Unpacking AMP for Email

A previous version of this article was originally written and published on the ADK Group blog.

Earlier in April Google announced widespread support for AMP across Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and Mail.Ru.

AMP for email was announced as a closed beta about a year ago, but the public release announced on the AMP blog officially adds email to a growing list of AMP-enabled media available for marketers: websites, “stories” (think SnapChat or Instagram stories, but in mobile Google search results), and advertisements.

What is AMP?

AMP is an open source code library that was ostensibly created with the goal of encouraging web developers to produce experiences that load faster on mobile devices. In the case of web pages, these are cached on Google’s own servers, rather than your own. 

The AMP code framework is about as controversial as things get in growing area where marketers and developers overlap. The critical side sees it as an unnecessary and potentially disastrous forfeiture of control, while its champions cheer it on because it’s faster for users and, well, that’s mostly it.

Most of the developers at ADK Group are open source zealots, but still cringed at initial requests to bring AMP-enabled pages to some of the more content-reliant client websites.

However, part of what makes ADK Group a true partner to its clients is pushing them to the bleeding edge of technology in order to reap strategic rewards (see: the first-mover advantage).

That doesn’t mean blind adoption of the latest trend just because it’s the latest trend. Instead, I work to place emerging technologies in a broader context in order to make informed decisions and recommendations. Working with a wide variety of businesses, challenges, and tech stacks affords a significant advantage on this front, and allows me to explore questions like, Where did this technology come from? Why does it exist? Who benefits from it?


In terms of its core business (search), Google is consistently working to do 2 things:

  1. Atomize content that was previously aggregated by large publishers to make it easier to match with Google users’ search intents, and
  2. Use data about how people interact with that atomized content to enable advertisers to target audiences on an increasingly micro scale.

Within this model, the first initiative represents Google’s supply-side. By improving the overall UX of content consumption, Google becomes the de-facto “supplier” for most of the internet’s content, even though Google owns almost none of that supply and does not actually produce the supply. In fact, Google gets free access to the content it aggregates (it does not pay any companies that create the content for the right to index it) and mostly does not create any of its own content.

That allows Google to supersede traditional publishers and create a more “meritocratic” (in quotes because Google quantifies the merit) platform where anyone can create content that can be viewed billions of times over.

This also allowed Google to aggregate the demand for content: it created a virtuous cycle where searches created competition for higher quality content that could be indexed by Google, which led to more people using the search engine (there’s another loop in there around their search algorithm, but we’ll save that tangent for another article).

Google became the de facto place people come to when looking for (most) content, which gives it a huge competitive advantage when selling advertising based on demand. This demand is one of Google’s strategic moats, making the strengthening of it an existential pursuit for Google.

At the scale that Google operates on, its competitors are not so much other search engines (although DuckDuckGo is beginning to look like a minor threat), but rather other content atomization platforms – Facebook and Amazon being among the most threatening.

What’s the advantage those platforms have that Google does not?

They all not only own the demand side, like Google, but also own the supply side. Content created on Facebook is exclusive to Facebook. This incentivizes more usage, which creates more content, which compounds demand, which results in more advertising power. While the content posted on Amazon is not exclusive to Amazon in theory, it is (to borrow a concept from Ben Thompson again) exclusive in reality, due to the demand that Amazon has been able to aggregate.

Consider the state of Facebook organic performance by 2018, at which point Facebook had clearly flexed this advertising power by forcing company pages to pay to play (this is how Facebook can remain free).

“APAC” refers to the Asia-Pacific region.Source.

In mid 2016, we see Google react with successful efforts to increase paid clicks.

Paid CTRs can stand as a reasonable proxy for advertising power, which Google is actively working to increase (and maintain dominance in the face of new competitors).

But even though Google is able to increase the performance of paid results, the lack of exclusivity has left a gap. That gap, being addressed, in real time is centered around the exclusivity and control of the supply of content.

