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All You Need To Know About Google’s Pop-Up/ Interstitial Ads Update4 min read

4 min read

On January 10th, Google announced a new update to their algorithms. They have said that ‘pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.’ In a nutshell, this is mainly aimed at interstitial ads (pop ups), which can slow a page down and be very intrusive to the user.

Google’s core aim is to help users find the most relevant and informative answers their queries. And recently their focus has been on making sure this remains the case regardless of the device people are using, placing an emphasis on the need to improve mobile sites. This mini update is just another way of working towards their goal of a better overall user experience on mobile devices.

But, before you go checking your rankings and traffic for any sudden drops, keep in mind that impact may not be seen immediately. As with any update from Google, it is better to be safe than sorry so it is important to consider the impact the update could have on your site and make the relevant changes.

What are interstitial ads?

Interstitial ads are basically popups, or anything intrusive that stops people easily reading the content of a page. Have you ever landed on a homepage and left the site almost immediately because you felt overwhelmed with popups or ads? This can understandably be very frustrating for people browsing the web who want a quick, smooth, stress-free experience.

It’s like walking into a shop and having a shop assistant wave a huge banner in your face. It’s not what you entered the shop to see. It’s important to note that there are some exceptions to the rule, including popups that are legally required or there for ethical reasons. Examples Google has given of this include legally required age verification blockers and cookie consent notifications.



What have Google said about this update?

Google posted a little note on their blog, mentioning that starting today, ‘pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.’ Like we mentioned earlier, there’s no reason to panic, as this ‘new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking and the intent of the search query is still a very strong signal.’

Key takeaways

Here’s the essential info you need to know and steps you may want to take following this update.

  • Any pop up, unless legally needed (e.g. age verification, cookie policy or log in), whether an ad or not, will be considered intrusive and thus a potential penalisation by Google
  • Having said that, Google has made it clear that “intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content”

It’s probably a sensible idea to get rid of all pop-ups that aren’t needed, and those that are should be changed to a banner, but ensure this banner still doesn’t take up too much of the page. The smaller the popup or banner the better as it’s less intrusive to the user. They have said that pages with banners that only use a reasonable amount of screen space won’t be affected.

Avoid having popups or banners that are hard to close or get rid of.

Currently Google is even considering language-selection popups as intrusive so best to change your approach to displaying market / language selection for users coming on to potentially the ‘wrong’ ccTLD.

Avoid where possible having interstitials that appear in the user’s way without them opting in.

Site owners may want to obtain a mobile usability report and try the mobile-friendly test to evaluate how mobile friendly their site is.

For now, Google only seems to be targeting popups on the first page a user lands on from the search results. They aren’t so worried about popups deeper into the site, but, this could easily change. So it’s probably best to evaluate the usefulness and intrusiveness of popups sitewide.

Google have given some examples of popups that make content less accessible to a user to help site owners understand more about this problem. This includes popups that hide the main content, it doesn’t matter whether it does this when they first land on the page, or later on whilst they are browsing the site.

It also includes ‘displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content’. And lastly, opting for a website design 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.’

So, with all this in mind, it’s time to check the pop ups your site is displaying if any, and think very carefully about whether the value they are adding is worth the risk. When we say ‘risk’, we mean the risk of Google penalising your site, but also the risk of your loyal site visitors getting annoyed and leaving your site. If you need any further clarification of this issue, feel free to get in touch with our SEO experts at Croud.