google seoWhen Google began its Mobilegeddon in 2015, its intention was to reduce drastically the number of websites that were not mobile responsive from its Search Engine Result Pages (SERP).

It did succeed to a large extent. In fact, Google recently announced that up to 85% of its web indexed pages are now mobile responsive. As a result, it has decided to focus on websites that aren’t presenting a good user experience (UX) to mobile customers.

Have you ever landed on a webpage only to be accosted by a large pop-up box soliciting some offer you couldn’t be bothered about? Sometimes, these intrusive ads come up when you are halfway through the main content. It can be annoying, and Google knows this, so it has decided to punish such erring websites with a lower ranking position on SERPs.

Targeting interstitial pop ups

Intrusive interstitials, as Google calls the intrusive ads, would normally be okay if presented responsibly. According to Brendan at Openhost web hosting, “If site owners can focus more on providing a good website experience for the user, they are less likely to be in Google’s bad book.”

Pop-up ads, which are common mostly on mobile, are a serious threat to website visibility. So, if your website is guilty of such practices, chances are you may have experienced an SERP demotion. Some webmasters have already begun to record hits from the latest algorithm updates of February 7th 2017.

For more details, here are the specific conditions for interstitials that may earn a website a penalty.

Showing a pop-up that blocks the main content, either immediately a visitor opens a webpage from search results, or while they seek information on that page.

For example, you want to buy Stephen King’s latest book and you type in a query for “book stores in Leeds,” on Google. You are presented with websites of stores that have his books. On tapping one of the sites, you arrive at the landing page, but before you can tap the “Stephen King” tab, a large box appears telling you that you can get x% off shipping for books bought.

Not only is this annoying, but ridiculous, because you haven’t even chosen what book to purchase, let alone order anything. In the same scenario, while going through a book list, the interstitial pops-up again interfering with your UX.

Showing a separate interstitial a user is required to close before they can proceed to reading the main content

Users enjoy webpages with a simplified reading experience where they can access information without difficulty or interruption. Inserting interstitials such as this increases the number of steps required to get this content. It also makes the experience an uncomfortable one.

It is hard enough trying to search for information on a website that may or may not be optimised for convenience and ease of navigability. When you insert pop-up ads, you are simply telling the user to search elsewhere for the information.

Placing a layout where the above-the-fold section of the page is identical to the separate interstitial, but the main content is placed below the fold.

Putting the sought-after content of your website beneath the fold can cause it to be demoted. Google continues to emphasise the significance of above-the-fold content in its major addresses.

When you put a pop-up ad before the main content on your page, you are doing more network roundtrips – a problem which Google believes must be corrected. This is the same for Javascript and CSS you are probably using to produce the interstitial content.

But Google isn’t out for every interstitial. There are a few exceptions you are allowed to place on your website, as long as they are done responsibly.

Interstitials that are allowed

  • Those that are in line with legal obligations such as cookie information and age verification
  • Login dialogues on sites with content that are not indexable. For example, your email address or credit card details.
  • Banners that use a fair amount of screen space that is negligible. A good example is an ‘app install’ banner for browsers such as Chrome or Safari.

Therefore, if you must use pop-ups, ensure they are in line with is specifications.

How to stay out of Google’s penalty

  • Add a subscribe box at the end of your posts or articles instead of disrupting readers.
  • Make content the main focus of your website. In addition to improving layout structure and navigation, don’t present any pop-ups until they are done reading.
  • Keep your ads within the fold and make sure they don’t take up too much space.

For more tips on staying safe, refer to this article. Remember, the key is to provide an enhanced website experience for the user. Once you have that in the back of your mind, everything else will follow.

Author: James is a business psychologist and serial entrepreneur, with over a decade working in finance, IT, marketing and recruitment sectors. He has authored numerous books in the management space and is Founder and CEO of