Google announced last year that as of May 2021, stories will no longer have to be published in the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format to appear in Google’s Top News carousel. Instead, they’ll simply need to meet a set of performance metrics Google’s calling “Core Web Vitals.” Here’s the announcement:
The change for non-AMP content to become eligible to appear in the mobile Top Stories feature in Search will also roll out in May 2021. Any page that meets the Google News content policies will be eligible and we will prioritize pages with great page experience, whether implemented using AMP or any other web technology, as we rank the results.
I’ll spare you the technical details behind Core Web Vitals. (For that, I’d strongly recommend Karolina’s post or Katie’s post; both are excellent, and worth your time.) But in brief, if a page on your site meets Google News’ content policies and it’s fast enough for the Web Vitals, it will be eligible for Google’s carousel — regardless of whether it’s built with AMP. In plain language, this means that you don’t need AMP for your content to appear in Google’s prized Top News carousel. Rather, you just need a fast website.
I’ll say it again: you don’t need to use AMP for priority placement. You just need a fast website.
Rather than creating a parallel HTML standard, and leveraging Google’s own search results to incentivize adoption, I wish the AMP team had defined a set of criteria that could’ve been validated by, say, Google’s own Lighthouse project. Doing so would have given site owners the tools necessary to ensure their work measures up to how Google defines a fast, mobile-friendly experience — but without sacrificing the standards, the decentralization, the self-direction that make the open web so powerful.
With Core Web Vitals, we’ve now got exactly that. And as I said, that’s a very, very good thing.
But I do have some concerns.
(You’re shocked, I can tell.)
First, I’ve read some reports of AMP’s demise since last November’s announcement. While I dearly wish it didn’t, it feels a bit premature to say that AMP’s shuffled off this mortail coil. Yes, Google removed AMP as a prerequisite for placing content in one part of its Search product. But AMP is still baked into Search, and into other Google products: AMP is in Google Images, it’s integrated into Gmail, and it’s used in Google News. What’s more, Google is still heavily promoting AMP’s use — including, I should note, in the announcement quoted at the top of this post.
Does this mean your site should adopt AMP, if you haven’t already? No. Absolutely not. But if your organization invested heavily in AMP because, well, Google effectively required you to adopt it, I’m honestly not sure how your organization can migrate away from it. My gut says that AMP’s something we’ll have to reckon with for some time, and the health of the Web’s going to be poorer for it.
My other concern involves external oversight. For all its many, many faults, the AMP Project does have an external advisory committee, which provides advice to Google in an attempt to “make AMP a great web citizen.” And while the shift to Core Web Vitals is a step in the right direction, it also means that Google alone determines what a “great page experience” means. They’ve set certain thresholds within the Web Vitals that your page is expected to meet.2 And those thresholds can then be changed by Google at any point.
I’ll say again: deprioritizing AMP in favor of Core Web Vitals is a very good thing. But it’s worth noting that Google’s taken its proprietary document format, and swapped it out for a proprietary set of performance statistics that has even less external oversight.
Why does this matter? Well, when AMP’s story is finally written, a thread running through that story will be about power: about how Google used its dominant position in the marketplace to force widespread adoption of a largely proprietary technology for creating websites. By switching to Core Web Vitals, those power dynamics haven’t materially changed. And the health of the Web’s poorer for that, too.