Google shared some results of some testing it conducted with interstitials. This is of particular interest since the company has indicated using them will likely start impacting your search rankings in a negative way.
Have you used interstitials on mobile content? Have you noticed any impact on your search visibility that appears to be related? Discuss.
Google looked at behavior related to its own use of interstitials, specifically with the Google+ mobile site, which utilized one encouraging users to install the app. 9% of visits to its interstitial page resulted in the "Get App" button being pressed. It did note that "some percentage" of users already have the app installed, so they don't see it in the first place. 69% of visits abandoned the page, it said. They neither went to the app store nor continued to the mobile website. Presumably they were so annoyed they just didn't feel like going any further.
"While 9% sounds like a great CTR for any campaign, we were much more focused on the number of users who had abandoned our product due to the friction in their experience," Google said. "With this data in hand ,in July 2014, we decided to run an experiment and see how removing the interstitial would affect actual product usage. We added a Smart App Banner to continue promoting the native app in a less intrusive way, as recommended in the Avoid common mistake section of our Mobile SEO Guide. The results were surprising."
1-day active users on the mobile site increased by 17% and Google+ iOS native app installs were mostly unaffected (-2%). They didn't report the Android numbers because most Android devices come with the app pre-installed.
"Based on these results, we decided to permanently retire the interstitial," Google said. "We believe that the increase in users on our product makes this a net positive change, and we are sharing this with the hope that you will reconsider the use of promotional interstitials. Let's remove friction and make the mobile web more useful and usable!"
Yelp CEO and frequent Google critic Jeremy Stoppelman, had this to say about Google's post:
@jeremys is this about protecting consumers or protecting their search monopoly?
— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) July 24, 2015
Yelp recently put out its own study showing how Google allegedly manipulates search results in its own favor. It claimed Google is "reducing social welfare" with "lower quality results".
Interstitials might actually start hurting your Google rankings if they're not already. Ahead of Google’s mobile-friendly update in in April, there was talk around the SEO industry that interstitials could be looked upon as hurting the mobile user experience, and therefore hurt webmasters in in rankings as Google started to take into account the mobile experience.
Last month, Eric Enge at Stone Temple Consulting posted an interview with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Mariya Moeva. He asked if implementing an interstitial to drive people to sign up for an app would negatively impact mobile rankings, and if that’s something people should stay away from.
Moeva responded, "Speaking as a user myself, I have yet to see an interstitial that brought me some useful info and was more important than what I was originally trying to do. They’re disruptive and can be frustrating, especially if you show them right on the first page the user ever sees from your site. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so...We see app install interstitials bother users, so we’re looking into ways of addressing that; stay tuned for more news."
As Enge pointed out, Google’s Maile Ohye talked a little about this at the recent SMX Advanced search conference. Jennifer Slegg blogged about her comments:
We have known for a couple of months that Google was planning to add interstitials as a negative ranking factor in an upcoming mobile friendly algo, but it appears that the same will be coming to the regular search results too.
Maile Ohye from Google warned webmasters at SMX Advanced that they will also be bringing up the issue of interstitials and how pages that use them will be affected. “Interstitials are bad for users, so be aware this is something we are thinking about,” she said.
She then continued on to say that content hidden behind interstitials would be devalued.
As Google itself noted in regard to the new test, the company actually says in its Mobile SEO Guide, which it directed webmasters to ahead of the mobile-friendly update, that they should "avoid interstitials."
“Many websites show interstitials or overlays that partially or completely cover the contents of the page the user is visiting,” it says. “These interstitials, commonly seen on mobile devices promoting a website’s native app, mailing list sign-up forms, or advertisements, make for a bad user experience. In extreme cases, the interstitial is designed to make it very difficult for the user to dismiss it and view the real content of the page. Since screen real-estate on mobile devices is limited, any interstitial negatively impacts the user’s experience.
Interestingly enough, Google itself touts "interactive interstitial ads" on its Think with Google Site, saying they can "make your brand stand out". It says they engage more users than basic text or image ads and offer mobile advertisers "great interactivity at eye-catching placements".
As I wrote in a previous article on all of this, interstitials can help the viewability problem in advertising, and a lot of sites use them to get sign ups. They're also often directly linked to monetizing content.
Should Google penalize sites that use interstitials? Should it depend on the content of that interstitial itself? What do you think? Tell us in the comments.