Google Threatens to Punish Websites with “Intrusive Interstitials” Adverts

Google has warned mobile sites that serve what it refers to as “intrusive” full-page ads. It will do so by pushing these pages down its mobile search rankings. In a blog, the company warned publishers of pages containing interstitials. It states that these ads create poor user experience, especially because of the small sizes of mobile device screens.

Google says that pages whose content is hard for a user to access when transitioning from search results will rank lower effective 10 January 2017.

Popups covering the main content of a page are examples of such ad formats that Google will target. Standalone interstitial ads, that users have to dismiss in order to access the content of the page, also fall under Google’s new criteria.

Google will penalize these web pages, a move that effectively lowers their rankings on the search engine’s result pages. In the statement, Google announced lower rankings for all pages where users have a hard time accessing content during the transition from results pages.

Problematic Interstitials

The following are examples of the types of interstitials that Google says are problematic for its users.

  • Pages that show popups that cover the page’s main content immediately after a user’s navigation from the search engine results pages or during the time that a user spends on the page.
  • Pages that display standalone ads or interstitials where typical users have to close for them to access the page’s main content.
  • Pages that use layouts in which above-the-fold portions appear similar to the particular standalone interstitial but the page’s original content is inlined under the fold.

Interstitials That Will Not Be Penalized by Google

While making the announcement, Google issued a list of three interstitial types that will not be penalized by the new requirement if owners use them responsibly. They are as follows.

  • Use of these on login dialogs on websites whose content is not in public indexes. An example here is private content like un-indexable content or email behind a paywall.
  • Interstitial ads that look like they respond to legal obligations like age verifications and cookie usage.
  • Pages where banners use little or reasonable screen space amounts and are easy for users to dismiss. Examples here are the app installation banners that Chrome and Safari provides. These use reasonable screen spaces.

Google believes these ads are intrusive and lead to poor user experience. Typically, users are forced to view these ads as they search for the X icon that closes them down. Starting January 10 2017, sites running ads that obscure their content will rank lower than before.

This new decision hopes to increase the user experience on most mobile devices. Google seeks to favor sites whose content is not overtaken by ads as users open pages from the search results. That Google favors the general mobile experience is not a secret. Last year, the search engine overhauled its algorithm to boost mobile-friendly websites.

However, only the most annoying interstitials will be penalized when this change takes effect. For example, websites and pages that request users to verify their ages (read alcohol) brands will not be punished. Similarly, sites that administer cookie usage disclosure with pop-up ads and whose ads use reasonable amounts of screen spaces are safe.

The following are examples of situations that increase poor user experience.

  • Popups that cover main content immediately or during a user’s time on a page.
  • Standalone ads that users have to dismiss to access main content
  • Layouts where standalone interstitials resemble above-the-fold portions but have original content in-lined under the fold
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