Sites using page-covering pop-up ads and sign-up forms are to be de-ranked by Google in the new year. Intrusive pop-up ads – named ‘intrusive interstitials’ – are to be heavily penalised by Google. In January 2017, Google will be lowering the rankings for sites that include invasive advertising that, in their own words, “can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

The ‘mobile friendly’ ecosystem has grown to the point where, according to Google, 85% of content on the web is now mobile friendly. This is no surprise, as back in 2015 Google recorded more mobile searches being made than desktop ones. The ‘mobile friendly’ label will now be removed, even though mobile friendliness will continue to be a major part of Google’s ranking algorithm.

So what are Intrusive Interstitials?

Intrusive Interstitials are page-covering popup adverts, usually a signup form, advert or video. These are problematic as they restrict mobile users where screens are smaller.  When huge parts of your audience are mobile users, obscuring your own content becomes an issue for Google’s ranking system. These interstitials can include:

  1. A popup obscuring the page’s main content, either as they click-through to the landing page from search results, or while they are navigating that page;
  2. A popup-like barrier that a user has to dismiss before they can access the page’s content;
  3. Layouts that mimic a welcome mat, making the user scroll past an above-the-fold graphic before they can read the page.

In short, they generally provide a poorer experience for the user, especially on mobile devices.  We’ve all been subjected to some page-covering advert or signup form which can deter users from viewing the original content. It is irritating for users and so not surprising Google is tackling it in this way.

Are there any exceptions or ways around it?

Yes and no. Google won’t get rid of interstitials completely. There are a number of exceptions, but these aren’t workarounds from the ‘old  methods’. Google’s exception list is as follows:

  1. Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification;
  2. 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;
  3. Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissable. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome.

So while there are exceptions, it’s vital to remember that basic SEO rules still apply to high rankings and being on Google’s good side. Strong on-page-SEO and having content easily findable, searchable and most importantly, valuable and worth reading are all feathers in your Google rankings cap.

I was getting on just fine with popups. What’s the issue?

The problem is that Google ranks and indexes content of pages, yet the end user can’t read it as soon as they land on the page. Google is cracking down on this for mobile users as it’s much more likely they’ll accidently play a video or click on an ad whilst trying to dismiss a popup. Google is simplifying mobile search results to make sure the best, most-readable content is ranked highest.


What does this mean?

In the race to gather as much analytical information as possible, web developers will now have to start thinking outside of the box to enhance the user experience – and where they’re going to start storing all those signup forms.

This doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to signup forms as part of this change. Keep signup forms on your site in the footer will be the best way to ensure you get signup details from mobile users, and prevent rankings loss.