Google To Punish Sites That Use Interstitial Pages And Popups

InterstitialIf you’re an ordinary web user, you might wonder why so many websites are intent on annoying you with modal popups and interstitial ads. The answer is simple: they work. A signup box in a modal popup will collect more email addresses than a sign-up box sitting in a sidebar. Interstitial ads — those full-page adverts on sites like Forbes — get more clicks than banner ads.

They work, but they also create a terrible user experience — particularly on mobile. When a user clicks on a link, they want the content, not a “unique opportunity to sign-up” to yet another self-serving newsletter. Even though I understand why website use these attention grabbing techniques, as a writer, I avoid linking to sites that use them because I don’t want to annoy the people who read this blog.

Google feels the same way. It doesn’t want to send its users to sites that block content, particularly on mobile where the experience of interstitials and popups is even more disruptive than on the desktop. To that end, at the beginning of next year, Google will introduce a negative ranking signal to reduce the prominence of such sites.

To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.

To be clear, sites that use interstitials won’t be kicked out of the SERPs, but their ranking potential will be degraded. All else being equal, a site with an interstitial ad will rank less well than a similar site without.

What exactly does Google object to?

  • Popups that obscure content
  • Interstitials — pages that load before the requested content with advertising
  • Large above-the-fold elements that do the same thing as an interstitial page

Google says that it won’t apply the signal to legally required interstitials like cookie-permission requests. It also encourages the use of small banners — like Google Chrome’s app install banners — as long as they don’t take up too much screen real estate. Of course, all of that relies on Google correctly identifying “good” interstitials.

From a user’s perspective, this is a positive move. Interstitials are annoying and popups often more so. But, in an online economy where sites are struggling to find sources of revenue to keep afloat, I can understand why site owners and publishers are none-too-keen. And then there’s the issue of Google using its power as the dominant search provider to put pressure on site owners to build the web Google wants to see.

What do you think? Will you be happy to see the demise of interstitials. Do you intend to ignore Google and stick with the popups?

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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