Confirmed: Google rolls out mobile intrusive interstitial penalties

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Six months ago, Google warned the public that it would be rolling out penalties for intrusive mobile interstitials. On January 10th 2017, they announced that this update was now officially in place. For anyone operating a mobile-ready website, this is an update that may affect you, depending on how you’ve used ‘pop-ups’ in the past. Mediaworks’ Head of Search, Kev Strong, walks you through what the update means.

What is an interstitial?

The loose definition of an interstitial is an advertisement that appears when a chosen website or page is loaded.

For Google, specifically, the interstitial is any large pop-up that occurs when a user lands on a page straight from mobile search results. However, not all styles of interstitial are affected – with age verification pop-ups and cookie reminders exempt from the penalty. The following types will be affected:

  • Pop-ups that cover main content, whether this is immediately after landing on the page from the search engine results panel (SERPS), or while you’re looking around that page.
  • A standalone interstitial that a user has to dismiss before landing on the main page.
  • A layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been in-lined underneath the fold.

The images below show examples of unacceptable interstitials.

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Conversely, these types of interstitial will not be affected:

  • Interstitials that appear as a result of a legal obligation such as age verification or cookie usage.
  • Log in pop-ups that appear when the content behind it is not publicly indexable. This could include content such as email or content behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible – such as app install banners on Safari and Chrome.

The images below show examples of acceptable interstitials.

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What happens to sites using interstitials

Like other penalties, this update will change how a site’s rankings are affected. This means sites using the unsuitable interstitials will suffer a drop in rankings. Your page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content – but providing any kind of barrier to accessing that content from the search results could see your rankings lowered.

Why has this update occurred?

Mobile readiness for Google has always been about getting relevant, useful content in front of users. The update aims to penalise sites that hide the content a user searches for behind some kind of intrusive pop-up. Ultimately, your content should be easily accessible for users who are reaching it from mobile search. This is part of an overarching narrative for Google, who have been pushing webmasters to prize accessible, easy to reach content on mobile devices.

What should you do?

If you own a website, you should already have a mobile-ready version – as we’ve discussed in previous posts.  That mobile ready version should avoid these intrusive interstitials that dominate a page and stop a reader accessing content. If you rank for a phrase, your page should be about that phrase and not obstruct the reader from getting to it.

If you’re planning or building websites, keep in mind that an interstitial can harm any attempt to build rankings to certain mobile pages. Make content the core of your page design – focusing on ease of use, readability and accessibility.

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