Interstitials can hurt your mobile search rankings

This week Google has announced a couple of things relating to mobile search.

First off, Google will be removing the “Mobile Friendly” tag which currently appears next to listings in Google search results shown on mobile devices. The reason behind this is to unclutter search results (because 85% of all pages appearing in Google’s mobile search results are now mobile-friendly.

To be clear – this does NOT mean Google is removing their mobile-friendly criteria (which remain factors used in their overall ranking algorithm). If you want your pages to have a chance of ranking well in Google mobile search results they still must be mobile-friendly.

The other announcement is that, from Jan ’17 onwards, websites using intrusive interstitial pop-ups or screen overlays which obscure page content will take a ranking hit in mobile search results.

The change will affect mobile sites, and only those which have ads that take up an entire screen or otherwise block content wholly. Ads that try to trick you into thinking they are part of the content (like leaving the article header in place with ads below it) are also being targeted.

Below are examples from Google of interstitials that make content less accessible and which they will be targeting.

Bad interstitials Google will penalise a site for in mobile rankings

Some full-screen interstitials won’t be affected. Easily dismissed banners, age verification and login boxes are okay by Google’s standards.

Interstitials that Google is OK with

Why should you care?

As noted above, to ensure your website has a chance of ranking in Google mobile search results then it really must be mobile-friendly. If you want to confirm whether or not your site is mobile-friendly it’s easy to do using Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool.

Forget Google for a moment. Beyond needing to be mobile-friendly for ranking reasons, the real driver for doing this is that having a mobile-friendly website dramatically improves user engagement and conversions.

The same applies to intrusive interstitials which can be a major source of annoyance to users. Most of us get pretty annoyed when we’re reading a webpage to suddenly be interrupted by an advertisement or lead generation form that obscures the content. If it happens too early, many of us will simply hit the back button and go to another competing site, rather than dismiss or take whatever action the interstitial is requesting.

Interstitials, per se, aren’t bad. It’s just how they’re executed that is key.

With the announcement by Google that intrusive interstitials are going to affect mobile rankings from January next year, it’s appropriate to examine how your site uses them. And, if necessary, amend them to keep Google – and more importantly – visitors, happy.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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