AMP is a platform for publishers to create content on owned by Google. This means the content must conform to Google’s rules, and users consuming the content must remain within Google’s ecosystem. This has obvious advantages, like giving Google the ability to throttle competing advertising and data collection products on AMP pages. It also has second- and third- order consequences, like allowing Google to gather more behavioral data on users interacting with AMP pages.

All signals (recent product launches, changes to the search algorithm, etc.) point to Google trying to achieve this by creating a walled garden for their core business: search. And even though paid CTR’s are increasing, Google is still sending that traffic outside of its walled garden. AMP allows Google to corral everything.

Google’s Walled Garden for Search

Florent Crivello begins an article about the importance of demand by laying out the different parts of a typical internet search:

  • Your search engine of choice
  • Your browser
  • Your operating system
  • Your computer or mobile device
  • Your Internet service provider
  • “(a bunch of WAN stuff)”
  • The search engines internet service provider
  • The search engines own tech stack
  • Content being served

All of these represent opportunities for a company to both control the experience of the search and collect exclusive data about it that can be sold to advertisers. So how much of the search experience could Google own?

Right now, it has the ability to own the whole experience, except for the content it’s serving:

EntitiesGoogle Product
Search engineGoogle
Operating systemAndroid, Chrome OS
Computer or mobile deviceChromebooks, Android
ISPGoogle Fiber, Google Fi

How AMP serves Google & Gmail

That last hole is what AMP will help Google fill. No single content creator could possibly create enough high quality content to be reasonably dominant across a well-made search engine. This inefficiency prevents a behemoth like Google from flooding its own platform with successful content.

However, if you get the majority of content creators to build for your platform (as YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and most other ad-driven platforms for user-generated content do), then you can fill the content gap at scale. And you can do it in a way that gives you exclusive access to that content and the data it generates.

Because AMP pages (and presumably stories, ads, and emails) are hosted on Google’s servers, AMP encourages content creators to hand-over control of their content to Google. 

For email, replace the choice of search engine in the earlier table with choice of email service provider (ESP) and you get the same story. In the case of AMP, any ESP’s that support the technology (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Mail.Ru) give Google ownership of that step by proxy. In fact, Google has been trying to monetize Gmail for a long time – the most notable shift was the introduction of native Gmail ads within Google AdWords (now called Google Ads) back in 2015.

With Google’s platforms owning demand (Gmail and Google Search), AMP begins to give Google control over the supply .

Because AMP for Google allows for robust in-email conversions marketers will view this as an opportunity to increase the ROI of email marketing. And it may do that! It just will also do so while helping Google expand its walled garden.

How important is owning an entire experience for Google?

In addition to the investments it has made in products and services to capture the search experience, Google also makes easily quantifiable purchases that fill other gaps in the search experience.

For example, the popularity of iOS devices represents a huge threat to the ownership of the search experience. Android phones are certainly popular, but Google is looking for market dominance — most of the games it plays are winner-take-all. That’s why the price Google pays Apple to be the default search engine on Safari on iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices are predicted to rise 33% to $12 billion in 2019, per Rod Hall, an analyst at Goldman Sachs. Ironically, this income makes Apple one of the strongest “search engine companies” without ever owning a search engine.


While AMP as a framework is a pretty thinly-veiled tool to help-marketers-help-Google, the benefits should not be discounted. Furthermore, when a company with the influence Google has set its sights on a trend, the company is (a) generally not wrong, and (b) a catalytic force that increases the adoption of those trends. However, that does not mean that dominance of the AMP framework is inevitable and that you should make the (often costly) move to supporting it.

Should you implement AMP pages?

Instead of making a knee-jerk decision, weigh the strengths and weakness thoughtfully in the context of your business and your marketing goals.

Strengths of AMP

  • If executed properly, it increases mobile page performance. This, as many marketing publications will tell you, can help lower bounce rates, increase conversion rates, and improve sales.
  • It creates engaging experiences. Google is pushing hard to keep the user within its ecosystem, and is incentivizing that with more interactive emails and search results.
  • It is a potential differentiating factor for your marketing. Some of your competitors will adopt it, others won’t.

