Google to Roll Out Penalty in January

Google announced two important search marketing changes during August 2016. These changes aim to improve search experience by delivering more desirable content.

Dropping the mobile-friendly label from search results is the more immediate of the changes. Before this decision, Google added a mobile-friendly label to assist users in finding readable content.

It was aiming for a search experience without zooming on mobile pages and dealing with confusing tap targets. But this presented a cluttered appearance. Thus, Google decided to remove the label while still keeping the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.

Penalizing certain interstitials is another, forthcoming change. Interstitials are content that appears on a loading web page. They sometimes frustrate the user experience by reducing access to searched content. As a result, this frustrates the search marketing experience.

Interstitials That Will Receive a Penalty

Google is penalizing three types of interstitials starting January 2017 as an attempt to improve search marketing. Also, it’s an attempt to clean up activity in the mobile space. The smaller screen size makes this a crucial matter.

Intrusive pop-ups that cover the main content of a web page is the first type. Some intrustive pop-ups appear immediately after the user navigates to a web page from the search results while others appear while the user navigates through the page.

Standalone interstitials that cover a majority of the page content thus making it difficult for the user to dismiss before accessing desired content is the second type. Layouts, where the above-the-fold part of the web page appears like standalone interstitial pushing the original content beneath the fold, is the third type.

We can all agree these types of interstitials create a poor user experience. They encourage visitors to navigate away from the website. Because of this, Google will place them at a lower search ranking.

Interstitials That Are Off The Hook

Google deemed a few type of interstitials appropriate for search marketing and mobile usage.

Interstitials that appear for legal obligations, such as for cookie usage or age verification, are one of them. Login dialogs on websites where content is not publicly indexable is another one. This includes email content as well as unindexable content behind a paywall.

Banners that don’t take up too much space and are easy to dismiss fall in line. App install banners displayed by Safari and Chrome are acceptable interstitials.

These interstitials support a valuable user experience, allowing content to rank higher. This leads to increased lead generation and conversions.


This penalty will make the mobile experience much smoother for users and increase traffic for mobile sites.

What this means for you

What is the difference between an interstitial that “the user has to dismiss before accessing main content” versus an interstitial that “uses a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissive?”

Is this based on the size or placement of an interstitial? Is the ease of finding the button or link to close out an interstitial a factor?

Witnessing how the penalization process plays out for search marketing will garner interest. Unfortunately, we foresee intrusive interstitials showing on many websites after the penalty takes effect. The loose definitions of acceptable and unacceptable interstitials are the main reason why.

With that said, websites using interstitials must avoid putting themselves at risk of penalization. Make sure your interstitials add direct value to the user experience. Take the size, placement, relevancy, and ease-of-navigation into account.

Want to read more about search marketing? Discover how SEO helps financial advisory site 19% amid migration to new CMS.

Tom Heppard
About the Author

Tom Heppard

Tom Heppard is an Account Analyst with Elite's SEO team. In former roles, he led an SEO department and produced results with a focus on link acquisition through engaging content and sharable graphics. At home, Tom brews beer with his greyhound and supports Liverpool FC.

More Posts
Blog Categories
Paid SearchMobileInterviewConversion Rate OptimizationSearch Engine OptimizationPaid SocialPerformance DisplayIndustry NewsFunShopping & FeedConferenceCompany UpdatesPressUncategorizedEvents
Blog Archives
2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011