Google announced at the AMP Conf 2019 (In Tokyo) that they will show a new dedicated space on the SERPs exclusively for AMP Stories. This may be a huge change for SEO, as to appear in this new block you will not only need to use AMP, but also to create content in the «Stories» format.
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What are AMP Stories?
AMP Stories are just a specific format of displaying content using AMP. You probably know (and maybe even create or consume) stories from Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook… It’s a visual, vertical, mobile-first (and sometimes mobile-only) format of displaying content, with videos or images combined with small pieces of text.
AMP Stories are not new: they were launched early in 2018, as a way for publishers to create visual and more attractive content, focused on mobile. Some of the big publishers have been creating AMP Stories content since then, like the CNN. Here is an example of a published AMP Story: https://edition.cnn.com/ampstories/world/what-the-spring-equinox-means-for-you
AMP Stories in SERPs are not new neither, but until know, for non-branded queries, they just appeared as a «normal» search result with a thumbnail and an icon helping users identify it was a story format:
They also appeared inside the Top Stories box, among the rest of AMP articles:
When users click on it, they are taken to a «story» environment (exactly the same to the one Snapchat created and Instagram copied) where you can advance on the story by taping on the right side of the screen:
Where are AMP Stories hosted?
Contrary to what happens with Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook Stories, which you create with your phone through the corresponding apps and are uploaded to their platform (also, only for 24h, as after that they disappear), AMP Stories are «normal» pages hosted on your website, accessible through a URL.
For instance, the previous AMP Story from CNN can be found here: https://edition.cnn.com/ampstories/world/what-the-spring-equinox-means-for-you. It’s a «normal» AMP page, which is then cached by Google (just like any other AMP page of your website) and served directly by Google to the users through their AMP CDN.
Are AMP Stories good for SEO?
Until now, AMP Stories were just a format (you could try to create content like that with HTML 5, CSS and JS too) that would appear more visually appealing on the Top Stories box (only for big and medium publishers with newsworthy content) and also a small thumbnail with a stories icon on normal organic search results.
But with the new announcement made at the AMP Conf, this could be a game changer: Google will now include a specific «Visual Stories» box on mobile for some kind of searches, showing ONLY AMP Stories there, moving the normal organic results down (I mean, more than where they already are). They specifically announced that this new box will start appearing in the US for travel related queries (the example used on the presentation was «Things to do in Tokyo»), and later on, also for queries related to gaming, movies, tv shows, recipes and fashion:
This means that if you have a website that publishes content related to those areas, you will soon need to create AMP Stories if you want to try to rank on the first «content» area of the Search Results for some queries (we still don’t know when this box would be triggered)
You can watch the announcement here
How do I create AMP Stories?
All the information about how to create AMP Stories on your website can be found in this tutorial on the AMP official site: https://amp.dev/documentation/guides-and-tutorials/start/visual_story/
Basically, you will create a normal AMP page where you will include an AMP component (amp-story) which will contain the different «pages» (each of the «scenes», represented by the horizontal bars up on the screen), and also each page can contain different layers and elements (images, headings, etc.)
You can create stories on your own domain, each story on their own URL and following all the rest of SEO best practices: using a descriptive title and meta description, headings, etc. An AMP Story will be «a normal page», just more visual and interactive.
There are also some apps/tools appearing in order to simplify the creation of AMP Stories, like Make Stories, Unfold and also, the official AMP plugin for WordPress is going to include the functionality of creating AMP Stories
Can I make money with AMP Stories?
Yes! As AMP Stories are just a way of showing content, you can monetize them. By now, you can include Ads, affiliate links, as well as links to other pages of your site where you have other monetization methods. Google advises not to include lots of links inside the stories (as the purpose of the Stories is to be consumed without leaving them), and this will probably a grey area where SPAM will be applied and where Google will need to act.
How will Stories be selected and ranked?
We don’t know yet. We don’t know if authority will play a big role (like in the Top News box) or if any website big or small will have chances of appearing on the box. We also don’t know if the results will be evaluated and ranked based on the same criteria Google uses for normal results, or the ones they use for the Top Stories results, or if they will develop a new specific algorithm just for AMP Stories.
Will the new Visual Stories box appear on all the countries and languages?
