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AMP

Google’s new mobile pages will also be a revolution for advertising

Frédéric Filloux
By Frédéric Filloux

Editor, Monday Note

Beyond content, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages also impact mobile advertising. Next summer, we might see the first “AMPlified” advertising campaigns. For ads, converting to the new AMP system is a complicated task given the ecosystem’s diversity and conservatism. This is an opportunity for startups to play a key role in spreading AMP.

For the digital content industry, the rampant mediocrity of mobile ads has become an embarrassment: poorly designed ads whose resolution is not adjusted to the phone screen; painfully heavy banners; failing to load properly and thus leaving a blank space in the scroll… As an example, see repeated interstitials on Politico’s mobile site—they eat half of the screen, over and over, at every single page, with the same advertiser (The mobile app is fine and features branded content):

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Here is the result, featured in AdWeek, of a Moat study about ads’ viewability:

44 percent of mobile ads served are deemed viewable compared with 52 percent of desktop promos, primarily because smartphone-wielding consumers often scroll faster than websites can load ads. Once someone is on a site, 76 percent of mobile readers choose to scroll down a website versus 63 percent of desktop users who do the same.

That spells bad news for publishers who don’t load ads at a lightning-fast speed. Per Moat, the average mobile user starts scrolling on a website 13 seconds after content begins loading. Desktop readers, on the other hand, wait 24 seconds before clicking down a page, which gives ads more time to load.

Look at these analytics compiled by the New York Times titled “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites“:

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Since Google AMP is about mobile web (not apps), something needs to be done.

The AMP product team quickly realized it might be pointless to invest substantial resources in building a system that would load content at a much higher speed if problems with ads were not also addressed.

But, adapting the underlying principles of Accelerated Mobile Pages to advertising won’t be easy. Both technical challenges and adoption obstacles stand in the way.

“There are basically two ways to address the questions of AMP applied to ads,” said Craig DiNatali, who is director of news and magazines partnerships at Google in New York. “You can have creative units based on AMP which render ad formats in the same way AMP contents pages are rendered. In such case, we have an AMP format within an AMP Frame.”

This options comes with several problems such as the reporting of elements that goes beyond a simple count of pages views. This is because advertisers and media buying agencies rely on complicated metrics to measure the impact of ad formats that are mostly sold on performance. This leads to another, much easier-to-implement solution: providing tools to build advertising landing pages with images and information, all AMP-compliant. Also, in order to invest time and money in AMPed ad formats, creative agencies need to be convinced that the visual potential of the accelerated format will remain the same, or even that AMP will offer more attractive alternatives.

In its strategy to favor the adoption of AMP by the advertising community, Google prefers to leverage brands rather than agencies. The latter usually are slow movers and, at the end of the day, will do as instructed by their clients. When we spoke last week, Craig DiNatali was to meet with the CTOs of twenty majors brands to demonstrate the advantages of shifting to AMP. “Brands are interested to know what is going on with AMP.”

One of DiNatali’s argument is the gain in viewability: “Viewability could be the new metric [to measure ads’ performance]. Agencies should be able to guarantee 100% viewability for a format.” He expects to see the first AMP-powered advertising campaigns by mid-year.

It could actually go faster. Google is no longer alone with skin in the game. A growing number of startups are as well.

This is the case for Polar, a Toronto-based company specializing in native advertising. “Our core feature is a product called MediaVoice that sits between the publisher’s CMS and its ad server,” explains Polar CEO Kunal Gupta, “Our platforms manages about 60 formats, and provides a dashboard with all possible metrics of performances. We turn each piece of content into an ad tag and we feed it into [the ad server] DFP. Then we can track the performance of every element…”

Polar works for about 1,500 publishers, including big names such as The Daily Telegraph, News Corp, or The Washington Post; it also serves commercial brands. Polar had announced very early that it would be adopting the AMP standard. “If publishers simply add their ad networks and programmatic demand sources to their AMP pages, they are not really looking after the user. They might as well not even support AMP, as true support for AMP requires both a speedy content experience and a correspondingly swift advertising experience,” notes Kunal Gupta. He also intends to rally publishers around its Publisher 2020 initiative which focuses on the digital content industry’s long term prospects.

The shift to AMP is likely to be boosted by an emerging ecosystem of startups focused on the creation of accelerated contents.

One such is RelayMedia, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was conceived by three people, Dave Gehring (CEO), a Google and Guardian alumnus; Barb Palser (chief product officer), a publishing veteran; and John Pettitt (CTO), a serial entrepreneur. As its name implies, RelayMedia wants to assist publishers in developing contents based on AMP—and also on Facebook Instant Articles.

The company’s current assumption is that there is only a tiny fraction of publishers actually ready to go on AMP—even though all acknowledge its benefits. This is an opportunity for RelayMedia to take care of the “AMPlification” of content for all publishers, large or small. A huge and solvent market indeed. Especially since RelayMedia intends to expand its reach to education, healthcare, and other corporate contents producers.

RelayMedia sees the current mobile era as the third major phase in the development of digital contents: The first (circa 2010), was mostly driven by search and all SEO tactics (cf. The Huffington Post); the second phase was built on viral (circa 2014) with spectacular successes like BuzzFeed or Vox (see a previous Monday Note on the unicorns who live by their social reach). According to RelayMedia founders, we are now entering a new phase where mobile blew up the desktop and represents the largest part of time spent on digital media.

When I spoke with Dave Gehring and Barb Palser last week, they admitted that implementing AMP on ads definitely was on their roadmap, even if they are currently focused on the publisher’s side.

Echoing the industry’s main concern, the CEO of RelayMedia believes AMP is going to solve the viewability problem of ads on mobile. “AMP can change all that,” says Dave Gehring. He continues:

The ad skipping effect can disappear as all the elements will load more rapidly with markedly less lag time. Then, with greater better viewability, we can expect much better CPMs. Another virtue of AMP is it’s becoming a forcing function for the industry. Publishers will be in a better position to actually encourage media buying agencies to be more reasonable, and more judicious with format placements. And finally, AMP will also allow composite analytics, where a platform will be compared to to its direct competitors as well as its broader competitive environment.

Barb Palser suggests other benefits for monetization on mobile:

AMP will be also great for all sorts of A/B Testing, publishers don’t have to abandon their infrastructure. Because it’s a standard, AMP is also a great format for the syndication of contents, it will even benefit the industry’s worse players, the Taboolas, Outbrains or Teads, AMP might actually ensure their survival…

Extending Accelerated Mobile Pages to ads is not a luxury but a necessity. Publishers have a lot to win by speeding up the transition.

This post originally appeared at Monday Note.