More than likely you’ve visited a site that uses intrusive popups, banner ads or overlays (interstitials).

Back in 2015 searches on mobile surpassed desktop searches by as much as 56% (no surprise there). Google has laid out further mobile design guidelines in recent months and with dedicated mobile index and AMP pages, we agree this is a sound move to improve the overall mobile user experience.

At this time, if you’re site is found guilty of showing intrusive popups, banner ads or overlays you’ve probably already seen your content demoted in Google’s mobile search results. Interstitials simply interfere with the content you were looking to find in the first place, never mind being sometimes and highly annoying.


It’s all about the UX

Around 3 years ago Google began prioritising mobile ‘responsive’ websites with the aim to boost sites that offer mobile-friendly design, code, and content. The guidelines have been updated quite a bit since but the aim continues to make the mobile experience a positive one for all mobile users. Various elements of a web page (offers, newsletter, ads, text, photos, social buttons, chat, CTA) fight to take centre stage on a small screen which can lead to a confusing cluttered mess.

So with Google’s latest penalty, designers will have to sit up and take action about the way they present their mobile advertising. As designers creating mobile websites this is something we’ve been well aware of for many years so have avoided the use of interstitials and pop-ups that could cause a penalty.


What could it mean for your site?

To put it in black and white, this latest algorithm is an intrusive popup penalty and Google along with nonresponsive design will consider your website not mobile-friendly. Ads displayed over content and taking up the full viewing screen is no longer acceptable on mobile. Desktops, on the other hand, can handle the intrusion so it’s important to note this is only a mobile update.


Too much space

So you might be wondering what constitutes an intrusive interstitial? Well, it’s basically defined as a popup or modal window that blocks most or all of the content on a page. They require dismissal or scrolling in order for the user to reach the main content beneath the fold. These ads and overlays have been commonplace with marketers used as a promotional tool. They can contain any form of advertising from banner ads, form sign-ups, coupon offers, surveys and other various forms of CTA (call to action).

If your site popups cover the main content shown on the screen, pop up without user interaction or require a dismissal before disappearing, chances are that they will trigger an algorithmic penalty. Even pop-ups that ask a user to confirm preferred language or ask for their target country can constitute for an intrusive interstitial penalty.

Avoid Google intrusive interstitials penalty


Understandable exceptions

Of course, there are some exceptions, such as those interstitials in place for ethical or legal reasons. Grey areas at this time include sticky sidebars, share buttons (floating sidebars), support/chat modules and coupon popups (who doesn’t like to be alerted about a money-saving offer!). We still don’t know just yet if these elements will receive a penalty from the algorithm update. But, if they don’t comply with the guidelines then, of course, we will be reviewing all our client’s sites to ensure they are complying.


Review & re-evaluate

We support most of Google’s objectives and making the web more accessible, usable and intuitive for mobile experience is something we take very seriously. If your site popups serve a real purpose, add value for your visitors and take up a reasonable amount of space then you should be OK. If you’re not too sure and would like a site audit to review your age/legal verifications, cookie notices, ad popups, banners, in lines and slide-ins get in touch and we’d be happy to advise further.

This is not the end of the line for the popup overlay. It is simply an improved guideline helping marketers to adopt new ways in which to respect the user’s screen space!

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Emma McDonald Contributor
Emma has over 23 years digital expertise. With an eye for clean and intuitive design, she produces beautifully designed websites. As lead Web Designer, Developer and SEO strategist, her knowledge is translated through carefully managed marketing campaigns to help businesses accomplish their goals online.