Goodbye intrusive mobile popups - Google now penalizing mobile interstitials

11 January 2017


Do you love intrusive web popups on your mobile device? Of course not, and Google is aware of this. And with more websites being viewed on mobile devices than desktop computers, it was time for a change.

Today Google is implementing a new penalty for websites that use intrusive interstitials. While the announcement was made back in August 2016, Google gave website owners a period of almost 5 months to conform to the new guidelines, or risk a possible drop in search rankings.

What is an interstitial?

An interstitial is a web page that appears after or before an expected content page, and usually displays an advert (for example, download an app or sign up for a newsletter) or confirm a user's age (in case there are age-restricted materials).

These interstitials normally obscure the page content you are trying to view, which obviously resulted in a bad mobile user experiences. The new guidelines will ensure that each user is finding the content they want, while not being bombarded by intrusive popups and offers.

What is not allowed?

Here are examples from Google of interstitials that would be penalised under the new guidelines:

  • A popup that obscures the page’s main content – whether you navigated to there from search results or it appears while you are already on the site.
  • A standalone interstitial that has to be dismissed by users before they can view content.
  • A layout in which the whole screen is taken up by what appears to be a standalone interstitial, but it is actually just pushing the original content underneath the fold.

Visual examples:


A popup that obscures most of the page content


A standalone interstitial


Another standalone interstitial

What is acceptable?

There are cases in which interstitials will not be penalized - if used responsibly:

  • Legal obligations – such as age verifications or cookie usage.
  • Logins to access content that is not publicly available or indexable – such as your email account or if you access content that can only be found behind a paywall.
  • Banners that take up a fair amount of screen space on mobile devices.

Legal obligation – Cookie acceptance


Legal obligation – Age Verification


A small app-install banner

Remember that interstitials and popups for desktop browsers are not affected by any of the above changes to the Google guidelines.

Improving the Mobile Experience

Google has been making regular changes to ensure that developers create websites that are user-friendly on these smaller devices.

  • The most famous mobile change that Google made to their ranking algorithm was made in April 2015 and was dubbed “Mobilegeddon”. This update prioritised websites that were designed to be mobile-friendly.
  • Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) was launched in February 2016, an open source project that ensures content loads faster on mobile devices.
  • In September 2016 Google updated their website mobile-friendly test to test for app-install interstitials that block users from viewing content. Any websites that use large app-install interstitials are considered to be “not mobile-friendly”. The solution was banners that take up a small amount of mobile screen space.

In 2017 we will surely see mobile website usage surge even further ahead of desktop PCs. Following this trend, Google seems to be committed to making sure that web developers create websites that will enhance the mobile user experience.

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