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Google’s ‘Signed Exchange’ solution let’s publishers use their own URLs for AMP pages

The loudest criticism of AMP has been that it doesn’t display publisher domain URLs. Instead, users have historically seen the “google.com/amp/” URL structure, which is required by AMP pre-rendering. Google has been trying to address that issue for some time and, in November, offered a developer preview of a solution.

Now it’s formally rolling out that solution, which will still deliver AMP speed to publisher URLs. It involves use of Signed Exchanges, a technical framework that, as a practical matter, enables browsers to display publisher URLs on cached AMP results. It’s currently only available for Chrome 73 or higher (soon Microsoft Edge).

A short history of AMP

Google created AMP in 2015 as an open source project to speed up page load times on mobile devices and “dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web.” Google was concerned about mobile apps eroding mobile web traffic and wanted to find a way bring people back to the mobile web. In February 2016, Google integrated AMP pages into mobile search results.

Because most publisher sites weren’t well optimized for the mobile web, AMP required a trade-off. In order to deliver faster pages, Google needed to pre-render everything and use the cached google.com/amp URL structure. That way Google could serve the mobile page more more quickly — although that was sometimes disputed.

Publishers will need to create a ‘Signed Exchange’

So what the heck is a “Signed Exchange”? Here’s how Google describes the technology:

Signed HTTP Exchange (or “SXG”) is a subset of the emerging technology called Web Packages, which enables publishers to safely make their content portable, i.e. available for redistribution by other parties, while still keeping the content’s integrity and attribution. Portable content has many benefits, from enabling faster content delivery to facilitating content sharing between users, and simpler offline experiences.

In order to take advantage of the new real URL option, publishers will need to create a Signed Exchange. That in turn requires getting a certificate, not unlike an SSL certificate (more on that process here.) Once accomplished, the cached AMP URLs will show the publisher domain URL.

Brand and analytics benefits

The first partner with Google on Signed Exchanges is Cloudflare, which outlined several of the anticipated benefits in its press release:

  • Brand integrity: publishers will be able to direct AMP traffic to their primary website domain
  • Simplified analytics: all visitors, AMP or otherwise, can coexist on the same domain
  • More space for content: publishers will have additional space at the top of their pages for branding or ads, through elimination of AMP “grey bar.”
  • Reduced bounce rate: site visitors may have more trust in publisher URLs and be more inclined to visit and remain on branded domains

Cloudflare is right now the only content delivery network (CDN) that works with AMP Signed Exchanges. However there are multiple competitors that will probably jump on this quickly.

Cloudflare said its current customers can “enable this feature with one-click on their dashboards” and promised that capability will be delivered in the next few weeks.

Why we should care

Google has finally delivered what publishers have been asking for since AMP was introduced. How easy will it be for them to implement and will the benefits listed by Cloudflare be realized? We’ll follow up on those questions in the near future. There’s also the question of whether this will come (and how quickly) to browsers not built on the Chromium platform (i.e., Firefox, Safari, DuckDuckGo).

All this remains to be seen but it appears that Google is finally going to be able to deliver “real URLs” at AMP speeds.

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