New Google Algorithm Slams Popups and Interstitials

Category: Publishers Posted at: 2016-10-03

On Tuesday, August 23 Google made a pretty big announcement about helping users easily access content on mobile by updating their mobile search ranking algorithm. After mentioning a minor update about removing the label for mobile-friendly sites, the search giant shared their plan to remove some interstitial (popup) ads.

“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 Latest Google Mobile Algorithm Update

Popup ads and interstitial banners are a somewhat controversial subject for publishers and advertisers. While click through and viewability rates for banner ads and conversion rates for calls-to-action like newsletter signups can be higher with popups, they can be very disruptive to user experience. One of Google’s main philosophies is that websites should be easy to use and navigate, which they have demonstrated through other algorithm updates in the past. Remember the “mobile apocalypse”?

Not every style of popup will be met with penalization in  the new Google mobile algorithm, just ones that affect the content on the page and the user’s ability to interact with content.

For example:

- Popups that cover the main content either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.

- Standalone interstitials that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.

- Layouts where the above-the-fold portion of the page looks like a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.


Here are a few common mobile ad units that are don’t make the cut according to these new guidelines:

- 300×250 smartphone static interstitial

- 300×250 smartphone rich interstitial

- 320×480 smartphone interstitial (portrait)

- 480×320 smartphone interstitial (landscape)

- 768×1024 tablet interstitial (portrait)

- 1024×768 tablet interstitial (landscape)

Now, not all interstitials and popups are frowned upon. Here are some examples of interstitials and popups that are okay by Google:

- Legal popups  – think cookies or age verification

- Login dialogs – such as for content that sits behind a paywall

- Smaller banners that don’t take up the whole screen – think small app install banners



Instead of these highly viewable (but soon-to-be-axed) popups, we recommend implementing OnScroll 100% viewable ad units in your site’s whitespace to maintain high viewability and high CPMs without sacrificing your search rankings.

This new signal is only one of hundreds of signals that make up Google’s secret search ranking algorithm. As a best practice, always keep a watchful eye on the Google Webmasters blog so you aren’t in the dark when new signals are added.