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Case Study: Google Gives Mobile Carousel Preference to AMP Results


Google's AMP has been making a lot of noise on the SERP for a good while now. Most recently, and as we reported, AMP results have come to dominate Google's News Box on the mobile SERP. As it turns out, that's not all AMP is dominating these days. After a bit of research I've determined that Google is giving heavy preference when it comes to showing mobile carousels to organic AMP results. In this case study, I'll show you how some heavy-hitting and quite prominent websites are not showing up on the mobile SERP with carousels simply because they have not gone AMP.


Horse Carousel




Organic AMP Status Triggers Mobile Carousels 

 

Let's get to the heart of the matter, that of AMP being a catalyst for carousels within mobile organic results. While there's certainly a lot to say here, I'll let the images themselves do most of the talking. I will say at the outset, that the overwhelming indication here is that AMP serves as a trigger for in-result carousels. That is, when there are AMP results on the SERP, mobile carousels will only display within such optimized results, regardless of how relevant and authoritative other non-AMP results may be. Conversely, if no AMP results are present, mobile carousels are then fair game, displaying even though no sites are AMP optimized. 


ESPN - The World's Sports News Leader Lacks Mobile Carousels

 

ESPN is the authority on sports news, hands down. As such, it was interesting to see that its site does not display with carousels on mobile. To get started I simply took an article espn.com had run, and did a query related to it. In this case the site ran a story regarding famed basketball star Charles Oakley, and his recent arrest at Madison Square Garden.


ESPN News Story


All I had to do was run a search for "Charles Oakley" for espn.com to appear within Google's News Box on desktop, twice. 


ESPN in Desktop News Box


Turning then to mobile, and ESPN was removed from the News Box carousel, and demoted to an attached card, as the article was not AMP optimized (as results placed in the news carousel were). I point this out merely to show that the ESPN article is clearly not AMP optimized. 


News Box Results on Mobile - ESPN Card


Within the organic results per se you can clearly see that ESPN's organic placement appears by its lonesome, without any carousel. How sad. Note however, that CBS Sports does show with a carousel: 


Sports Results with and without AMP Carousel


CBS Sports was not the only entity showing a result with an AMP optimized carousel. A local NY newspaper, the NY Post (famous for its Page 6 gossip column) also showed up on the SERP with an AMP optimized carousel:


NY Post AMP Carousel


As did sports magazine giant Sports Illustrated: 


Sports Illustrated AMP Carousel


The point is, ESPN clearly did not display a mobile carousel due to the AMP optimization its result lacked. 

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Mobile Carousels without AMP Optimization 



Moving on to the world of entertainment news, I looked at famed magazine, Rolling Stone, and its website rollingstone.com. Here, not only did I run a query related to an article on its site, I ran a query for the headline article on its site.


Rolling Stone Lead Story


As the article was titled 2017 Oscars: Who Should Win, Who Will Win I ran a query for "2017 oscar predictions." As was to be expected, Rolling Stone was the first result within a desktop News Box, and was the top ranking organic result.


Rolling Stone in News Box - Desktop


Like ESPN, mobile was a different story. Unlike ESPN, the Rolling Stone article did not even make the mobile News Box as a card:


Rolling Stone Absent From Mobile News Box

Again like ESPN, the Rolling Stone article, while high in organic ranking on mobile, was left looking plain, without a mobile carousel (though, even AMP optimized ew.com did not display a carousel in this case): 


Rolling Stone Result - No Carousel


However, IndieWire added some color to the SERP with a mobile carousel attached to its organic result, an AMP optimized carousel:


AMP Carousel - Oscar Prediction Result


One could ask, "Well perhaps Rolling Stone only has 1 article on the 2017 Oscars, precluding a mobile carousel?". Good question, but not so. You can find the topic addressed by the site here, here, here, here, and here


Politics is Cutthroat as Are Carousels on Google's Mobile SERP

 

When it comes to political analysis Politico is a news source you'll often find quoted by other media outlets. In fact, its correspondents are often seen on news shows offering their unadulterated political analysis. While their analysis may be colorful, their organic results on mobile are not since the site, politico.com, has yet to go AMP.

