Google is slamming sites with intrusive mobile pop ups

1st September, 2016 - 4 minutes read

In a pretty lengthy blog post, Doantam Phan – a Product Manager in the Google Search team – outlined how Google intends to further improve user experience on mobile.

The first update isn’t a huge one, but it’s pretty significant to see how quickly things have shifted in under two years. In November 2014, Google added a label to sites it considered mobile friendly in a move widely known (in hyperbolic terms) as “Mobilegeddon”.

That label is now being removed as Google have “recently found that 85% of all pages in the mobile search results now meet this criteria and show the mobile-friendly label”.

Nice work, internet.

Intrusive ads on mobile will be penalised

The second update is much bigger.

Following a move in September 2015 to penalise mobile sites that serve up full page ‘use our app instead ads’, Google have decided that sites that have any intrusive pop ups on mobile will be heavily penalised. The update comes in to place on 10th January, 2017. How heavily penalised is unknown at this point…but Google’s incredibly passive aggressive warning is that they “may not rank as highly”.

What does Google consider to be intrusive? Well, pretty much anything that fits the form of an interstitial. In layman’s terms that’s any kind of ad or pop up that blocks the expected content on that page.

Google’s given some examples:

– Showing a 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.

– Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.

– Using a 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.

IMAGE: GOOGLE

IMAGE: GOOGLE

The good news is that the update won’t affect some interstitials, mainly ones that have legal implications or don’t take up huge amounts of the screen:

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

– 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.

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

IMAGE: GOOGLE

IMAGE: GOOGLE

The sites hit hardest will be ones that rely on pop ups to generate ad revenue. As Emma Hinchliffe of Mashable points out, “many publishers use pop-up ads that require the user to answer a question, skip ahead to the main page or scroll past a half-screen ad on both desktop and mobile”.

What can you do to avoid being penalised?

Improving user experience is the key reason Google are doing this. So the best way to avoid it is easy: remove any pop up ads on mobile. If, like publishers, you’re reliant on pop ups for ad revenue then find another, more user friendly way of displaying ads. You can still feature ads on your mobile site but don’t force them on users as intrusive pop ups.

Sounds easy but user experience still isn’t top of people’s lists…but Google will keep making sure it is.


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