How to avoid Google’s penalty on interstitial ads

Pop-up ads draw less attention, interest and engagement from the users and affect mobile user experience too much. In this context, a worldwide company has declared war against intrusive and frustrating advertising, at least on paper. Google has been threatening editors and brands for some time saying that interstitial ads would have a negative impact on their interests.
3 min reading
UX / 13 February 2017
How to avoid Google’s penalty on interstitial ads
How to avoid Google’s penalty on interstitial ads

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Pop-up ads draw less attention, interest and engagement from the users and affect mobile user experience too much. In this context, a worldwide company has declared war against intrusive and frustrating advertising, at least on paper. Google has been threatening editors and brands for some time saying that interstitial ads would have a negative impact on their interests.

When the leading media talk about user experience and how to improve it, they usually mean changes to how content is monetized through advertising.

In this context, a worldwide company has declared war (at least on paper) against intrusive and frustrating advertising. This firm is undoubtedly one of the major global players in digital advertising. Google has been threatening editors and brands for some time saying that interstitial ads would have a negative impact on their interests. And the threat materialized on January 1, 2017

Google has announced that websites that use pop-ups on their platforms will be penalized in their mobile search rankings. Hence, more interstitial ads, less organic traffic from smartphones and tablets. According to the top search engine, interstitials are a major problem for the user experience because they appear almost unexpectedly and often take over most or the whole of the screen. Google’s measure reflects an almost unstoppable trend among webpages and native applications: adblockers keep growing and products such as Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Progressive Web Apps (PWA), both by Google, try to improve this UX.

The effects of interstitials on users

The end goal of neuromarketing (applying neuroscience to promoting brands, messages, products and services) is to determine and understand the actual attention levels generated by certain stimuli in users. Focusing on advertising, neuromarketing is able to establish the actual attention levels and engagement that ads create in readers. A recent study by the consulting firm Mediabrix reveals some less than flattering consequences of interstitials:

● The users’ emotional response to interstitials is much more negative than to embedded advertising (opt-in). Only around 25% of the tested users consented to see an ad on full-screen mode, while 90% accepted opt-in advertising. With interstitials, most of the time users were looking for the icon to close the full-screen window.   

● Opt-in advertising draws eight times more attention that interstitials: embedded advertising generally captures the user’s attention for three times longer than intrusive advertising.

● Engagement with embedded ads is also higher: with opt-in advertising, 70% of users recalled the product and 73% the brand offer, whereas these percentages dropped considerably to 40% and 49% with interstitials. This is really interesting. 

Not all interstitials will be penalized

The big question is: Can all interstitial ads used by editors and brands lead to a penalty in mobile searches? Obviously not. Because Google still uses some interstitials in its advertising formats, among other reasons. The debate centers around the size of these ads and how this type of advertising mixes in with the rest of the interface. Google provides some interesting guidelines about interstitials that will be penalized: 

● Pop-up ads that take most of the screen and, naturally, stop you being able to read the interface’s main content.

● Interstitials that are displayed on their own and force users to close them before they can access the content.

● Inserting the ad as a layer over the content so that the latter is underneath and the user is unable to interact with it and read it.

And there are also guidelines for permitted pop-up ads: 

● Interstitials that are used due to a legal obligation: for example, to show notices about using cookies or checking the user’s age.

● Access to sites with content that cannot be indexed for the general public and that is instead subject to registration, login or paid subscription.

● Tabs that use a reasonable section of the screen.

Some other tips may also be useful to avoid Google’s search penalties when interstitials are used:

● Always install the latest SDKs from Google Mobile Ads: this tip applies both to native Android applications and iOS apps. These SDKs contain advice (usually good practices) about advertising formats that can pose a real problem for user experience. If you follow these guidelines, you might be able to avoid penalties.

● Work on a mobile UX that meets good practice standards: product design professionals, designers and developers must be aware that they need to simplify navigation by using simpler menus or to try to adapt their design to mobile devices (fluid design regardless of the option). Details matter.

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