Google Makes It Easier For Users To See And Share Canonical URLs in Accelerated Mobile Pages

Accelerated Mobile PagesGoogle AMP pages will start showing a page’s canonical URL in the AMP header.

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project has proven remarkably successful, achieving adoption rates that must surprise even Google. The lynchpin of AMP’s popularity is its effectiveness. If a site owner wants to offer a fast mobile browsing experience, AMP is the easiest way. But performance, although important, isn’t everything. There are payoffs to using AMP and some publishers find them unacceptable — especially if their site already offers reasonable mobile performance.

One of the most significant payoffs concerns how AMP presents URLs to users. If a user clicks on an AMP result in their browser, the URL they’re shown isn’t the canonical URL of the page on the publisher’s site: it’s a Google URL. This happens because part of AMP’s performance optimization involves prerendering and caching the page. The page isn’t loaded from the server the site is hosted on, but from Google’s network. That makes AMP incredibly fast, but it also means that users never see the canonical URL, can’t link directly to it without jumping through hoops, and, perhaps most importantly, can’t share it on social media.

Publishers take control of their URLs seriously. A particular concern is that, given Google’s habit of retiring products after a few years, AMP won’t be around for long. If AMP’s caching layer goes the way of Google Reader and many other projects from the company, every link that uses it will be broken. That’s bad from an SEO perspective, of course, but more importantly it’s bad from a user-experience perspective. The same problem doesn’t exist if the genuine URL of the site is used: in that case, the only thing that can break links is changes made by the publisher themselves.

As Federico Viticci of MacStories tweeted:

Today we removed AMP support from MacStories. Our site is already fast, but, more importantly, no one messes with my permalinks. Feels good.

The lack of an accurate URL causes other problems: because people can’t tell where the page was originally published, its origin can be misrepresented. Fake news is big news these days, and being able to verify the origin of content is an important tool against misinformation and misrepresentation.

The banner that sits at the top of all AMP pages is intended to go some way towards remediating the lack of an accurate URL, and in a recent blog post, Google said it intends to enhance the content available on the banner to include the URL. The company claims that it can’t — at the moment — change the way URLs are displayed in AMP viewers because pre-rendering and caching are necessary components of AMP’s performance boost.

If you aren’t impressed with Google’s attempts to improve the transparency of AMP, it’s worth remembering that there really is no special sauce in AMP. Any site owner serious about mobile performance can build a site that is more than fast enough to satisfy its users.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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