ad tech

Being Careful with Mobile Interstitials

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By: Jess Carson

I know, it seems like every two seconds the “all-powerful” Google is updating its algorithm to further enhance user experience (which is the holy grail because, let’s face it, users are difficult). Back in August of 2016, Google announced that it would start “cracking down” on “intrusive interstitials” (say that three times fast) on mobile devices. According to the official blog, the type of interstitials Google deems problematic include:

  • Popups that cover main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

As of January 11, 2017, Google has rolled out this new penalty to the search engine. So, what does this mean for you?

Be careful with your messaging

It’s easy to understand that getting your messaging in front of a set number of eyes is paramount to the success of your business. However, think about it this way: If all you want to do is quickly find some information on your mobile device, but there’s this pop-up that blocks all the content you want, what’s going to happen? When you’re on a time crunch, and some other page allows you to just get to the info, what will you do? You’ll click away from the page with the big pop up. These interstitials provide a poorer user experience, which is increased when you bring in the fact that it’s happening on mobile devices – with smaller screens.

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Examples of interstitials that make content less accessible

So, then what do you do? Well, you’ll probably try to get your messaging out there another way. There are multiple mediums to advertising that don’t involve harming your site’s click-through rate, traffic, and perhaps even your rankings. It’s not worth a penalty within the search engines because of something as minute as a pop-up that people will likely immediately click away from anyway.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get your messaging out. In the image further down, there’s an example of the kind of ad that can be placed on your site – one that’s a banner, or one that takes up a reasonable amount of space and doesn’t keep the user from immediately getting to the content.

Regulated? Don’t worry

If you’re in an industry that must place items like age verification or other legal verification, then you’re okay. It’s only those that are mainly ad-driven pop-ups that keep the user from having the best experience imaginable who are affected by this.

This doesn’t mean add an age verification with an ad attached to it. Don’t try to trick the engines; it doesn’t work and can lead to an even worse penalty (i.e. your tactics could be viewed as “black hat” and have the possibility to lead to manual penalties…which are hard to bounce back from).

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Examples of interstitials that would not be affected by the new signal (if used responsibly)

What does all this mean?

This update is a big one that will affect any mobile site, regardless of your industry or vertical. The trend towards mobile use is trending upward and will soon overshadow desktop use. That being said, this update is made more important because the search engines are noticing the same trend. Google also announced that it’ll be shifting to a “mobile-first” index, meaning that the search engine will consider the mobile ranking above the desktop ranking. So, if you’re penalized from the mobile interstitial update, your overall ranking in the SERPs will likely be affected.

Don’t forget, though, that user intent is still very strong. Content is still king. You’ll perhaps be able to keep a high ranking if the content is great and relevant, which is what you should be aiming for anyway.

And before I go, here are a few recommendations for this search engine shift to mobile:

  • It is imperative that you consider removing intrusive interstitials.
  • Ensure your content is highly relevant and optimized (especially for mobile) to prepare for the “mobile-first” index update.
  • Repurpose content that is “message-specific” into a banner that uses a reasonable amount of screen space, rather that placing it in an intrusive interstitial.
  • Don’t forget, your legal and technical needs (age verification, cookie usage, etc) will not be impacted by this update.