What Google’s upcoming mobile search update means for marketers

From January 2017, Google is set to carry out its newest update to its mobile search algorithm.

The Google Interstitials mobile penalty is the second part to Google’s ‘mobile- friendly’ update and is set to penalise pages on mobile sites that show intrusive interstitials, such as unnecessary popups, that block content and impede the user experience.

With over half of all searches coming from mobile devices, it comes as no surprise that Google prioritises mobile search and wants to make the experience more accessible for users.

However, even though it may seem as though Google has provided ample warning to prepare for the update, it also announced there would be no official testing tool for SEOs or webmasters to see if they may be penalised. 

This is a decision that could have a detrimental impact on many businesses whose success relies heavily on their placement within search rankings.

The lack of a testing tool has left many in the industry in a rut, with 78% of SEO professionals arguing that Google should be developing a tool that allows them to identify if their websites will pass or fail the latest update.

Mobilegeddon

In Spring 2015 the industry experienced the brunt of the first edition of Google’s ‘mobile-friendly’ update which was referred to as  Mobilegeddon by SEO professionals.

The change was so significant that many found themselves left at the bottom of the SERPs (search engine results pages) after failing to meet Google’s new criteria.

Websites designed with too small font sizes and buttons that were too close together, caused many businesses to lose their rankings as their websites were deemed uncomfortable for the mobile experience.

Marketers should be looking out for interstitials that make their content less accessible to a user

Following this update, marketers are left feeling anxious about how this new algorithm will impact the success of their campaigns.

Although, many are unhappy with the substantial changes that come with the Interstitial update, Google’s intention is to not hinder the industry but to improve the user experience.

Their plan isn’t just to direct users to more informative results, but to direct them to results that work better for them, which includes diminishing threats to their experience such as annoying popups.

Improving sites with a focus on the user experience in mind, isn’t necessarily a bad thing within the industry. In the long run, a site that is beneficial for the user experience and one with less intrusive interstitials may encourage a more reliable flow of traffic to a business's site.

As essentially it will be deemed a more reliable site for the user by Google and placed higher within the SERPs.

What counts as an intrusive interstitial?

Google has been slightly vague about what they count as an intrusive interstitial. Furthermore, with no tool it’s difficult to know for certain whether mobile interstitials are intrusive enough to trigger a penalty.

The main problem here is for marketers, and more specifically for marketers with a lack of SEO knowledge who may not fully understand the depth of this new update.   

Interstitials, such as pop up boxes, have been used as an interruptive marketing tool to drive conversions within campaigns for many years now and for many publishers they provide much needed ad revenue for their sites.

However, sites are going to begin taking down their featured interstitials in order to avoid losing their place in Google’s search rankings. This means marketers will have to start thinking of new strategies to gain attention without using pop ups.

In order to avoid their web page being ranked lower, marketers need to be looking out for particular interstitials that may make content less accessible to a user.

This includes, pop ups that cover the main content of your pages, both when a user first visits that page and again when they are scrolling through that page.

Nevertheless, not all interstitials are bad and marketers should be aware of ones that will be accepted under the new update. For instance, legal obligation interstitials such as cookie and age verification pop ups should be left as they are.

How marketers can prepare without a tool?

Marketers should be looking out for interstitials that make their content less accessible to a user, but there’s no pressure to remove these overnight.

For marketers with complex websites, in order to avoid suffering falling down in the serps, they should start spending the next few months removing intrusive interstitials and experimenting with different ways of designing web pages with ads that are attractive to users without interrupting their experience.

Content needs to be positioned in a way that’s easily accessible and these newly formed pages should be tested on both mobile devices and desktop to ensure they look good with no interstitials obscuring the user’s view.

There’s no doubt that the interstitial update won’t be the last of Google’s ‘mobile- friendly’ updates as they continue to work on improving the mobile user experience.

Marketers need to begin tailoring campaigns that enhance the mobile experience without drawing attention away from the main content on their screen.

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