Moves from the web’s two biggest giants to shake up mobile publishing have been causing waves among mainstream publishers.
Two features, Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were launched last year, ostensibly to improve speed and overall experience for mobile users.
The initiatives are part of a broader shift in the tectonics of digital publishing, among a backdrop of debate around mobile speed and UX, ad blocking, the open web vs walled gardens, and other heady themes.
But while regular publishers grapple with the implications, could there be new opportunities opening up for content marketing too?
Instant Articles is a way for publishers to post their content directly onto Facebook itself, allowing mobile users to load and read articles instantly without having the leave the Facebook app.
The company claims this makes the reading experience up to 10 times faster than the mobile web, making users more likely to engage with content and, of course, keep them inside Facebook’s walled garden.
Originally released for just a handful of major publishers, the platform is scheduled for general availability on April 12, meaning anyone, including travel businesses, will be able to publish their own Instant Articles.
The nuts and bolts are relatively straightforward. All content must already exist on your own site. From there it’s formatted into an HTML markup and submitted either manually or via an RSS feed.
Importantly, Facebook has accommodated publishers’ needs by allowing 3rd party ads, analytics and audience tracking.
As far as the mobile user is concerned nothing much has changed – you still share, comment and ‘Like’ links as normal, only if an article is available in the Instant format, that is the version that will be displayed to users on the mobile app.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
The clunkier sounding Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is Google’s response to Instant. It works in a similar way – publishers provide a stripped down, mobile-friendly version of existing content that can be loaded much faster by users on a mobile device:
Unlike Instant you don’t need to physically submit your content to Google, the search engine will crawl your AMP links and cache the content so it can be displayed instantly to mobile users.
As with Facebook’s platform, publishers retain their ads and analytics.
So what does it all mean?
The implications of all this for regular publishers and news orgs are complex. While the mainstream has already jumped in at the deep end, others are justifiably skeptical over giving up even more control and ownership to two already gargantuan platforms.
But for travel companies it could be an easier decision. If Instant and AMP make it easier to get your content in front of mobile users, it must be a no-brainer?
Firstly, it’s worth noting that these features are currently aimed at top tier news organisations and other mainstream publishers. Most AMP pages you’ll see ‘in the wild’ are breaking news and current events from well known sources.
That said, there is already talk of potential applications beyond news publishers. If AMP pages start displaying for a wider range of search queries, such as blog posts, long tail keywords, or even e-commerce and product pages, it might make sense for brands to jump on board.
For sites using WordPress there are already plugins out there to generate AMP and Instant Article versions of your content. The popular Yoast WP plugin announced they’ll be supporting AMP markup in the near future.
Secondly, don’t expect either features to provide a direct boost to your mobile visibility. Both Facebook and Google have explicitly stated that having content available as an AMP page or Instant Article won’t bring preferable treatment in the rankings or Newsfeed.
On the other hand, the AMP carousel does tend to appear high in Google’s mobile results, and in theory a Facebook post that loads faster should get better engagement rates, both of which mean there could be an indirect benefit to adopting these new standards.
Finally, although brands are constantly being told to act like publishers, they’re fundamentally different in that eyeballs alone are not enough – we’re looking for an action and conversion too. This means thinking creatively about how to get readers clicking off from the AMP/Instant Article and onto your site.
The jury is still out on all the above. A sensible position for brand publishers might be to wait and see how it all shakes out over the coming months, but be prepared to adopt quickly if they turn out to be an obvious win.