Google is making a significant change to the way that it handles page ranking for mobile sites in an effort to discourage site owners from throwing up intrusive interstitials such as ads and newsletter signup dialogs before users can view a site.
The change involves the way that Google will rank mobile sites that use those kinds of interstitials. Many mobile sites now surface pop-up screens that contain ads or ask visitors to sign up for a newsletter or subscribe to the site before they can view the site’s main content. This isn’t the most user-friendly behavior, and Google is now going to take the use of these screens into consideration when assigning page ranks to mobile sites.
“While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result,” Doantam Phan, a product manager at Google, said in a post explaining the change.
Google is not going to punish the use of all forms of interstitials.
“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”
The main problem with interstitials on mobile devices, aside from the annoyance factor, is that they make it more difficult for users to get to the content they’re interested in. The small screen size on mobile devices can make it hard to find the button to dismiss the ad or pop-up, too. However, Google is not going to punish the use of all forms of interstitials. Phan said that sites using some kinds of legitimate and necessary ones won’t see any changes to the way they’re ranked.
For example, sites such as breweries that have a legal obligation to verify a user’s age, and sites such as email services where an interstitial is used for login won’t be affected. The change has some security implications, as some interstitials are used to push users’ to download malicious or potentially unwanted apps or redirect them to possibly malicious sites.
In addition to the change in page rank signals for sites using interstitials, Google also is removing the Mobile Friendly label from each results. The label was an artifact from a time when many sites didn’t have mobile versions and required users to zoom in on their mobile devices in order to view the content. That’s largely gone away, and Phan said that Google’s stats show that 85 percent of the pages on mobile search results have mobile versions, making the label pretty much pointless now.