The experience of browsing the web on a mobile device is better today than ever before. Mobile phones have very small screens, though, and anything that makes a website’s main content difficult to view on a mobile device detracts greatly from the experience of viewing that website. In an effort to produce better search results for mobile users, Google instituted an update in January 2017 to slightly penalize mobile websites that force users to close interstitial popups before viewing the main content.
If your website received a small traffic boost beginning on January 10, it probably provides a great experience to mobile users. If you noticed slightly less traffic, you may need to execute your mobile marketing and live chat SEO strategies differently going forward. Let’s examine the ways in which Google’ mobile interstitial update will affect search engine optimization in 2017.
What Is an Interstitial?
On a website, an interstitial is a design element that appears before — or on top of — a page’s main content. A popup window asking users to subscribe to a mailing list is one example of an interstitial.
Google’s new update specifically penalizes websites that use intrusive mobile interstitials that force user interaction before content becomes viewable. Google believes that intrusive interstitials result in negative experiences for mobile users for three reasons:
- They reduce the quality of Google’s search results
- They result in increased mobile data usage
- They may not function or display correctly on all mobile devices, making it impossible in some cases to close them
Are Some Interstitials Acceptable?
Google isn’t penalizing all mobile interstitials. If your website requires users to accept cookies, verify their ages or log in before viewing content, you can continue to display those messages without fear of receiving a penalty.
Google has also reminded website owners that its mobile interstitial update affects just one of many signals that influence website rankings. If changing your current mobile marketing strategy would reduce your income more than slightly decreased traffic would, you can choose to leave your interstitials in place.
Google-Friendly Mobile Interstitials
If search engine optimization is your top priority, you’ll need to avoid displaying intrusive interstitials to mobile users going forward. If your live chat SEO strategy involves displaying a full-screen popup when mobile users view your website, you’ll need to reduce the size of the popup to prevent it from covering the main content. The same is true of advertisements, newsletter subscription invitations and app install banners. If a message covers your website’s main content, your website may receive a penalty — even if your website only displays the message when the user has been on your website for a while.
You can still mention your newsletter, offer live chat invitations or advertise your app to mobile users. Interstitials that cover a small portion of the screen and don’t prevent users from interacting with your website’s main content will not trigger a penalty.
Google doesn’t change its ranking algorithms without significant data to justify its decisions. Ultimately, our job as website owners is to provide great experiences to all users — and an intrusive interstitial risks giving a mobile user a poor first impression of a website. Although this change will affect the ways in which website owners market to mobile users, it will also result in better online experiences.