New Google Penalty: Intrusive Interstitial Mobile Penalty

October 22, 2016 Rachel Ann Custodio

Google to Penalize Intrusive Interstitials

Intrusive Interstitial Definition

Graphic by Rachel Ann Custodio

Ever visit a website and get bombarded with a pop-up window? You then have to exit the window before finally seeing the content you originally sought. It’s annoying, right? Well, soon, you’ll be saved from those initial two clicks.

Google will be releasing a new penalty that will affect mobile webpages that use an intrusive interstitial on January 10, 2017. The intrusive interstitial mobile penalty will demote webpages that use interstitials upon entering a site.

What is an interstitial?

An interstitial is a window that pops up on your screen while you’re looking at a webpage. There are various interstitials with different goals. You may be familiar with pop-up windows asking you to sign up for a newsletter or download an e-book.

Interstitials can show up right when you land on the page, after a certain amount of time on the page, or when you’re about to leave the page. By the way, the last type of interstitial is what is known as an exit-intent pop-up. These show up when your cursor moves away from the main content and toward the corners of your browser window, which usually indicates you’re about to leave.

Interstitials that won’t be affected

Not all interstitials are considered intrusive though. Google describes the following as not being affected by the intrusive interstitial mobile penalty.

  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content, such as email, or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.
Interstitial Example

Google’s examples of interstitials that won’t be penalized.

Interstitials that will be affected

Google’s definition of an intrusive interstitial is a pop-up that displays between the period when a user clicks on a search result and enters your page. John Mueller clarifies:

“What we are looking for is really interstitials that show up on the interaction between the search click and going to the page and seeing the content. So that’s kind of the place we are looking for those interstitials. What you do afterwards, like if someone clicks on stuff within your website, or closes the tab or something like that, then that’s kind of between you and the user.”

Interstitials that make content less accessible to the user include:

  • Showing a pop-up that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they’re looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
Intrusive Interstitial Example

Google’s examples of intrusive interstitials.

Google began penalizing mobile webpages that used giant app-install interstitials last November. This type of interstitial covered the entire page and required you to download the app to view the content. Rather than have that ranking signal stand alone, Google is lumping it into the intrusive interstitial mobile penalty to avoid duplication.

RELATED: Why You Can No Longer Ignore AMP

Google creating a separate mobile index

On a related note, Google is close to finalizing its mobile index. Google currently has one index that stores all mobile and desktop results. Websites that aren’t mobile-friendly can still show up in mobile results, which is good for the website owner, but bad for users who expect a mobile web experience.

In keeping with its goal of providing the fastest and most relevant mobile results, Google is separating mobile and desktop results by putting them into their own indexes. The company also stated that the desktop index wouldn’t be updated as often as the mobile index. This might be due to the fact that more than half of searches are done on mobile devices.

Separate mobile and desktop indexes raises many questions as to how Google will treat all search results because not everyone uses one device for all tasks. The search experience is certainly moving quickly with Google at the wheel.



Rachel Ann Custodio

Rachel Ann Custodio is a freelance SEO Strategist and UX/UI Designer based in Los Angeles. Let's work together. Contact me.