Get AMP-ed in an Hour (How to Add AMP to WordPress Without Breaking Everything)

The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project in thirty words or less: an open source initiative led by a group of tech powerhouses meant to serve stripped-down, mobile-friendly versions of websites to consumers. Google caches AMP sites and cleans up the code to make them even faster. Why? It saves consumers the cost of cellular data and it makes pages load faster.

I’ve been watching the AMP project for a while: it started as a publishers-only experiment spearheaded by Google, where you’d see the AMP results above the regular Google search results in a carousel. Each result would have a mini AMP logo and if clicked on, would load instantaneously. It was handy for quick reads of articles on breaking news — no waiting for some slow, ad-ridden page with auto-loading videos just to find out the latest on T-Swizzle’s beef with Kanye.

For those of us in marketing, AMP’s promises of mobile friendly and fast are ridiculously exciting. Why? Page abandonment spikes on slow mobile pages, mobile device usage is accelerating exponentially, and Google is factoring in page speeds and mobile friendliness in search rankings — so there might be an indirect SEO bonus (though Google has categorically denied a direct boost from AMP pages … for now).

And more importantly potential clients want content to load instantaneously on their devices or they’ll bounce — you want them to stick to your page, not click the next guy on the list — so AMP certainly has promise.

All of which is why, shortly after AMP made it’s wider rollout in Google search results, I felt the need to slap a few plugins on my WordPress site to see how hard it is to get AMPed. The short answer: it should take an experienced WordPress user way less than an hour.

Is There a Automatic Automattic Plugin for This?

I’m a WordPress evangelist for a reason: there is a plugin for nearly anything you can imagine if you are using WordPress. And sure enough, there are a handful of plugins that promise to AMP-lify your site. In fact, Automattic [sic] (the WordPress creators) has its own plugin, though it is extremely limited, features-wise. 

How limited? Compare a recent post in it’s normal form:

Notice the menu at the top, the sidebar, and the live chat plugins.
Notice the menu at the top, the sidebar, and the live chat plugins.

To an Automattic AMP version:

Loads absurdly quick, but everything but the article is missing.
Loads absurdly quick, but everything but the article is missing.

The difference is important for the site owner, though visitors probably won’t mind. Things like styling, menu navigation, links to recent posts, a live chat plugin, and anything else beyond the basic text is gone. All you get is a logo, site title, and a basic article with pictures. Even behind-the-scenes features like analytics tracking is disabled — which is probably the biggest omission for any business-focused site.

There is hope though to get some of that back: piggyback plugins. Yoast, the makers of the ubiquitous SEO plugin, released an AMP add-on plugin called “Glue” which adds some rudimentary styling options and analytics and SEO features. And there is another popular option as well: the generically-titled AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages 0.8.1 by Ahmed and Mohammed Kaludi. It’s been recently updated, has a ton of listed features, and the reviews are solid. It, however, also requires the Automattic base plugin to be installed first. 

There are also a number of other plugins in the WordPress directory, but with only a handful of active users on each, I decided to stick to the more popular contenders. 

My guess, and hope, is that the Automattic/Yoast pairing work best, simply because they are “brand names” in the WordPress world and I know both parties will be around to support their plugins long term. But the feature set on the Kaludi plugin looks intriguing and they’ve already updated three times in the past week, so they’re apparently very serious about it.

Does Yoast’s Glue Patch Automattic Holes?

Short answer? A few of them.

It took about two minutes to configure Glue — it requires Yoast SEO and Automattic’s AMP plugins to be installed first. Glue adds a menu option under the main Yoast plugin for Glue which supposedly enables SEO features (like customized meta titles/descriptions that you’ve set up in the main Yoast plugin) out of the box. I don’t see options for changing or editing SEO/Meta titles, so I’m taking their word for it.

It also definitely adds Google Analytics support by tying in to used-to-be-Yoast, now-Monster Insights’ Analytics plugin or it allows you to manually add your Analytics code.

