There’s a new penalty coming in January of 2017 from the search engine giant. While it may sound like a rare and deadly condition acquired from eating undercooked beef, intrusive interstitials will be potentially lethal only to your website’s traffic.
Google revealed its latest news on interstitials in an innocuous-sounding blog post entitled “Helping Users Easily Access Content on Mobile.” The penalty on intrusive interstitials, or pop-ups, is another change affecting search engine rankings.
Like this latest move, Google has made other algorithm changes to improve user experience of the search function. In 2014 it added a label to mobile-friendly pages, indicating those sites with content that’s optimized for mobile. Mobile-friendly websites have text that is readable without zooming or horizontal scrolling, and links are spaced enough apart to avoid tapping incorrectly.
Two years later and Google has removed the label now that 85% of mobile search results are already optimized for mobile, while continuing to apply mobile-specific ranking criteria. Two years ago they also began boosting rankings for sites that use HTTPS encryption in an effort to improve security for users.
What’s an Intrusive Interstitial, exactly?
Google will suppress rankings by punishing sites that publish annoying pop-ups. This includes anything that pops up between the beginning and end of an article that blocks immediate access to site content and forces interaction with the screen. It also includes intrusive ads that come at the beginning of the article, pushing the content further down the page.
So far, it appears this will affect only mobile applications where the interruption to the screen is much greater. In its post, Google gave these three examples of intrusive interstitials:
- A pop-up that covers the main content, such as a full-page ad. This could occur immediately after navigating from search results to a page or while looking at the page.
- A standalone interstitial that needs to be dismissed before getting to the main content. Many sites currently have interstitial email captures that will have to go.
- A layout on the screen that’s above-the-fold and looks like it’s an interstitial, with the remaining original content underneath the fold. An example is when the top portion of every page or post has a large email capture or promotion.
What this means is there’s more to pop-ups than just the technology, which is why in the post, Google used the pop-up term twice and used interstitials eight times. According to Wikipedia, “interstitials are web pages displayed before or after an expected content page, often to display advertisements or confirm the user’s age (prior to showing age-restricted material).”
The goal is to make sure your visitor sees the searched-for content right away when on mobile devices. No blocking, no scrolling, no having to find and press an “X” or a “No Thanks” button.
When are pop-ups okay to use?
There are exceptions, however, to Google’s new penalty. Your site will remain unaffected by the new algorithmic signal if “used responsibly,” where the end result for users is an unobstructed path to content on mobile devices.
Here are three exceptions to what Google considers disruptive to the user experience:
- A response to a legal obligation. This could be cookie usage for age verification on a liquor company site.
- Login dialogs on content that isn’t publicly indexable, such as email other content behind a paywall.
- Banners that take up a “reasonable amount” of space on the screen. An example is the app install banners used by Chrome and Safari.
There are two alternative pop-ups that are still okay to use, both which are not displayed immediately. One is the two step pop-up. This is when the pop-up only appears if the visitor clicks on a call-to-action placed on the site. The second is exit intent pop-ups. The pop-up is only shown when the visitor moves to click on the back button. Sometimes this doesn’t work on mobile devices because it pops up at the wrong time, so it should be tested out.
As you read this, software programs are undoubtedly being written to help business owners tackle this new issue. Call your web hosting company if you need assistance, or attempt to handle it yourself with a new plugin.
What does it mean for businesses? In order to avoid losing any SEO traffic, it’s important to figure out other ways to make money that don’t disrupt mobile user experience.
51% of digital media takes place on mobile devices, with an average of three hours of internet use a day per adult user, versus less than one hour a day just five years ago. Instead of invasive pop-ups that will lower your SEO, create content that will draw visitors to your site. Give them the information they’re searching for and create leads through embedded forms and calls-to-action.