In this instance I ran a generic search for a topic covered throughout the site, news about the President of the United States. As such, my query was simply "Trump news":


Political News Result Mobile


Not being AMP optimized, politico.com, while appearing high on Page One of the mobile SERP, did not display with a carousel, while rival ABC News did:


Politico.com No Carousel Result


as did the AMP optimized Washington Post:


Washington Post AMP Carousel


along with NBC News: 


NBC News Mobile AMP Carousel


and the British based BBC: 


BBC AMP Carousel Political News


Political clout clearly seems to have no impact in the Google-verse. 

Mobile Carousels Not in Fashion for Un-AMP Optimized Vogue 

 

Being stylish doesn't always translate to the SERP, at least not for vogue.com who without AMP is passé and carousel-less on the mobile SERP. Like I did with politico.com, when it came to Vogue, I utilized the very generic query of "fashion news."


Fashion News Mobile Search Results


Both vouge.com and its counterpart across the Atlantic, vogue.co.uk show up drably without any carousels:


Vogue.com Fashion News Results


Their AMP optimized competitors walked down the runway that is the mobile SERP at the height of SERP feature fashion.  

Here's how popsugar.com displayed: 


Fashion AMP Carousel 1


Now refinery29.com: 


Fashion AMP Carousel 2


As well as WWD.com: 


Fashion AMP Carousel 3


Again, AMP is showing itself to be the determining factor in the appearance of mobile carousels attached to an organic result. 


AMP - A Recipe for Mobile Carousel Success 

 

For my last trick, let's move to another industry entirely. When it comes to recipes, specifically on the mobile SERP, Google goes gaga with SERP features. Obviously it makes sense to enter a query directly related to a recipe here, which is exactly what I did when I catered to my love of Mexican food and ran a search for best taco recipe:

Mobile Recipe Results 

"Food sites" have jumped on board the AMP train, and you'll often see a lot of organic results with the AMP icon show up when running food related queries. Such results may appear with an AMP optimized carousel, such as allrecipes.com did when I ran my search: 


Allrecipes.com Mobile Carousel


However, since AMP optimized results displayed with a carousel on this particular SERP, cookingchanneltv.com was left to appear bland and tasteless without any carousel while its AMP optimized competitor, the Food Network, had its result spiced up:


Food Channel Result without Carousel on Mobile


Clearly, Google is giving carousel priority to those food sites that have gone AMP. As such, even though a non-AMP optimized site (such as cookingchanneltv.com) may have carousel content to offer, Google is purposely choosing not to display it. 



Mobile Carousels Without AMP on the SERP 



Based on what I've shown thus far, you could still ask one simple and basic question.... who's to say that the sites indicated would ever produce a mobile carousel attached to their results to begin with?

Excellent question if I don't say so myself! You would be right, if these sites never produce mobile carousels, then it would be impossible to determine if AMP was the catalyst for their nonappearance. This however is easily solved. Below you will see queries related to each site, with each site's name mentioned within the query per se. As you'll notice, when such queries are employed, mobile carousels do appear attached to the site's organic results. Why? Simple, if you include the site name, other sites, at least other major sites, will generally not appear within the results. As such, there is no competitive AMP results to domineer the mobile carousel market. 

espn.com
(query = espn sports news )

ESPN Mobile Carousels


rollingstone.com
(query = rolling stone news )  

Rolling Stone Mobile Carousels


politico.com
(query = politico news)

Politico Mobile Carousels


vogue.com
(query = vogue)

Vogue Mobile Carousels


cookingchanneltv.com
(query = cooking channel)

Cooking Channel Mobile Carousels


Multiple Sites with Non-AMP Carousels



Just to further strengthen the above, I decided to find a series of different sites on the same SERP that all display non-AMP carousels. To do this I had to find a query that brought up no organic AMP results. Interestingly enough, science news was one such query:


Science Carousels on Mobile - Non-AMP

You'll notice in the above image that none of the News Box results are AMP. Also, none of the organic results were AMP optimized. Lastly, you'll see a non-AMP mobile carousel, which would not have appeared had there been organic AMP results (all things being equal of course). 

