Google Interstitials Penalty Set to Kick-Off in January

Google Interstitials Penalty Set to Kick-Off in January

If you, like me, often get sick and tired of annoying interstitials interrupting your experience whilst browsing on mobile devices, this article is good news for you.  One would have thought glaring limitations on mobile devices, particularly smartphones, such as the relatively small screen sizes that often make it almost impossible to close interstitials without unintentionally navigating to an external page by accidentally clicking on a link, is clear for all to see. Unfortunately, not all webmasters agree that interstitials give users a poor mobile experience, hence the proliferation of interstitials on mobiles that we have today.

It is not often I say this, but thankfully Google is taking sides with the average mobile user. Similar to the introduction of the mobile-friendly label on mobile search result pages, followed by “mobilegeddon” when Google came to the aid of users’ mobile interaction experience, the search engine now wants to discourage website owners from using interstitials that often makes browsing on smartphones and tablet devices less mobile friendly. And guess what? There is good justification for this too as 85% of all pages in mobile search results now meet the mobile-friendly criterion and show the mobile-friendly label.

Consequently, as from Tuesday, January 10, 2017, all mobile sites with intrusive interstitials, where content is present on the page and available to be indexed by search engines but visually obscured to the user, will be hit by the ‘interstitial penalty’. Thus, after January 10, 2017, web pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.

If you are unsure if your site will be affected, below are some examples of acceptable and unacceptable interstitial techniques.

Examples of unacceptable interstitial techniques

Example 1: Intrusive Pop Ups

An intrusive 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.

Example 2: Standalone Interstitial

Standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.

Example 3: Intrusive Standalone Interstitial

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.

Examples of acceptable interstitial techniques

Example 1: Interstitial for Cookie Usage

Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage.

Example 2: Interstitial for Age Verification or Login Dialogs

Age verification or login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable such as email or unindexable content behind a paywall.

Example 3: Banners that use Reasonable Amount of Screen Space

Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app installs banners provided by Safari and Chrome.

To avoid being affected, webmasters will have to improve the mobile search experience of their websites. However, note that as always, Google maintains that the interstitial signal or algorithm is still one of the hundreds of signals that the search engine uses in the determination of ranking positions. So, websites that meet this criterion but still perform poorly in other areas such as relevant content, citations, and so on, may still rank poorly.

Therefore, the important point is to continue to focus on the quality of your website and improve its mobile experience at the same time. To ensure that your web pages pass Google’s mobile-friendly test, you can use the mobile usability report in Search Console to evaluate your site.

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