How Google’s Intrusive Interstitial Update Will Affect Small Business Owners

How Google’s Intrusive Interstitial Update Will Affect Small Business Owners

January 27, 2017 social media marketing 0

If you’re a small business owner using pop-ups on your site, listen up. This post is for you.

On January 10, 2017, Google rolled out a new algorithm update, known informally as the “Intrusive Interstitial Ad” update, which penalizes websites that display disruptive pop-ups to their mobile users.

Designed to make the web a more pleasant place for people using small screens, the I.I. update will have far-reaching impacts on thousands of small-business sites across the internet.

Here’s what you need to know about this update, and how it might affect your company.

How the Intrusive Interstitial Update Began

On in August of last year, Search Engine Land published an article outlining Google’s plans to “begin cracking down on ‘intrusive interstitials.'” While the announcement was surprising to some, the move was a natural extension of Google’s mission to make the web more mobile-friendly.

On August 23, 2016, Google admins published a post on the Webmaster Central Blog breaking down their reasoning for the update. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

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.

As you can see, the I.I. was designed to benefit mobile users, and understandably so. Right now, 80% of internet users own smartphones, and 48% of all consumers begin their online research on a mobile platform. Today, upwards of 60% of all Google searches are initiated from mobile devices. As if that weren’t enough, 2015 was also the first year that mobile search overtook desktop search.

This rise of mobile platforms shows no signs of reversing. As such, Google is doing everything in its power to accommodate it. The Intrusive Interstitial ad is just one more way of furthering that mission.

Which Pop-Ups Will be Affected?

There are a few important things to know about the I.I. update. The first is that not all pop-ups will be affected. In its original blog post, Google made it clear that sites featuring pop-up ads that “make content less accessible” will be punished, while pop-ups that are “used responsibly” won’t be penalized.

So what does that mean? Here are some examples of ads that will be affected.

Intrusive Interstitial Update

As a general rule, the pop-ups that are at risk with this update are the ones that do the following:

  • Cover the main content. This can take place either right after a user lands on the page from Google’s search results, or while they’re browsing through the page.
  • Force the reader to dismiss them before accessing main content. These pop-ups make main content “difficult to access” and will be punished.
  • Use the above-the-fold portion of the page to mimic a standalone interstitial. In these formats, the original content is inlined beneath the fold.
  • Bother people. Anything that’s bothersome or annoying is likely considered an intrusive ad and will be punished.
  • Pops up without interaction. Anything that pops up before the user clicks, scrolls, or navigates the page in any way is considered an intrusive interstitial.

Here are some real-life examples of each.

This pop-up covers the main content:

This pop-up forces users to dismiss it before being able to interact with the main content:

And this pop-up mimics a standalone interstitial in the above-the-fold portion of the page:

Now, a note about these examples: they’re all from incredibly high-quality websites (one is even from the digital guru, Tim Ferriss), so even the pros are guilty of these mistakes.

That said, though, they’re all in danger of being punished by Google’s new algorithm update.

Are There Pop-Ups That Won’t be Affected?

Yes. While most pop-ups are annoying and intrusive, some serve a genuine purpose, and Google knows this. Here’s the search engine’s breakdown of the pop-ups that are “used responsibly” and won’t be affected.

Intrusive Interstitial Update

Pop-ups that are in the clear during this update are the ones that do the following things:

  • Fulfill a legal obligation. These include pop-ups that appear to verify age or disclose cookie usage.
  • Pop-ups that ask for login information. If you’re trying to access content that’s behind a paywall and a pop-up appears to ask you for your information, that site isn’t at risk of being penalized by this update.
  • Banners that use “a reasonable amount of space.” If they don’t take up much room and are easy to dismiss, pop-ups are still okay.

Here are some real-life examples of each of these pop-ups.

This one fulfills a legal obligation. In this case, it’s age verification:

And this is a small pop-up that uses a reasonable amount of space and is easy to dismiss:

3 Tips to Avoid Pop-Up Penalties

If you’ve been using pop-ups, and you’re wondering how to navigate the intrusive interstitial update and avoid Google penalties, here are a few steps you can take to keep your site safe:

1. Update Your Display Targeting Rules

For now, the I.I. update only affects mobile sites. Bear in mind, though, that if you have a “desktop-only” site, Google will rank it as a mobile site. With this in mind, protect yourself from penalties by using your targeting rules only to display your pop-ups on larger screens or desktop displays.

2. Don’t Use Pop-Ups

The dilemma here, of course, is that pop-ups can be hugely useful for boosting engagement and conversions. Unfortunately, it’s time to find a new method to fulfill the same purpose. One great way to have your cake and eat it, too, is to use smaller, alternate display messages, like banners or inlines. You can also use quality landing page content to drive conversions and boost engagement.

These simple displays serve the same purposes as pop-ups, without having such a negative impact on user experience. Things like the Hello Bar (posted in the headline portion of your site) are still okay and won’t be punished by this update.

3. If you must use pop-ups, keep them small

Remember, pop-ups that take up a small amount of space and are fully responsive (meaning they can easily be dismissed by readers on small screens) are still okay.

Not sure whether your pop-up is permissible or not? Ask yourself if it will bother the user, make the process of getting to your main content much longer, or turn them off of your page. If the answer is yes, take it down and opt for something else, instead.

The Future of Pop-Up Advertising

While pop-up ads have been working well for marketers for years, customers have wanted them gone for quite some time. In fact, we’ve entered the “ad blocking age” over the last few years.

Today, the world’s most popular ad block extension has more than 500 million users, and 64% of consumers say pop-up ads are intrusive or annoying.

When you think about pop-up ads from the user’s standpoint, it’s clear that Google’s I.I. update is aimed at making the web a less intrusive and more enjoyable place for the growing droves of mobile searchers.

While this does present something for marketers to navigate around, it’s just one more update that illustrates the current direction of marketing: away from pushy, sales-driven tactics and towards symbiotic, value-driven relationships.


Ashley is the Founder of Proline Creative. Before starting Proline, she worked in educational content creation, print journalism, and as a Content Strategist and SME for two of the largest content marketing firms on the web. Today, she works with SMBs and startups to create quality online content on a one-to-one basis.

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