Thus, both of the carousels on the page were non-AMP: 



Just to highlight the point, SERPs with AMP only carousels are not an accident. Google has no issue with your slower and standard carousel, provided there are not speedier AMP alternatives. 



Conclusion - Non-AMP Carousels Do Not Appear When AMP Results Display on the SERP 



Just in case it is not abundantly clear at this point, Google will not, as a general rule, provide non-AMP optimized sites with a mobile carousel unless it has to. Unless there is no other choice, i.e. unless there are no AMP optimized results that are carousel suitable, Google will not display an un-AMP optimized carousel. Clearly Google is crazy for carousels on mobile, but AMP takes priority. AMP takes so much priority that industry juggernauts such as ESPN cannot rely on their overwhelming authority to have a series of visually enhanced content cards appear under their mobile organic results (should AMP alternatives be present).  

Why Is Google's AMP Carousel Preference So Important? 

 

Google has said that AMP is not a ranking factor, and technically that is true. However, rank is not the only way to get noticed on a SERP. Google's special SERP features are clearly a way to draw extra attention to a result, that's why they are there. Which site do you think will get more clicks, the site with or without the carousel? Ranking higher is meant to draw more clicks, plain and simple. Here, Google has circumvented rank via its SERP features. So no, AMP is not a ranking factor, but in this scenario who cares? I'm not saying whether that's a good or bad thing, you need to decide that for yourself. All I'm pointing out is what's actually happening here and why it's significant, very, very, very significant. In a way, it turns the mobile Google-verse upside down, as in-effect ranking itself has been demoted. 


Upside Down World


Think about it from an end-user perspective for a second. Google, by giving preference to less authoritative sites, by giving such sites mobile carousel preference due to their AMP status, is making a powerful statement. Should the premise that the end user's experience be the single most important factor, Google is saying the equivalent of, "users would rather have a speedier carousel than one whose content may be more relevant to them."

That's a huge statement right there. Not only is that a huge statement, it's a huge shift from Google's outlook and perspective up until now. Everyone knows content is king, at least we thought it was. In this case Google is forgoing better ranking, more relevant content from more authoritative and reputable sites (as in the case of ESPN, the industry leader) for the sake of speed and mobile-friendliness. The question I want to end off with is, does this shift in policy present an isolated instance of change in perspective, or does it represent a broader shift in search philosophy over at Google? 



No AMP, No Mobile Carousel Service - Method Explained



In case you're wondering about the methodology used in this study... After determining the very real possibility that Google was showing carousels within organic results attached to, and essentially only to, those results that were AMP optimized, I ventured out to find a series of examples. In doing so, I relied on the prevalence of AMP results within news publishing. In other words, if I was going to come to any conclusions, I had to operate within an industry that produced a large volume of AMP results. The beauty of working within the news industry is that it essentially consists of more than one industry. That is, queries related to political news will generally bring up an array of sites that differ from those sites that display when a search relates to entertainment news, sports news, fashion news, etc. As a result, such a study, and the conclusions it leads to are of a broader nature in that they represent a wider scope of the web. 

In light of the above, the scope of this case study includes sites within the sporting news, entertainment news, fashions news, and science news industries. Additionally, I have included a site that relates to the food industry, one that is wholly unrelated to news results. This was due to the fact that many sites related to recipes are in fact AMP optimized. 

The specific sites studied are, espn.com, rollingstone.com, politico.com, vogue.com, and the cookingchanneltv.com. These sites, as I'll soon show, do not display mobile carousels within their results when shown on a SERP that contains other organic results that are AMP optimized. 