Weaknesses of AMP

  • Less visibility for any on-site, non-Google advertisements.
  • Less control over the style and design of your website.
  • Less traffic to your domain.
  • More complicated and limited analytics.

Are you an ecommerce website with hundreds of thousands of visits and transactions per day? Minuscule changes in page speed can have outsized impacts on your revenue. Is your business built around an SEO-based growth loop (like Pinterest, Zillow, or other aggregators)? AMP may be able to help.

Does your company partake in only sporadic blogging? You probably won’t need to implement AMP. Often times, there’s a compromise. Some companies should move almost their entire website onto AMP templates, while others would only benefit from creating a single AMP-enabled template.

Should you implement AMP emails?

AMP for email unlocks a range of interesting capabilities that can set your emails apart from competitors (it’s yet unclear how spam filters will react to this), as outlined in Google’s product blog. These include familiar AMP capabilities like amp-carouselamp-formamp-bindamp-list, etc.

At the time of writing, Google launched with a pretty broad range of email partners: SparkPost, Litmus, Twilio Sendgrid, and Amazon’s SES and Pinpoint. But unless you have developers building your emails, you won’t be able to easily use AMP in your emails yet. Dominant email marketing platforms like Constant ContactMailChimp, and even SalesForce do not yet support AMP templates, but likely will soon. 

If you wanted to explore AMP in your email marketing, how would that you go about doing that? 

  1. Read up a bit more about AMP email mark up
  2. Review the AMP for email documentation
  3. Give your developers a chance to practice in the AMP for email sandbox 
  4. Make sure Google approves your email

After step 1 you should at least have a better understanding of the lift required to implement AMP for emails. The new interactions may mean that email is finally an interesting channel for you to explore, or you may have learned through repeated A/B testing that your audience responds to plain-text emails best.

We are in the early adoption phase, where people are pushing limits, figuring out best practices, and failing with this new tool. For more agile companies, this may be considered a period of grace to get ahead of competition. On the other hand, more cautious companies could use this as a time to create an implementation plan to be prepared if industry case studies report good news.

The bottom line is that, like any investment in marketing technology, there isn’t a universal right or wrong approach. The value your company would realize from a technology like AMP depends on things like your growth loop, market segment, budget, and the rest of your tech stack.

In my current role as Lead Marketing Technologist at ADK Group, I help companies come to terms with emerging technical marketing trends, like AMP for email. Crucially, I help them decide whether adoption would be a wasteful birdwalk, or a step-wise improvement in growth.

If you have any thoughts, comments, questions, about anything related to marketing, growth, and emerging tech trends please let me know! I love discussing common pain points, creative applications of technology, and complicated growth challenges.

(To allow your organization to receive dynamic emails – like viewing the latest comments on Google docs within a single email – have your Gsuite admin follow the steps outlined here.)

SEO For Bloggers: How to Create an SEO-Friendly Content Strategy

Content generation loop

If you’re a writer, you want to make sure the content you’re creating gets found, read, enjoyed, and shared. In this post, you’ll learn how you can best contribute to the organic growth of your company.

The strategy here is adapted from part of a presentation I give to the writers at our agency partners and clients to help them learn how to write for SEO effectively. What isn’t shared here are the specific recommendations and technical guides better suited for developers.

SEO Humor
SEO humor…

First: What SEO is Not

SEO, or search engine optimization, used to be defined by brute force tactics[1]:

  • Make your target keyword the same color as the background
  • Toss that sucker in the footer of your website about 100 times
  • Watch your rank skyrocket

Even though most people now scoff at this tactic, SEO still carries a bit of a stigma form it’s shady past.

The most common misconception is that SEO now works by:

  1. Finding a keyword you want
  2. Tossing that keyword in your meta data (page title, meta description, H1)
  3. Ranking!

While this is a (simplified) tactic that helps with SEO, it does not capture what SEO is and how closely it is intertwined with content strategy. So, what actually is SEO?

What is SEO?

Many definitions look at SEO through the lens of the purpose: increasing the quality and quantity of traffic coming to your website from search engines.

