In February 2016, Google created a mobile content hosting ecosystem for mobile on the premise of cutting long webpage loading time – the project was labelled Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). To benefit from the faster loading time in mobile web search results, publishers must surrender control over their content to the AMP platform. Four months in, Google has tested the content experience and is now moving into monetisation. In June 2016, Google AMP launched three new ad formats native to the AMP platform that publishers can employ to monetise their content.
The three ad formats introduced within the AMP environment are: 1) ads that stay on top or bottom of the mobile screen or sticky ads, 2) a new format called the flying carpet ad which essentially flies over the actual content as the user scrolls up and down and 3) lastly an accelerated version of traditional mobile display ads that load faster than the rest of the web suitably called the AMP Ads, sharing the name of the platform.
The benefit to the publisher: getting publishers’ sites on the AMP carousel search results and generating more mobile traffic for their content, by improving loading times. This in turn will help them improve the user experience and build and/or maintain a loyal audience which they can sell to advertisers.
The benefit to Google: getting publishers to work closer with the Google ecosystem and strengthening DoubleClick’s (Google’s ad exchange platform) position on mobile through the AMP platform. Google hopes this will help them gain ad share in mobile display advertising, a space currently dominated by Facebook. For the long-term, the company hopes to expand their AMP formats beyond the AMP platform on the mobile web. In a similar way to AdWords for search advertising, Google hopes the AMP ad formats will become the mobile web ad format standard.
When talking about search, Google is the king. Monetising on search has been successful for Google and they govern the search engine optimisation (SEO) ecosystem. Publishers aim to comply with and score high on SEO parameters as this ultimately drives more traffic to their own sites. Google hopes to replicate this on mobile.
To safeguard the web search on mobile, Google has launched the AMP project. This move came to counteract audience migration away from mobile web to mobile apps. Publishers like the Guardian, Vox, La Stampa and New York Times and platforms like Twitter became participants of the project from the beginning. The reason is simple: publishers although they have their own mobile app to push content and monetise it through selling ads, they must also reach out to wider audiences which are currently consuming most news content outside the app ecosystem, in the mobile web. The mobile ad market has seen the strongest growth among all other media in the last four years, and IHS predicts that by 2020 mobile will account for 75.9% of all digital advertising revenue equating to $84.5bn globally. In order for news publishers to benefit from this growth, they must provide a good user experience on mobile and create effective tools to monetise their mobile users.
Having their content published on the AMP platform satisfies the demand of a good user experience for faster loading time but then locks the publisher in with only one option to monetise: through AMP’s owner, Google.
IHS expects publishers to test a mixture of platforms and monetisation strategies. For example, a publisher exploring their options is the UK’s The Guardian. The Guardian has chosen to monetise its own inventory and the company does so through an ad tech intermediary (Appnexus in this case) while maintaining autonomy (of deployment and retention of first party data) and control of selling ad inventory and with the benefit of serving ads within its own site (a 90/10 ad share model commonly applies in the publisher-ad tech relationship). Reportedly, this is a lucrative operation for the Guardian, who generated £80m in digital ad revenue in 2015. However, as mentioned above the company has also signed up to Google’s AMP project. The primary goal for participating in AMP is audience acquisition and audience retention on mobile, which is still a key priority for mobile monetisation. It is not enough though to expand audiences without knowing much about them. However, in order to gain access to this audience, the Guardian will have to forego some control over monetisation and use Google’s tools to sell advertising.
And this will be the case for publishers working with other online and mobile platforms like Facebook’s Instant Articles or Snapchat’s Discover. The challenge for publishers going forward will be to maintain control over their audiences and monetisation strategies in the new era of mobile publisher-platform relationships.