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AMP, Instant Articles, and Vox Media, explained

Andrew Johnson

It’s been a few months since we launched three of our brands – SB Nation, The Verge, and Vox.com – on the AMP format in partnership with Google and a number of other publishers and technology companies, including Twitter.

This is really exciting stuff. And the results are great. Search for the latest UFC news on your phone and you’ll see the latest from our combat sites, including MMA Fighting, Bloody Elbow and MMA Mania:

Screenshot of AMP on search page
AMP in search results

Most people turn to Google to get information they need right away. Now they can find the most relevant information first, and the pages load extremely quickly.

AMP is one of the ongoing projects that the Partner Platforms team works on at Vox Product. Overall, we work with technology and publishing partners to distribute Vox Media’s content on emerging platforms. As of today, we’ve launched Vox Media brands on Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP and Apple News, among other platforms, and we’re diving into more.

Here’s a little of what we’ve learned so far.

How are the platforms performing?

In January, Vox.com saw the highest average share of all publishers at 818 shares per Facebook Instant Article. The stories are great, of course, but we also take it as a good sign that our audience on Facebook finds Instant Articles easier to share and read.

With AMP, we’re seeing 23% of our Google traffic for SB Nation coming from AMP articles, and around 15% for Vox.com and The Verge. What’s with the variation? Some of the differences can be traced to discovery in search and the topic being searched. When we search for political coverage, polling and election results tended to display in Google search, and then there were links to Vox.com and other political coverage, which made readers much less likely to click those articles. Our sports coverage, especially UFC and MMA sites, perform well in AMP format since our mobile users will enthusiastically click through if there’s content that we have that doesn’t already display in search.

Graphic illustrating how 23% of SBnation's Google traffic, and 15% of Vox and The Verge’s Google traffic come through Google Amp.
AMP Statistics across some of Vox Media’s brands

We’ve also learned some good lessons about mobile performance and structured data that we’ve taken back to the teams developing our websites. For the past year, we’ve been working on a major performance overhaul of all of our sites that includes optimizing image compression, ad performance and font delivery across platforms. The ways we distribute content on partner platforms are already built with many constraints to load as quickly as possible, which has helped us think about the performance improvements needed on our own platforms and what we can advocate for with our partners to improve the reading experience. Our own improvements in the last six months since we declared performance bankruptcy means that no matter where our readers reach us, the stories should be loading quickly after the click, even if their mobile connection isn’t the strongest.

Why are we doing this?

This work is truly a Venn diagram that overlaps with engagement, editorial, revenue, product, and partnerships. We know there are great opportunities with audience, performance, new monetization options, and learnings. Partnering with different platforms that reach different audiences is something media companies have been doing for a long time, and now that we can collaborate to improve the product side of these formats, it’s a good time to figure out what successful distribution will look like for the readers we’re serving now and in the future.

How does it work?

The basic technical and design guidelines on AMP, Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News is part of what makes these files really fast, and building out a baseline version of our content for each is pretty straightforward. The more involved parts of working with partners are aligning our revenue, design, product and editorial teams to translate different storytelling elements from our mobile content to these platforms. This is where publishers have to advocate for and work with technology partners to make sure our storytelling experiences are consistent no matter what the platform is.

When we started planning on the revenue side, we saw that there was more long-term work we would need to do to support our partner platforms. Our custom premium ad products that have become a seamless part of the visual language and user experience of Vox Media sites were built in a way that depended on our first-party Chorus platform and couldn’t translate well on other platforms. Since then, our teams have put in a lot of technical work to scale our premium ads across many more platforms and set up the framework for partners across our advertising products marketplace, Concert. We’re currently supporting premium ad products in all of our AMP content, and are working to enable them in Instant Articles.

What are some challenges?

Innovative stories are currently best told on desktop. There are few programming restrictions (besides performance) and there’s a lot of browser space in which to experiment with different storytelling elements, including videos, interactive charts and graphs, premium ad products, and many other elements that are part of our storytelling experiences. When we’re aiming to scale the distribution of our stories in different places, we face different levels of code support and restrictions, which are set mostly to achieve as fast a loading time as possible.

What’s still to come?

Working with the technology companies on better data. Gathering consistent data across distributed feeds has always been a little challenging, especially among new or emerging platforms. The first part is to set better metrics to measure against, which differ from platform to platform, and the second is to see the bigger picture in which those new platform metrics fits in. What makes a successful Instant Article among our fellow publishers, and what makes it successful for us compared to similar platforms? Getting better data and analyzing different aspects will be important in seeing how our readers interact with these platforms and formats in ways we expected and in ways we didn’t.

Email is not the newest or flashiest platform, but it’s a really effective way that our readers stay updated with news and the latest stories. We plan to improve the way our editors create and send emails, the ways in which our readers can easily sign up for newsletters, and grow the ways we can continue delivering relevant content to our audience.

Lastly, we’re expanding Vox Media’s content in different ways. It’s important to collaborate with other companies on these new products to improve the way our content reaches readers like you, but it’s equally as important that we work to make it easier than ever to find Vox Media content in general.

How can I see your work?

You can see our work in a few ways on iOS or Android devices: when you’re reading Vox.com, SB Nation or The Verge articles on Facebook, in the Apple News app and when you search for latest stories on Google.

Sound interesting?

We’re hiring for a variety of roles.