However, it can be more helpful to approach SEO from the process: aligning the content on your website with what is useful to your intended audience.

Nailing this concept is KEY. If you can conceptualize what your audience is looking for and then provide that, you’re in good shape.[2]

This is the point in the presentation where my audience breathes a sigh of relief. They’ve understood that SEO is less about awkwardly forcing keywords into their writing and more about crafting engaging content.

Technical SEO

The best writing in the world won’t get found by Google if the website it’s on is not optimized. This is why technical performance plays such a big role in SEO; to be truly competitive good writing must be complemented with good design and development. Make sure the developers on your team are comfortable with the ins and outs of website optimization.

SEO for Writers

SEO can be broken down into three phases: Researching, Activating, and Measuring. Together, these act as a content-generation loop.

Content generation loop
Using SEO as a content generation loop.

Research: How to Find & Target Keywords

Your goal is to find the keywords and themes that are most engaging, popular, relevant, and attainable. This process is a data-driven form of brainstorming topics for your articles.

Step 1: Methods for Generating Keyword Lists

At this point, your goal is to end up with as long a list as possible of keywords that will define your target topic. I’ve listed two strategies that I’ve used before, each for a specific use case.

If You’re Starting From Scratch… 

This method comes from Casey Winters, who has led growth at Apartments.com, Pinterest, and GrubHub. Answer these questions for your business and combine them to come up with relevant keyword combinations. Here’s his example for GrubHub:

Who: GrubHub, restaurant names we represent

What: food, delivery, menus, pizza, Thai, indian, chinese

When: breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night

Where: every city, neighborhood, zip code, college covered

How: online ordering, mobile app, iPhone app, android app

Add these to an excel doc to generate every possible combination of the terms. You’ll end up with terms like “Thai delivery near Boston College,” or “Olive Garden online ordering.”

If You Have A General Idea…

A quicker (and easier) method is to enter a topic into AnswerThePublic.com, which scrapes Google for related searches. You can then simply export this as a .csv to get your list.

Now that you have huge lists of keywords how do you know are worth targeting? A keyword is worth targeting if you answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Will owning this keyword drive traffic?
  • Is this traffic valuable?
  • Can we rank for this?

Tools for measuring keyword traffic used by an SEO agency

This is a simple process with many paid and free tools that help you do this. I use a business plan at Moz for ADK Group clients, but the free version should do fine in most cases. Other options are: Google Ads Keyword Planner and SEMRush. There is no “right” amount of traffic to target. Terms that are frequently searched are much more competitive. It may make more sense to target highly specific keywords that have less volume and less competition. A rule of thumb to remember is that as the traffic of a keyword goes down, the value or relevancy to your business should go up.

Is this traffic valuable?

Assessing whether or not traffic is valuable is more of a soft-science: you have to decide if there’s an overlap between the people using the keyword and your ideal customer. Assuming the keyword is not wildly off-brand or off-topic, how do you assess searcher interest and intent with relative confidence?

Here’s a method I often use. Take a quick look at the search engine’s results page (SERP).

Do the top results come from competitors? That’s a good sign that this is a good keyword for your business to try to own. If none of the results are related to your business, move on. You may think this keyword is relevant to your company, but you’re unlikely to convince Google of that.

How do you measure competition of a keyword?

Your ability to rank for this depends on the quality of your content, the health/reputation of your website and the competition for the keywords. I trust that, as a writer, you have a good idea of what makes content high-quality. I also hope that you can trust your developers and/or a SEO expert to ensure proper health and technical performance of your website.

With those taken care of, what you need to know is how competitive a keyword is. Many services I listed above (Moz, Google Ads’ Keyword Planner, SEMRush) give you a ranking of competitiveness ranking for each keyword. Again, low volume keywords will have low competition while high volume keywords will be very competitive.

Depending on the maturity of your SEO strategy, you should have a balance of both competitive and non-competitive keywords in your portfolio of targets.

Keyword competition can be understood with 2 factors: how much domain authority[3] the ranking websites have, and what is on the SERP.