Determining Site Strength 

 

The most fundamental premise that I am working with is that the aforementioned sites, all things being equal, should display with carousels attached to their organic results when appropriate. This premise assumes that these sites are indeed authoritative enough to do so. The authority of these sites could be seen as self-evident simply because they are household names and industry leaders. However, to perhaps qualify this intuitive sense of things, I have listed the Alexa scores for the sites (scores are representative of each site's performance at the time of this study, and may have since changed), along with some of their competitors (most of whom show with AMP carousels). 


ESPN.COM 


Entity  Site Global Traffic Rank   US Traffic Rank 
ESPN espn.com 101 30
Sports Illustrated  si.com  2,618 611
The NY Post  nypost.com 978 205
CBS Sports cbssports.com 988 273


ESPN.com is simply a juggernaut per the Alexa ratings. There is no reason why sites like si.com or nypost.com should display carousels while the leader in sports reporting does not. 


RollingStone.com 

Entity  Site Global Traffic Rank   US Traffic Rank 
Rolling Stone Magazine  rollingstone.com 1,755 575
Entertainment Weekly   ew.com  1,683 505
IndieWire   indiewire.com 5,271 2,522


As you would figure, rollingstone.com is a very popular website, almost as popular as ew.com. The site is certainly far more popular than indiewire.com who, as we'll soon see, does display mobile carousels when certain queries are entered, whereas rollingstone.com does not for those same queries. 


Politico.com

Entity  Site Global Traffic Rank   US Traffic Rank 
Politico politico.com 899 139
NBC News nbcnews.com  846 157
The Washington Post washingtonpost.com 121 35
BBC News bbc.com 76 79
ABC News abcnews.go.com  970 229


Politco.com, while not a world class powerhouse like bbc.com or washingtonpost.com, is no slouch either. In fact, it ranks higher than nbcnews.com in the US, and abcnews.go.com across the board, both of which bring up mobile carousels while politico.com does not. 


Vogue.com 

Entity  Site Global Traffic Rank   US Traffic Rank 
Vouge vogue.com 4,498 1,618
WWD wwd.com 29,557 7,039
Pop Sugar popsugar.com 1,710 520
Refinery 29 refinery29.com 2,705 663


Like politico.com, Vogue is not the leading fashion news site. However, its rankings are significantly higher than wwd.com, a site that does display mobile carousels within some of its mobile results.


CookingChannelTV.com 


Entity  Site Global Traffic Rank   US Traffic Rank 
Cooking Channel cookingchanneltv.com 38,938 12,543
Food Network  foodnetwork.com 1,102 363
All Recipes  allrecipes.com 674 198


Of all the sites investigated, cookingchanneltv.com is the only one where you could make the case that mobile carousels do not appear due to its lack of authority. 

Site Review Conclusion 

 

The entire purpose of investigating and listing Alexa rank scores is to eliminate the possibility that mobile carousels were not appearing for the sites investigated due to a lack of authority and performance. It's evidently clear that this is not the case, paving the way for my ultimate conclusion that the lack of appearance relates to AMP. Further, listing such data allows the conclusion that AMP is the prime factor in causing carousels on mobile to appear, even for sites that lack in performance and authority relative to others (i.e. cookingchanneltv.com).

A Note on Limitations 

 

It wouldn't be fair to the reader if I did not present the limitations of my research. Quite obviously my list of sites investigated is limited in number, as my intention was merely to illustrate a trend, not a hard fast rule. Indeed, there are cases where Google does show a non-AMP carousel attached to a result alongside AMP carousels, I simply am advocating that such instances are aberrations. 

Secondly, for each site, I only engaged in a limited number of queries that brought up AMP optimized carousels. Meaning, while I did perform multiple queries that had the same result (i.e. carousels only for those results that were AMP optimized), such verification was limited. I did not engage in a bulk number of searches for each site. The fact that numerous queries for numerous sites had the same result was satisfactory for my purposes. 

About The Author
​Mordy is the CMO of Rank Ranger as well as the host of The In Search SEO Podcast. Despite his numerous and far-reaching marketing duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That's why you’ll find him ​regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and analysis!




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