Google Ranking Signal Comes With A New Caveat

Chris CrumIT Management

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Earlier this year, Google began taking into account a site's mobile-friendliness for ranking search results on mobile devices. It provided sites with a helpful mobile-friendly test tool so that they can make sure their pages were up to snuff. If a page passed the test, it would be good as far as that particular signal is concerned. Now, there's a new factor in that mobile-friendliness that will cause some that previously passed the test to now fail.

Google has been hinting for a while that app-install interstitials would become a negative ranking signal in search results, and now it's official. Or at least it will be soon.

Do you use app-install interstitials on your mobile web pages? What do you think about Google's latest ranking signal? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The company announced on Tuesday that it is updating its Mobile-Friendly Test to advise sites against showing app install interstitials "that hide a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page".

Google says its Mobile Usability report in Search Console will show webmasters the number of pages across their site that have the issue.

While the mobile-friendly test tool has already been updated to take the new signal into account, Google will not actually start counting interstitials negatively until November 1, so that should give webmasters enough time to make the updates they need to to avoid being algorithmically penalized. Google says:

After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly. This does not affect other types of interstitials. As an alternative to app install interstitials, browsers provide ways to promote an app that are more user-friendly.>

App install banners are supported by Safari (as Smart Banners) and Chrome (as Native App Install Banners). Banners provide a consistent user interface for promoting an app and provide the user with the ability to control their browsing experience. Webmasters can also use their own implementations of app install banners as long as they don’t block searchers from viewing the page’s content.

Keep an eye on the Webmaster Central forum for chatter about this as time progresses.

Google recently shared results of some internal testing it did with its Google+ app showing that an app install interstitial negatively impacted the user experience. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has been very vocal about his opposition to Google's position on this matter.

After Google shared its study results, Stoppelman said on Twitter, "Google says stop pushing App downloads yet its own team push apps using same 'bad' designs. Is this about protecting consumers or protecting their search monopoly?"

He later wrote a guest post for Search Engine Land asking the same question. In that, he said, "While many users find apps by browsing inside an app store, another critical way they discover new apps is through mobile search engines, like Google. In this way, mobile search indeed serves a critical function to users: offering a bridge from the less desirable world of mobile Web browsing to a new world inside apps."

He went on to discuss how apps threaten Google's search business. Since then, LinkedIn has been publicly questioning Google's findings as well. They started off by saying that nobody wants Google+ for one thing.

“Naturally, an interstitial that interrupts the user experience to promote something that most people don’t want is bound to backfire,” wrote Omar Restom, mobile product manager at LinkedIn. “Google shouldn’t extrapolate based on this one case. ”

“Google admits that it was showing their interstitial even to users who already have the app – that’s bad mojo and fundamentally bad audience targeting,” he added. “Again, Google should only have shown this promo to people who actually want and need the app. The Google+ Team also violated Google’s own SEO policy by showing this interstitial on SEO Pages.”

He went on to make the case that LinkedIn’s interstitials work better because of better targeting and better creatives. Restom also backed up his argument with some numbers, comparing clickthrough rate, bounce rate and incremental app downloads driven between Google+ and LinkedIn.

Stoppelman has since tweeted about LinkedIn's post a couple times and various other articles on the subject.

VC Bill Gurley tweeted:

Stoppelman added:

He also retweeted this:

And tweeted this:

Some are questioning why Google is specifically targeting these types of interstitials specifically as opposed to all interstitials (desktop included) that block content.

What do you think? Is this about user experience or Google's self-interest? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image via Google

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.