Competitive SERPs have a high number of enhanced results on them. These include results with images and special designs that call more attention to them and result in a higher share of clicks for that result.

Competitive SERP on desktop
The anatomy of a competitive SERP on desktop

If you want to see a competitive SERP on mobile, search for “Avengers” and see if there is anything not answered directly on the results page.


I spend the least amount of time here when presenting SEO to writers. Why? Because this is their job! Activating is primarily about the writing high-quality content, which I’m sure you’re well-practiced in.

Some rules of thumbs are below (make sure you don’t skip competitive research!):

  • Your content must accomplish the same thing that whatever ranks first for the keyword does, only better. This may mean adding more detail and creating a longer piece. It may mean writing multiple pieces on a topic or presenting it in a different format (video, podcast, etc.)
  • The more volume & competition a keyword has, the higher quality the content has to be.
  • You need to have a similar or better domain authority ranking as the top-ranking websites.

Once you’ve nailed a truly engaging and unique blog post, it’s time to promote it. The goal of promotion is two-fold: increase engagement & increase backlinks. If you are writer-cum-marketer, here are two quick and dirty ways to do this for yourself.

Share on all your social media accounts using a tool like HootSuite. Get an edge by re-posting this multiple times across a month with different images and titles, and at different times. This ensures you reach different segments of your audience.

Collaborate with others. Work with established experts in the topic areas to get their opinions or quotations for the pieces. After they’re involved, they’re more likely to share the finished result with their own audience.

Ultimately, if you’re writing kick-ass content and doing at least some promotional work you’re likely to see some traction.


How do you know if your content is working? What KPIs should you track and how do you avoid vanity metrics? All you need from your posts are high engagement and strong organic growth, which are measured with the following metrics.


  • Average time spent on page site
  • Repeat visit to unique visit ratio
  • A low number of unsubscribes if you’re promoting via a newsletter

Organic growth & virality

  • Shares
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Quality / quantity of links to the post

High CTR, ranking, and traffic are all results of the above—not causes—and are what I would call vanity metrics. Keep an eye on these, but not at the expense of the above.

A note about Domain Authority (DA)

Why it’s important: It’s one of the best measurements of your potential ability to rank for keywords. The higher your DA, the higher likelihood there is that you will be able to rank for increasingly competitive keywords.

How it’s calculated: Known contributing factors include number of linking websites, number of total links, quality of both of those sources of links, technical health, and engagement metrics.

How writers can increase: Create as much unique, engaging, and share-able content as possible, include links to high DA websites, and work with your marketing team to promote your content.

Example of a high authority website: The New York Times (DA: 95 / 100)

How did the NYT get a high domain authority? They have an effective internal linking structure, a high number of links to the website from external sources, technical optimizations, a short linking distance between other trusted websites, high domain age, strong engagement metrics, and a wide diversity of links.

So — if you want to increase the value of your writing for your business, you can either opt to write for the New York Times or follow this guideline:

  • Target valuable keywords: These are words that are high traffic, low competition, and very relevant to the problem your service or product solves.
  • Write high quality content: Present a new idea, or an existing idea in a new way. Map the content that you write to the perceived intent of the search based on the results.
  • Promote your content: Get influencers to share it by incorporating them in the creation process. Share and re-share it on your social media channels.
  • Track the right metrics: Look at engagement and organic growth rather than vanity metrics.




[1] In a class at Stanford, Facebook’s VP of growth admitted to using this tactic to dominate organic searches for paper airplanes.

[2] As part of my interview for ADK Group, I was asked to provide a definition of SEO in 3 sentences or less. I was able to dig that up and find that my definition still holds true: “SEO is the process of ensuring that your website and content are as easy to find by crawlers and people as possible. Ultimately, it involves taking advantage of the way that search engines index and rank pages to increase your ranking on SERPS for specific keywords. Factors that affect SEO are both on page (including content, architecture, and HTML) and off page (how many reputable links are sending people to your content, your impact on social media, etc.).

[3] For all intents and purposes, “domain authority” is a measure of the quality and quantity of other websites linking to your website.