By Sam Gaunt | Marketing Manager

Google to Penalise Intrusive Interstitials on Mobile from January 2017.
In line with their continued efforts towards enhancing the mobile search experience, Google will be introducing a penalty on intrusive interstitials.

Tell me if you've been here before - you're after a bit of retail therapy, eagerly clicked on an online retailer, only to be rudely interrupted by a popup forcing you to sign up and to declare your undying love for their newsletters before proceeding. 

And of course, that elusive 'X' button is always lurking in the shadows, making it ever-so-tricky to dismiss the popup. That's 10 seconds of your life you're never getting back. Queue frustrated sigh.

Practicology's benchmark report on Australian retailers shows mobile and tablet traffic now makes up to just over 66% of all sessions (October 2016). That's a whopping amount to consider if your business is focussing on driving mobile conversions.

With their continual emphasis on a mobile-first experience, Google has now announced a new mobile ranking update that will put intrusive interstitials under scrutiny. As of January 10, 2017, Google will be ramping up the penalisation of web pages that have problematic interstitials which detract from the user's mobile search experience.

Catalysing a frustrating and poor user experience, web pages that use intrusive interstitials will likely see drops within their mobile rankings.  

Is my site safe?

Google defines an interstitial as being intrusive if the 'content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results'. If that's the case, you may have a problematic intrusive interstitial on your hands.

Examples of intrusive interstitials include:

  • Popups that cover the main content, either immediately or while navigating through a page
  • Standalone interstitials that require a user to dismiss it before gaining access to the main content
  • Using inline interstitials where a user must scroll below-the-fold to access the main content

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However, with any case, there are some exclusions, including:

Legal obligation popups including cookie usage or age verification
Login dialogs with non-indexable content
Banners that take up a reasonable amount of screen space and can easily be dismissed

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What does this mean for ecommerce?

Ecommerce is a common place for use of interstitials from newsletter signups to promotional activity. With these new rules, there are new measures and rules that ecommerce stores will need to consider when designing a website. 

  • Newsletter signups - interstitials prompting users to sign up for newsletter will be deemed as intrusive
  • Promotional popups - interstitials that take over the full screen, often used to call out promotions, will be penalised as being intrusive.
  • Language/Country Selection (Welcome Mats) - interstitials that prompt users to select their language or country will be deemed as an intrusive interstitial. Despite this being a popular solution for e-tailers looking to expand internationally, Google does not recommend this methodology for pointing users to the right site and will be penalised accordingly.

What does this mean? 

In an age with bountiful technology right at our fingertips, we should be leveraging it to deliver users a personalised experience.  While there is no denying that popups and overlays have a successful track record of gaining more signups, marketers should be wary of using quick win tactics. 

On a review of Welcome Mats used for international shopping, Practicology's internal studies showed less than 5% of users were changing the default setting. We then tested the performance of removing the Welcome Mats and found engagement rates increased across the board. 

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Google's priorities are to help drive a more positive user experience and firmly believe that the removal of these popups will remove the jarring experience. They want you to respect the user by providing a positive user experience rather than pushing agendas that could leave people disgruntled.

In response to the update, some examples of best practices for integration of email signup, promotions, and welcome mats include:

  • Email signups - anchoring the popup to the bottom 1/3 of the viewport and making it easily dismissible.
  • Promotions - use sticky banners that are sticky in the header.
  • Welcome mats - Google generally recommends using multi-regional and multilingual sites as a best practice for optimal results. Quick fixes that require welcome mats should be designed similar to the sign up anchoring only 1/3 of the viewport and easily dismissible.

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Takeaways

SEO Implications

  • Penalties will be issued on a page level and on mobile devices only. Penalties will involve a ranking drop for that page.
  • Using welcome mats and geo-IP redirects to direct international visitors is strongly discouraged and therefore will likely be penalised. This is less of an issue if a site uses welcome mats to assist international shopping but does not rely on Organic to drive traffic.

Design Implications

  • Keep content accessible by anchoring pop-ups to the bottom of the viewport and ensure it is no larger than 1/3 of the viewport.
  • Close button should be very clear and easy for the user to see.

User Implications

  • An enhanced and less intrusive mobile search experience.
  • Increased engagement rates.

So let's wrap it up. Play by the rules, do your dues and Google will thank you (fingers crossed, maybe even reward you). Your mobile customers will undoubtedly be forever grateful too.

For any additional insights on this upcoming Google update, we'd love to hear your thoughts!

If you would like Practicology to review your current customer experience and engagement strategy please contact us today.