Interstitials May Start Hurting Your Search Rankings

Chris CrumSearch

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Ahead of Google's mobile-friendly update in in April, there was talk around the SEO industry that interstitials (content that appears over top of a page, which impedes the process of getting to the desired page) 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.

Do you think sites should be penalized in search results for interstitials? Let us know what you think.

Eric Enge at Stone Temple Consulting posted a new interview with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Mariya Moeva. They talk about a number of topics related to mobile apps and Google's treatment of them. At one point, Enge asks if implementing an interstitial to drive people to sign up for your app will negatively impact mobile rankings, and if that's something people should stay away from. Here's Moeva's response:

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 points out in an editor's note, Google's Maile Ohye talked a little about this at the recent SMX Advanced search conference. Here's an excerpt from a blog post by Jennifer Slegg about Ohye's 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.

In its mobile SEO guide, Google explicitly says to "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.

It is strange then that on its Think With Google Site, the company touts "Interactive Interstitial Ads," which it says can "Make your brand stand out" as the ad "appears inside apps and gives users a full screen experience."

Screen shot 2015-06-30 at 4.31.52 PM

That page tells you that you'd use interstitials for two reasons:

- Rich media ads engage more uers than basic text or image ads

- Google's app interstitials offer mobile advertisers great interactivity in eye-catching placements.

Another mixed message from Google.

Either way, interstitials are employed by many websites and apps. They can help the viewability problem in advertising and are a key component in getting sign-ups. If businesses have to worry about losing their search visibility as a result of using them, it could be a major blow to those who have seen significant results from them in the past.

Interstitials are often directly linked to monetizing content - particularly higher quality content as it's more expensive to produce. Sometimes they actually go so far as to provide the entry to that content by way of logging in for sites that require subscriptions. Sites like this, at least when it comes to media publications, tend to have high quality content, because if they didn't, users would have no reason to subscribe. Google is supposed to be all about the high quality content, right?

Do you think interstitials should lead to content being devalued in Google? Let us know what you think.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.