Mobile Interstitials: How Do You Comply with Google’s Latest Guidance?

Google has sought for years to impact the quality of the mobile user search and browse experience.

Google’s open-source Android mobile operating system now commands a greater than 80% share of the global market.

Two years ago, the company began favoring responsive websites, those that scale appropriately for mobile and tablet screens, in its search results. Today, Google reports that more than 85% of websites meet its mobile-friendly criteria. Google even offers a free tool you can use to test the mobile friendliness of your site.

This year, Google is promoting Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), another open source project that uses techniques like simplified coding and caching to produce pages that load faster on mobile devices. The screenshot at right shows two examples of AMP listings Google featured prominently among the results from a recent search for “Chicago Blackhawks Winter Classic” on a smartphone.

So what mobile-friendly trick does Google have up its sleeve next?

Well, the company has those annoying content-interrupting screens known as “interstitials” squarely in its sights.

In an August blog post, Google said,

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. 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.

So, while interstitials are also disruptive to the user experience on desktop devices, Google is limiting its focus to interstitials on mobile sites for now.

Google has identified three types of interstitials that will begin incurring mobile ranking penalties in January. In short, in interstitial is a page or screen that prevents or delays the user from accessing the expected content. It is a replacement for the popups that most browsers now block. At right is an example.

Digital marketers who need to promote offers, convert app downloads and generate leads through signup forms will miss these tools.

Nonetheless, Google is right. Getting rid of these intrusions will improve the user experience. And Google has indicated that certain interstitials will not be affected by its new ranking signal:

  1. Those presented to fulfill a legal obligation, like disclosing cookie usage or verifying the user’s age.
  2. Login dialogs for content that isn’t publicly indexed.
  3. Smaller banners that are easily dismissed.

So how are companies responding to the need for an improved mobile user experience? The good news is, if you survey a large sampling of mobile sites, you’ll find that a small number actually continue to use offending interstitials. As you might expect, it isn’t easy to determine whether this is due to a simple interest in providing a pleasant user experience or a desire to get ahead of Google’s algorithm change.

Meanwhile, many companies are finding creative ways to take advantage of guideline No. 3 above. Let’s look at the approaches some Chicago-area companies have taken to communicating important messages without risking an SEO downgrade.

Cars.com

The app install prompt pushes the rest of the page down minimally and offers an easy way to dismiss it. Well done.

Dialog Tech

The bottom-edge ROI calculator offer is attention-grabbing while being reasonably sized and easily closed. Perfect.

Signal

An eBook offer has historically been a common interstitial. In this case, it works fine as a small, closeable popup at the top of the screen.

Community Tax

The chat offer at the bottom of the screen is an interesting tactic. The headshot and combination of shapes makes it stand out without being oversized. Google would probably like to see a dismiss button added.

Basecamp

Another small bottom-of-screen offer, this time for a free trial. This one doesn’t appear until you reach the fold. Again, Google has expressed a preference for sites that provide a way to dismiss the offer.

You can see that some Chicago-area companies are no longer using intrusive interstitials while still managing to highlight important offers.

Once Google has perfected this algorithm change, what happens next?

Acknowledging that mobile now represents the majority of user searches, Google has announced it is working on mobile-first indexing. This algorithm change requires extensive testing, so the company hasn’t indicated when it might take effect. Suffice it to say, it will be another important step in Google’s quest to perfect the mobile user experience.

Bill Winn manages web content for San Diego AMA and works as a digital marketer with Inseev Interactive, a San Diego performance agency.

 

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