And finally, it adds some rudimentary styling options. But comments, live chat, and a lot of other stuff like menus are still missing. See for yourself:

It looks better. Analytics is working too. But it still feels bare.
It looks better. Analytics is working too. But it still feels bare.

To the user, the only difference is in coloring. To the site owner, having analytics and SEO support is a nice touch. But if you want more, Glue isn’t your answer.

Is AMP by Kaludi a Contender?

Yes. Yes it is.

What do you get with Kaludi that you don’t get with Glue? A few better styling options, a navigation menu, and at the end of the post, a link to the previous post. Plus a sticky footer with social share icons. And Google Adsense support (if that’s your thing). 

Why is all that important? The menu and internal links keep people on your site — a must for businesses and publishers. The stripped-down Automattic and Glue versions don’t have as many opportunities to keep this captive traffic’s interest. And social share buttons make it easy for visitors to put your content in front of even more eyes.

Like Glue, you get Google Analytics support, though you have to manually type in your UA code (a minor inconvenience). I don’t know whether your Yoast SEO Meta title and description carry over here when your post is shown through Google SERPs, but there is no mention of SEO features in this plugin at all. 

Finally, it just looks better:

Still loads fast. But way more features.
Still loads fast. But way more features.

A few issues I ran into:

  • Stick to their recommended logo size — period. Anything else will get stretched and distorted badly.
  • I’d uncheck the box for “Display Featured Image Automatically.” The image renders HUGE and loads slow, even on my laptop. 
  • If you want to remove a logo after adding it, the plugin is very counter-intuitive (there’s not a remove button visible). To do so, click “Upload” to add a different logo, then hit the newly re-appearing “Remove” button to go logo-less. (Your site title will be used instead — like mine in the picture above).

Should We All Get AMPed?

Quick answer? No. There’s a reason there are only around 10,000 users on the most popular AMP plugins. (Considering the millions of websites on WordPress and millions of sites using Yoast’s main SEO plugin, only 10,000 users is nothing.)

AMP is a cutting edge standard that may not be a standard for long — while it is open source, and does have the all-powerful Google’s support, it is far from a finalized, widespread standard, like responsive websites or the old “m.” mobile websites. AMP for WordPress is also only supported on blog posts at this point. Your homepage and any content pages, such as an “About Willie Peacock” page or an all-important-for-businesses “Contact Us” page, have to render the old-fashioned way.

Right now, AMP is a half-measure that turns blog posts into quick-loading reads. It’s good for getting those first eyes on your site through Google search results, and if you’re lucky (and if you chose the Kaludi plugin above), the visitor will click a link to your main site, stick around, and if you are a business, convert to a sale or client.

Finally, AMP is a bit annoying as a concept — a couple of years ago, Google was pushing everyone to adopt responsively designed sites: the “one design to rule them all” that scales and reshapes the content to fit any device, rather than having separate desktop and mobile versions of websites. They even forced the issue through “mobilegeddon,” a tweak to their search algorithm that supposedly punished sites that weren’t mobile friendly. To backtrack on that now and expect people to add a secondary set of mobile pages to their websites — isn’t that exactly what we were trying to avoid by ditching separate “m.” sites for responsive layouts?

AMP is interesting from a quick-loading standpoint, and it might make sense for consumable content (like news publishing), but for all websites? I’d say hold off for now. At least wait until it’s a bit more mainstream or the WordPress plugin solutions become a little more click-and-go than they are now, as a solution that requires installing two or three or even four plugins is not a solution at all for most people. Plus, if your WordPress theme is designed and configured right, and your web host is fast or you use a Content Delivery Network (CDN), you can get a responsive site to load almost as fast as AMP does. 

To sum it up: AMP is interesting but still only half-baked. It’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if you are a regular publisher of blogs or consumable content. But it’s not ready for 99% of sites out there.

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