For the moment it will only appear on the US, according to a tweet by Kenichi Suzuki. We don’t know if there are plans of expanding this worldwide, but seems logical to me they do.
Based on the presentation, Google will study how users use the new box (as they probably do with anything that appears on their SERPs)
Will Instagram (or other platforms) Stories appear in the Visual Stories box?
Based on Google’s announcement, Stories from other platforms will not appear on the Visual Stories box on Google’s SERPs. Also, I don’t know of any easy way to republish content from those platforms on your website as AMP Stories.
In my particular case, I have a travel blog in Spanish (Randomtrip.es) with Inês, my life partner, where we create lots of Stories on Instagram about the destinations we visit. We group those stories on Instagram by destination (so our followers can check them as a guide to each place) and for me this content has lots of potential but it’s really closed on Instagram. Recently Instagram developed the functionality to group and feature any of your stories on your profile, put them a name and link them externally, but you still need an Instagram account to visualized them
For example, in this link you can check our Stories about visiting «La Guajira», in Colombia. That content would be a good match to appear in these new «Visual Stories» box for people searching for «Things to do in La Guajira», but it will not as it’s closed inside the Instagram platform.
I would love that all that content we have created to be discoverable by users in search, but we would need to replicate all that content «by hand» on our website (or using some tool to make it easier). Hopefully tools to automatically create AMP Stories from Instagram Stories (or Snapchat, or Facebook…) should be created soon.
Is Google forcing us to use AMP, abusing their market position?
But essentially, when Google is forcing you to use a technology in order to appear on certain areas of their search results, they are prioritizing the tech over the functionality, and using this a way to promote the use of a certain technology (although AMP is an open-source project, Google is investing heavily on it and involved in it since the beginning)
AMP was born as a way to create really fast webpages for mobile easily, as speed is crucial on the mobile web and publishers were not fast enough. I appreciate that as a user, as I worked in a big media publisher and mobile speed was not the top priority nor something that was going to be fixed anytime soon; with AMP, we were forced to change that.
But, at the end, the benefits in terms of SEO of creating fast pages should be the same no matter what technology you use: speed should be measured in an objective way, and results that get below certain metrics should get the «lightning bolt» icon and/or whatever other mechanism of telling the user a result is fast Google may have. A fun example of this can be found in this article, where a publisher whose «normal website» is faster than their «AMP website» is forced to use AMP in order to appear on the Top Stories box.
Until now, having AMP does not offer you any «SEO benefits» on «normal» organic results (at least, that’s what Google says and there is no proof yet on the contrary). The only place where AMP was being rewarded, because it was almost mandatory, was on the Top Stories box, where not only most of the results are AMP pages, but also they get a more appealing visual aspect which makes it easier for users to notice them.
I also understand the the «Stories» format is becoming a huge thing on mobile, and that right now it is really closed (it can only be consumed inside the platforms, whether it is Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook…), while AMP Stories is the contrary: it is on the open web, crawlable, indexable, accesible by anyone with a browser without the need to register on any platform.
But forcing that on the SERPs is a different «story». With the new «Visual Stories» box, it is completely mandatory to create your content not only using AMP, but the specific format of AMP Stories. Besides, this new box is not created based on demand (like the Top Stories box which existed before AMP and that is used to present to the user relevant information that already existed and was demanded on the web, or like the «Videos» box); in this case, no Stories content exist on the open web and probably it is not demanded by users: Google is forcing us and asking us to create that content from scratch if we want to appear on the first position for the queries that will trigger this kind of result. The «Stories» that actually exist on the web (the ones from Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook…) will not appear there.
Conclusion and summary
- Google is launching a new box inside their search results that will ONLY show AMP Stories
- This box will appear for certain queries related to Travel, Gaming, Recipes, Movies, Tv Shows and Fashion
- Normal, organic results will appear lower on the search results because of that.
- Stories from other platforms will not appear in the box as Google cannot crawl them, nor they seem to have intention to include them
- AMP Stories can include and links to other URLs.
- Google is forcing webmasters to adopt their technology and format (AMP Stories) to appear in this new box.
This will be both a problem and an opportunity to many websites, but it will hugely depend on how results are selected and ranked. We will know soon!