Publishers find Google’s AMP speeds up pages, but ads are still slow

The mobile web is getting faster thanks to Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages scheme, and it’s about to get faster still. AMP articles now appears within Google News, giving media companies another high-traffic channel for speedier content delivery. But publisher complaints about slow loading ads have yet to be resolved.

Legacy publishers like The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Financial Times have taken a can’t-em-beat-join-em approach to the platforms, hoping to capture their traffic while figuring out ways to sell ads to those audiences, even though readers don’t technically visit their sites. They are diving into both Google’s AMP and Facebook’s Instant Articles.

Facebook is able to load articles and videos more quickly because it hosts the content on its own servers, and hosts the ads just like articles, giving them speedy load times, too. Google does what’s known as cache the content, storing it temporarily, and it serves ads into AMP articles through its DoubleClick platform. The process means they load more slowly than the rest of the content.

The Washington Post’s Jarrod Dicker, head of ad products and technology, said AMP improves click-through rates by up to 50 percent, but there is the issue of slow ads. “Ads aren’t as fast as content right now, but it’s something they’re working on,” Dicker said.

Talk to many publishers and you’ll hear a similar story: Google says it’s working on it. Of course, the awkward fact is, slow loading ads are often the result of advertisers delivering heavy creative with too much tracking. But naturally, Google doesn’t want to be the one to break the news to advertisers, who happen to pour billions in its coffers every year.

Readers often jump into web stories for seconds at a time, and any latency in loading ads could throw their viewability into question.

“[Slow ads] can be caused by a number of factors ranging from the response time of the ad server, supply-side platform or third-party call out, to how heavy a creative is, to how AMP will prioritize the order in which content loads on the page to optimize user experience,” Google said in an e-mail statement to Digiday. “We are working on a number of ways to improve speed of advertising, but this is also dependent on the third-party ecosystem partners who serve ads on behalf of publishers.”

Rudy Galfi, product lead for the AMP project at Google, said his team is working with the ad tech community to build more support in AMP. Publishers integrate an AMP ad tag that gives them flexibility and control to serve ads, Galfi said.

The Washington Post said it would use Google’s AMP program to serve vertical video ads — 300 by 600 pixel vertical formats — right into the articles, something that Facebook has not offered yet.

However, the load times have been slower on the ads compared to the content. Google said that AMP articles load four times faster and consume 10 times less data.

The ads are slower to load because of the way they are served, and fixing that could be a challenge, according to Nick Illobre, director of enterprise solutions and strategy at Merkle.

If Google pre-cached ads as they do the articles — pre-loading them before a reader even clicks — then the whole method of counting views on ads would be thrown off, Illobre said. Ads that get placed into articles could be registered as viewed when they haven’t been, he said. “If an advertiser is paying just to be pre-cached, forget being viewed; the content may not even be consumed. It’s like buying a TV ad on a channel that doesn’t exist,” Illobre said.

This week, Google put the AMP program right into Google News, introducing a carousel of 14 accelerated articles that appear as top stories on top of the news page. A carousel of AMP articles will also continue to appear in relevant search results on its main page, Google said. 

The placement of publishers’ content is important because of the impact search order can have on traffic to publishers’ sites. At the very least, publishers who convert content into AMP formats have a search advantage because speed is a factor.

Google also is developing ways for publishers with paywalls to integrate the limits on free content into AMP, Galfi said. The New York Times, for instance, limits readers to 10 AMP articles a month just like it does on its website, and then offers readers a link to subscribe for more.

“We are working on the fundamentals and talking to publishers about different ideas they have around monetization and ad formats,” Galfi said. Google and publishers are looking at all the models, including display ads, sponsored content and subscriptions, Galfi said.

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