Intrusive Interstitials Mobile penalty

Google Launches The Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty This January: What It Means for Content Creators

Ask just about any mobile user, and the answer will probably be the same.

We could all do without those intrusive pop-ups that block content and ask us to click one of two choices that go a lot like, “Yes, I want to know more about…”, or “No, I don’t like free stuff.”

And more recently developed in the marketing sphere, what about the pop-ups out there now that downright insult our intelligence, revenue and status?

This screenshot of ad opt-out choices was pulled from a leading content marketer’s site:

neil patel

Sucky, that last choice!

Back to the main point of pop-up ads as a whole.

Overall, the truth is, no one likes to be interrupted. Most of us are taught from very early on to say “excuse me”, or at least wait our turn before speaking.

So, why is it okay for us to be interrupted when we visit a mobile site?

Turns out, it is NOT okay anymore.

In mid-January, Google launched the intrusive interstitial-killing algorithm update, and it is going to have an impact on content marketing efforts and our attempts to reach our audience with relevant content. Read on for all the details.

ads mobile popup penalty

Intrusive Interstitials 101

Intrusive interstitials are a fancy way to describe pop-up ads, those page-covering, content-blocking images on mobile and desktop sites. These ads can be almost as annoying as a line-cutter on Black Friday (no one likes them).

Intrusive interstitials block the intended destination, forcing Google searchers to go through a process before proceeding. Interstitials can cover an entire page, making it especially frustrating for mobile users.

The poor experience can make content less accessible to a site visitors by:

  • Covering a page with a popup
  • Displaying an interstitial that must be dismissed before proceeding
  • Delaying the show of content a user was originally trying to access

Thanks to Google’s new algorithm, webpages where content is not easily accessible may now not rank as high. Google is currently only looking at those popup ads that appear when a user initially arrives at a mobile website; as announced during a Google+ hangout, the goal is to look for interstitials that show up between the time when a user searches and sees the intended content.

The Good, the Bad, the Popups: What Won’t Be Penalized vs. What Will

So, what does this mean for content creators?

To put it simply, if it’s annoying, bothersome, or frustrating, it risks being de-ranked.

This change may not impact those popups that are for more helpful purposes, like in the case of a live chat box.

Here are examples-in-action to demonstrate the good vs. bad.

The Good, Non-Penalized Pop-Ups: Defining & Example

Obviously, having a user-friendly mobile site right from the beginning is the first step in appealing to the growing population of mobile-only web visitors (our EW team learned about this way back in November when they traveled to New York for the SEJ Summit).

These types of pop-ups are permissible and will NOT be penalized:

  • Banners that are easily dismissible and use up a reasonable amount of screen space. While what is “reasonable” may be open to interpretation, Search Engine Journal recommends keeping it at 15% or less.
  • Interstitials that are used for legal reasons, like age verification. In cases where an interstitial is in place for ethical or legal reasons, no penalty will be dealt.
  • Login dialogs on sites not publicly indexable, like in the case of email and other private sites.

Here’s an example of a GOOD, effective ad we’re doing for our Content Shop.

It’s a tiny banner at the top, meets the 15% or less rule (“Start your New Year with great content! On any of our services, check out with an instant 5% savings with code five 2017″), doesn’t block significant content on mobile (we tested, it works), and offers a code that customers can simply checkout with–no additional clicking, email signup, etc. needed. It works, too: 100% of the inbound leads that don’t need a sales call have been using it.

content shop non annoying popup ad

The Bad Pop-up Examples

We did turn off our live chat popups that blocked content on the lower-right hand corner of our site (no example to show: it’s gone).

Irrelevant and uninteresting content that is preceded by intrusive pop-ups is a recipe for low conversion rates, not to mention those Google ghosts lurking around the corner.

Never do the following types of ads with an opt-out phrase that insults intelligence or status. Just don’t.

neil patel bad popup

We love you Neil, but really? How do you know we don’t like our traffic stats as they sit? Are you some omnipotent presence instead of a mere marketer?

conversion popup

Dear lord how insulting. No, I’d prefer my prospects convert today, thank you very much, and luckily for me, not you, they are. 😛


And last but my top favorite…a pop-up from MarketingProfs suggesting we read an article called “Your Pop-Up Ads are Annoying Your Prospects.” It’s so ironic, it’s funny. 😀 😀

3 Types of Intrusive Interstitials that Will Be Penalized

Three interstitial types are currently at risk for being penalized by Google. Knowledge is power:

1. Regular Popups

These windows block the content of a page and often dim everything else on the screen. They often look like this:

1 regular popups

2. Full-screen interstitials

Full-screen ads often stand alone and sit above the header of the website, forcing the user to scroll before viewing the intended content.


3. Standalone interstitials

These full screens block all content with no opportunity for content preview.


Remember, anything that covers over 15% of the page content, as an ad, is at risk of being penalized.

While Google continues to focus on the user, the company also recognizes that corrections need to be made every so often in order to improve how sites perform. This includes smacking down on mobile pop-up ads and other algorithmic changes geared toward providing an optimal web experience.

