Site Background and Implementation
Vox Media has eight flagship brands. Three of their eight brands combine for hundreds of additional sub-brands. For example, SB Nation also has separate domains for specific sports teams (such as a different domain for every MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, and other major sports league teams). This same approach was used with Eater, Curbed, and all of their sub-brand domains for city-specific sites as well.
Using their proprietary publishing platform, Chorus, made that part of the process easier, as they could handle articles across all sites in one single effort. What was harder was then going back in and adding the custom elements (such as branding) for each site as well.
Vox Media performed their own custom implementation of AMP. In the process, they converted more than 95% of their site. Articles make up the vast majority of their content produced so they started with that. They have since chipped away at other entry types, prioritized by volume produced as well as search opportunity.
Vox Media began implementing AMP in early 2016 and had all brands included on AMP by end of September 2016. The level of effort was high. A lot of the work was scaleable but there was obviously unique work that needs to happen for each specific domain that the converted to AMP.
Here is what the team at Vox Media shared about their overall results:
“Our primary conversion for advertising is impressions. That is the most prevalent method that we use to bill advertisers. Secondarily, we measure ad impression viewability. Most of our direct advertisers focus heavily on that percentage. Because AMP elements do not load fully until the reader is within a certain proximity, we have seen an above average viewability performance.
We have also seen an increase in CTR for our custom ad creative on AMP versus all other inventory.
The majority of queries we target result in an AMP carousel being displayed. Hard to say what exact %, but we can comfortably say the vast majority of our pages are able to compete in the AMP content carousel. Once pages are validated, they get in.
In Sports, the carousel experience changes frequently. Certain queries have become more competitive in the AMP carousel but we have been able to quickly pivot in order to continue to grow. The carousel provides the vast majority of increased visibility.
It varies quite a bit from brand to brand but it does appear that for our more established brands and our brands that are probably better known for news coverage, we tend to see a higher CTR than outside the carousel. Anecdotally, the AMP carousel has made it harder to win for sports queries in areas that were not as competitive in the “news box” prior to AMP. We have adapted, but that is one noticeable difference.”
This has allowed some smaller publishers to compete more effectively – they have the opportunity to rank via a different algo than traditional SEO algorithms. It appears that the regular Google News algorithm is more fickle than the AMP algo, and Vox Media indicated that they felt that the AMP algorithm for news is better than the general Google News algo. As a result, identifying bugs and fixing them is more straightforward.
Many queries have more players as a result. Recency in the carousel is a growing factor, bigger than before. This makes it easier for aggregators, but this is not always better.
Sessions on the site are generally up, largely due to the carousel. The page loading speed improvements are obvious but it has presented a challenge and dev hours to support what is essentially a second version of all of their pages.
The content that Vox Media produces has a myriad of page elements, embeds, etc. that are near impossible to account for entirely so A LOT of time is spent by Vox Media engineers diagnosing what is causing validation errors and then prioritizing and working through that list. They can’t slow down the publishing process because speed of publication is so important. In the early days this was a challenge, but they feel that they are “in a good spot now”.
Another main area is dealing with all the various forms for their ad products, and here is what they had to say about that:
“The main area of challenges for us since the initial AMP integration is setting up our custom ad products. At Vox Media, we frequently leverage custom, proprietary ad formats that are critical to most direct sold ad contracts.
With the significant traffic on AMP, it was critical for us to be able to do two things, 1) serve those custom formats in one of the available ad slots and 2) be able to serve multiple ad request sizes to one ad slot. We were able to accomplish both, but it took significant engineering resources to achieve that. I want to be clear that AMP support was very helpful throughout that process.”
The other big issue for them throughout the entire process is that they were a very early adopter. For that reason, many of the things that are more easily addressed in AMP today were far more difficult to address than they are now.
Here is what Vox Media has to say when asked about the ROI of their efforts:
“This is a difficult question to answer with just a “yes” or “no”. I would say that there were certainly some challenges as we have adapted and brought our pages up to nearly 100% AMP compatibility and we would have preferred AMP compatibility happen more seamlessly and quickly. But, at the same time, given the new search environment brought on by AMP we have still managed to grow our search audience year-over-year. We have learned a lot through this experience and are confident we will continue to grow audience on our AMP pages.”