Google is now officially penalizing intrusive interstitial popups on mobile

Wondering what an interstitial is? This is a term used to describe pages that interrupt or block the content you’re trying to reach by displaying an overlying message. You will often see this technique used online to collect email addresses or show an advertisement to visitors on the first page they view. The obvious goal here is to bring something important to a user’s attention in a way they cannot miss. While this is great in theory, the common side effect is frustrating your users.

We generally do not recommend using interstitials because of the frustration factor associated, however, they can be quite effective if you need to build an email list, increase sign-ups for events, or promote a particular product or service.

About the Penalty

Aside from treating your users right, there is now another good defense against using interstitials. Google has confirmed they have begun rolling out an intrusive interstitial penalty on mobile search as of January 10th. This penalty is targeted at interstitials that happen directly after clicking through from a Google mobile result page. It sounds like this will not affect interstitials that happen after a user navigates to a second page. So in theory, you could potentially keep your interstitial but show on the second page a user views to avoid the penalty.

What types of interstitials will be impacted?

The image below from Google visually shows the types of interstitials that will be impacted.

They include:

  • Showing a popup that covers the 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.

Are there any types that won’t be impacted?

The image below shows 3 types that will not be impacted if used responsibly by website owners.

They include:

  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. The app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

What should I do if I’m at risk?

If you are currently using an interstitial that you think could put you at risk, you’re welcome to contact our online marketing department and we can analyze it for you. In most cases, you will be able to compare the content to one of the illustrated examples above from Google to get an idea of how to proceed.

I am using an interstitial that is at risk. How do I fix it?

The best solution would be to remove it entirely to mitigate the risk. If that is not an option or not something you would like to do, there are a few ideas below:

  • Only show your interstitial to desktop users – You can identify the platform your user is on and only show the interstitial to desktop users. The penalty announced is only for mobile users and mobile search so you can continue to use your interstitial on desktop for now. Alternatively, Google has announced that it will be migrating to a mobile search index, so when that happens the penalty will likely affect your desktop version anyway.
  • Move your interstitial to the second page a user visits. This will allow you to capture information from engaged users without annoying those that aren’t.
  • Look at an alternative type of interstitial that fits within the compliance requirements. Better yet, look at an alternative method of sharing the information with your users by making it part of the website experience.

The important takeaway from this article is that it is time to take action. If you’re using an interstitial on your website it is time to look at another solution as soon as possible so as to avoid the penalty.

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