Are Pop-Up Ads Worth It?

Pop-ups work, but only if you do them right. Companies continue to include them on sites because they have the potential to provide a certain level of effectiveness.

Unless, of course, they shove their way in like an intrusive early-morning shopper.

Which begs the question: are pop-up forms always worth it?

Content marketers want to generate as many leads as possible, but using too many pop-up ads and forms may actually do the opposite and detract from reader engagement and conversion growth.

But maybe there is a middle ground, one in which the user is not put off by the pop-up and the marketer sees results from the effort.

How & Why Not All Pop-Ups Are Poopy

Not all pop-ups are evil. In fact, some can actually be good and – dare we say it? – healthy for inbound marketing.

If we focus on intentional development, pop-ups can be less poopy and more profitable.

Pop-up best practices include elements like:

  • Attractive colors
  • Free stuff
  • Engaging headlines
  • An image as a CTA

SumoMe took a look at over one billion pop-ups and found that the top 10% highest-performing pop-ups averaged a 9.28% conversion rate, meaning the user took action in response.

After all of that analyzing, there were some elements that increase conversion rates, which include:

  • Increased context that builds on the page’s value
  • Valuable offers in exit pop-ups
  • Clear and direct headlines that include the action and value
  • Personality – attention-grabbing, unique, and friendly

Should Content Marketers Use Pop-Ups?

In its simplest form, a pop-up has to be compelling and relevant, or you risk losing that potential reader or customer. If a visitor is engaged with the content that pops up, that’s good news. On the other hand, if it turns them off, they’ll click and dash faster than Hatchanimals flew off the shelf at Christmastime.

There are some positive benefits to pop-ups, especially when a visitor signs up for your email list, coupon, or content download. The key is in using a pop-up as a tool at the right time and with the most appealing call-to-action.

Refer to our Good vs. Bad section again to see actual ads that we recommend / recommend against.

What’s a Content Marketer to Do in An Age of Intrusive Interstitials? 4 Takeaways from the Mobile Penalty

There are certain boundaries that content marketers should be aware of in the age of intrusive interstitials.

1. Practice Relevancy

Do you have a bleh gift-giver in your life? You know who we’re talking about – always showing up to the party with something, but it’s usually a re-gift or last-minute afterthought.

No one likes a bleh gift.

Do your readers want what you’re offering? If not, change up your strategy and work toward a more attractive product. The time between their landing and exit is short, and you don’t want to waste precious resources offering them something they don’t want or already have.

The issue with many pop-ups is that they do not offer relevancy, and combining an irrelevant message with the blocking of their target content is a double reason to leave and look for answers elsewhere.

The question here becomes, Do I know my audience and what they’re really looking for? If not, it’s time to dig a little deeper into your gift-giving skills.

2. Give Readers Some Time

After analyzing over 110,000 emails, AppSumo found that waiting 5 seconds after someone visited before asking for an email resulted in a much higher response.

How long you should wait is not set in stone, and the research on this is sparse. It is clear, however, that waiting a bit longer and giving a reader time is much more effective than using the attack of the pop-up ad as soon as they land on your site.

Understanding the timing here must be strategic, which goes back to knowing your audience. How do they interact with the elements of your content? When are they most engaged?

To gain a better understanding of how your audience engages with various components, try using a tool like Google Analytics, which will provide you with a more complete picture of your site and its visitor performance.

3. Don’t Be a Nag

Have you ever heard this proverb:

A nagging wife is like a dripping faucet. – Proverb

Yikes. Well, once your reader has made a decision, which is pretty clear when they click “no” or “x” out of the content, your job as a content marketer is to respect that choice.

Rather than force them to look at something they have already decided to ignore, focus instead on offering multiple avenues for great content.

Offer an email signup, but don’t block the page view. Give out a coupon, but keep it as a banner that doesn’t act as an intrusive interstitial. Be consistent, not pushy.

Don’t be that nagging, dripping faucet.

4. Identify and Take Action

The risk for de-ranking is alive and active. When content is not easily accessible to site visitors who use mobile search, Google is going to take action, which may lead to less interaction and conversion.

Now is the time to recognize your own intrusive interstitials and do something about how those pop-ups impact your audience.

  1. Check to ensure all your site’s interstitials are necessary for legal and ethical purposes, like cookie notifications and age-verification questions.
  2. Make changes for those pop-ups that are relevant and necessary for effective interaction but are intrusive. If they do nothing for your content, take them down.
  3. Visit your own site from a Google search so you can identify which ones will act as annoyances and which should stay. 

The All-New Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty: Concluding Thoughts

It’s the new internet – the brave, new world, where more and more of it’s users are smart and know exactly what they’re looking for.

Don’t try to con them into something with a pop-up that blocks everything they’re reading and tries to compel them to your action. It won’t work anymore. Google is backing that up with an effective intrusive interstitials mobile penalty. It’s a thing.

Arm yourself with these tips, and keep looking out for any future algorithm changes Google may unveil that may impact the user experience.

Are you looking for more relevant, audience-friendly, engaging content for your site? Connect with us at Express Writers and let’s chat!

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