles now open to everyone, Google is ramping up its own initiative to speed up (and clean up) the mobile web, the open source Accelerated Mobile Pages project. Up to 14 articles from publishers that have been properly “AMPified” (Google’s term, not mine) now appear at the top of Google News on all mobile platforms, in a format similar to the carousel of stories that started showing up in search results at the end of February.

The Google News headlines carousel will contain only AMP articles, but news stories below it are currently a mix of AMP articles — marked with a lightning bolt — and non-AMP (“regular” pages), ranked by Google’s usual “many, many, many different signals,” Maricia Scott, engineering director of Google News, told me. The carousel is available for U.S. English outlets at the moment, but will be coming to other countries and domains in the next few months. Users can swipe through the carousel to move from one AMP story to the next.

The potential appeal of AMP to publishers is twofold: first, faster load times for their mobile pages, and second, preferential treatment from Google for AMPed pages. Google already gives faster pages a slight bump in its ranking algorithms, but making this sort of carousel AMP-only is another strong push.

google-news-amp-carousel-headlines(The Google News carousel actually already showed up for me on my iPhone on Tuesday, though it formally launched Wednesday afternoon; Google told me it had been testing the feature with some users.)

“This is good for both users and publishers: Users can read more articles, and publishers benefit because they see that users will engage more with their stories, once they know it will load quickly on mobile,” Scott said. “We don’t have specific numbers yet on how people have been engaging with AMP pages, but we can say preliminarily that that users are engaging with AMP content more than they are with regular content.”

“Users aren’t spending the time waiting for regular pages to load — as they see the AMP stories and engage with them, they’ll start learning quickly that AMP content loads faster,” she added.

According to Google, AMP pages load an average of four times faster than non-AMP pages. Our own little speed test here bears that out.

google-amp-carousel-swipeWhat about stories from paywalled sites? Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news and social products, told the Lab after the official rollout of AMP that monetization — support for paywalls and advertising — was a work in progress.

“Enabling publishers to have their business models around subscriptions and sign-ins is critical to the AMP framework, and we have a client-side model for this that’s been adopted by places like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Financial Times,” Rudy Galfi, product lead for AMP, said. “We’re collecting some insights now on how that’s working, and we’re really excited about including server-side options for paywall functionality to better satisfy publisher needs.”

google-news-carousel-wsj-paywallGalfi added that there was still more work to be done in this area, but “we’re thrilled to be collaborating with publishers, as we don’t have any expertise in this area.”

Ads and improving support for analytics, too, continue to be a work in progress. “Ads is an intense area of focus for us,” Galfi said. “We’re looking at how we can continue to get publishers more options and flexibility. We continue to have door open for any ad tech vendor or provider to come in and integrate code with the AMP project. To date, two or three dozen have come in and contributed code. And then beyond that, we’re continuing to have discussions about richer ad formats that could work in AMP.”

Recently, for instance, The Atlantic (native advertising is projected to make up 75 percent of the publisher’s ad revenue this year), partnered with an ad tech company to create AMP-specific ad units that are fast-loading but still include analytics information publishers want.

Companies like comScore, Parse.ly, and Chartbeat and Google’s own analytics are AMP-supported, and Galfi said he understood newsrooms’ various needs when it comes to audience measurement. “Within analytics, you can have many different kinds of triggers. Say, I want to collect some data when a user clicks a button, when a user scrolls, on how deep a user got. Our framework provides all sorts of triggers, and will continue to work with publishers here as well,” Galfi said. “This is interesting from an advertising and analytics point of view, on the question of viewability: Does a user see more than 50 percent of an object on a page? One of the things we’re working on adding to the analytics framework in AMP is a viewability-based trigger: Tell me how far the user scrolled such that they saw at least a certain percent of the item.”

Google-AMP-related-contentOn the user-facing, formats side, Google is working on better liveblog support, which it says publishers have also been asking about: “We’re interested in exploring, how can we dynamically bring in content, where content will auto-refresh on the page and new content will be pulled in? We’ve been working on a feature that will enable publishers to do that sort of thing, and hopefully we’ll see more liveblogging.”

Another feature Google is now experimenting with based on publisher feedback is support for a sidebar menu that would allow users on the page to see related stories from publishers’ sites (“the code’s all there and it’s usable, but it’s not on by default, and publishers can test things out as they want to,” Galfi said).

“We’ve been talking with publishers about the types of reader experiences they want on their pages, and one of the things they wanted was for readers to be able to have onward journeys on their sites, links to related content, and we have a really nice way to put this in AMP through a mechanism that lets publishers dynamically query stories to populate on the page,” he said. “In a similar vein, through continued discussions with publishers, we know another reader experience they wanted was a sidebar menu: if you’re in the entertainment section and you want to give visibility to your sports or business sections that readers can tap to access.”

POSTED     April 20, 2016, 1 p.m.
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