Google announced that on January 10, 2017 they are going to lower the mobile search ranking of sites with interstitial ads popping up in front of content. This is something that many mobile searchers will applaud and many publishers will not be too happy about.
"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," posted Google Product Manager Doantam Phan . "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."
People have become very upset over intrusive popups on mobile devices because it significantly degrades the user experience. "I can't stand all this stuff popping up on my phone," commented Bonnie Akridge. "I wish they would get rid of it all. Much of what I read is already mobile friendly but I get the question box do I want to switch to mobile friendly. All this crap is so flipping annoying. I didn't sign up for this and I hate it being force on me."
An internet marketer had a somewhat different reaction. "I've always hated those popups that come up and block the page (especially on mobile)," stated S. Kyle Davis. "Now it seems that Google has made the use of "interstitials" a ranking point. Good to hear! Of course, any time Google does something like this, the opposite reaction is that it is making things harder for advertisers (thus making it harder for content producers to make money and continue producing content). However, I always hope that it pushes us to find better, less obtrusive and more effective ways to communicate paid messages to audiences."
Although this initially applies to only mobile search rankings, its a reasonable prediction that Google will extend this to desktop rankings as well in the future, effectively killing interstitial and popup advertising on the internet.
"Although the majority of pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users," says Phan. "While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result."
Google specifically does not want sites to show a popup that covers the main content either immediately or delayed, they don't want any ads that have to be closed by the user and they consider large top ads to be effectively the same as an interstitial. So they are going to penalize sites where ads dominate above the fold space.
They did offer exceptions where they won't rank lower sites with interstitials that are a response to a legal obligation such as age verification, are part of a login process or small top banners.
"Remember, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking," said Phan. "The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content."