Google Wants You to Improve Your Mobile Website. Will You Do It?

Contributor, September 20, 2016

If you’re a publisher that features in-page interstitials or pop-up ads on your mobile inventory, 4Q ‘16 might be the right time to reconsider your current mobile strategy.

On August 23, 2016, Google announced changes to their search algorithm policy which will demote mobile pages that feature intrusive interstitials and pop-ups which potentially prevent a user from accessing content on the website. This change is scheduled to come into effect on January 10th, 2017 and will significantly affect the SEM activity on the mobile pages.

Google’s intention with the interstitial and pop-up pivot appears to be aimed to influence publishers to improve the mobile experience for their end-users. Considering that SEO plays an important role in driving traffic to mobile sites, Google is banking on publishers to take action and make their mobile sites easier to navigate for users coming over from a Google search result.


Industry Reaction

According to The Verge, a leading online outlet for technology and innovation, despite Google’s intention to demote webpages for these specific practices, there may not be a clear causation between featuring website pop-ups and eventual lower search rankings. “There are a “hundreds of signals” that go into Google’s search result rankings, so it’s not like every (web)site that uses these ads will feel (be) pressured to remove them overnight,” commented journalist Jacob Kastrenakes. The author went on to add that if a site with a pop-up still has the best information and content, it is probable that the page will still appear in the first search results.

Reddit users displayed mixed reactions to the news as user responses ranged from negative to positive on the subject.

  • “Though I love the sentiment behind the decision, I’m not at all comfortable with Google acting like the internet police,” VehaMeursault
  • “Google’s ads don’t literally get between you and what you wish to see (except for youtube vids), forcing you to take an action to get rid of them. Google’s ads are all over, but they’re not as obnoxious as the ads the article is referring to,” Kthulu666
  • “(Google) run a search engine, and their goal is understanding users’ queries better while using improved algorithms to find websites that best match those queries. It would be absurd to claim theyshouldn’t do this – innovation drives tech progress. And if a particular algorithm update causes certain sites to lose ranking, Google virtually always has guides explaining how impacted sites can become more attractive to the new algorithms,” APeacefulWarrior   



Specific examples of what Google considers to be an intrusive mobile experience


  • 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.



Specific examples of what Google considers to be an effective mobile experience


  • 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.



Looking to the future, publishers may eventually decide to forego implementing Google’s recommended changes to their interstitials or popups because doing so would perhaps limit their current user experience, ad revenue or marketing plans.  For many websites, these pop-ups and interstitials provide important information that informs (EU Cookie Policy), influences (Highlighting Product Sale) and yields an essential result (Age Verification).  Changing the aforementioned points could negatively affect the clarity of the website, their revenue and their business integrity.

Conversely, what we can say is that Google’s decision to motivate publishers to improve their website experience ultimately will be a positive one for users. Google is pushing forward this initiative because it wants to ease the user entrance coming to mobile sites directly from a Google search result. It’s logical that Google would like to reward sites that provide users a clear and concise experience. In the end, it’s good business for Google to provide search results where the user found what they were looking for and didn’t bounce out because of a messy and noisy mobile experience (which perhaps would reflect more negatively on Google than on the noisy website itself).

In the coming years, perhaps this initiative will usher in more ads that blend into the content, i.e., the native ad experience, which could be the next frontier for balancing content and promotion in unison through a non-intrusive presentation on mobile.

Though we will have to wait until January 2017 to see how Google will push down sites for their mobile layout and whether the result will motivate publishers to make the change in order to re-establish their search engine ranking. In the meantime, will we see the end of pop-ups? Probably not. But we can all agree that a push to make pop-ups and intrusive messaging more focused and relevant would be great for everyone’s mobile experience.


If you are considering changing your mobile site and would like consultation, our trained experts at Oraki are available to assist with your team in order to set-up everything. Please feel free to contact us.