Page Experience Matters: Intrusive Interstitials & Why They’re Bad for SEO
You’re searching for a product on your phone. You find a listing in the search results, select it and — fail! A pop-up has dominated the entire screen on your mobile device. And you can’t press the little “x” because it’s too close to the screen’s edge. All that’s left to do is leave the site.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Aside from the fact that it’s annoying as a user, think about what it’s doing to your business as a site owner. That’s one reason why avoiding intrusive pop-ups is an SEO best practice. Another is that they could cost you a ranking boost in Google.
Let’s explore intrusive interstitials as No. 3 in our series on Google’s page experience ranking update that rolled out between mid-June and early September 2021.
What Are Intrusive Interstitials?
An intrusive interstitial is essentially a webpage pop-up that makes it hard for a mobile user to access the content they want.
When Google first talked about this issue in 2016, it gave some examples of intrusive interstitials:
- A pop-up that covers the main content immediately after a person navigates to a webpage from the search results or while they are looking through the page.
- A standalone interstitial that a person has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
- A webpage with above-the-fold content similar to a standalone interstitial where the original content is inline underneath.
Pop-ups that are OK include:
- Interstitials for legal obligations (like cookie usage notices or age verifications)
- Login dialogs on sites, such as to access private content
- Banners that are easily dismissible and don’t take up too much space on the webpage
When the interstitial pops up matters. Google’s intrusive interstitials ban “is essentially focused on that moment when a user comes to your website” because that’s a bad user experience. A pop-up may be “perfectly fine” if it isn’t the “first thing” a user sees and if the user experience is preserved. We’ve known this all along, but it’s nice to have John Mueller state it for the record in a Google SEO Office Hours hangout on August 20, 2021.
Why Do Intrusive Interstitials Matter?
Intrusive website pop-ups create a bad user experience for mobile users. Since this can harm your website rankings, they’re also bad for SEO.
In 2017, Google rolled out an intrusive interstitial penalty. Google explained that:
Starting today, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.
This applies only to pages that mobile users visit directly from a Google search result (not subsequent webpages visited on the same site from the original page). Regardless, it’s a good best practice to avoid annoying your visitors.
Google reminded readers that this is just one signal and, as always, great content will prevail:
As we said, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking and the intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.
With interstitials being a factor in Google’s new page experience algorithm update, it’s a reminder that intrusive pop-ups have no place in a mobile-first world.
How to Avoid Intrusive Interstitials
You want to avoid intrusive-pop ups by aligning your website with the mobile user experience.
Luckily, you can still achieve your website goals without hindering people’s page experience. Keep these mobile-friendly navigation practices for pop-ups in mind:
- Use pop-up banners that don’t take a lot of space. This may mean reducing the size of the elements or placing a banner on the side or bottom of the page.
- Make sure users can easily dismiss the pop-up. That “X” should be clearly visible and easy to press.
- Apply a delay before the pop-up renders. Make sure visitors can access the main content right away when they come from the search results. This can be a time delay or a scrolling delay. Or you can show the pop-up on exit instead of entry to the page.
- Segment your pop-ups by audience to make the message more relevant to them. For example, new versus returning visitors.
- If a user closes a pop-up once, make sure that it doesn’t continue to display or follow them around the website. Showing it to them again at a later date (like a week later) should be fine.
- Make sure your pop-up doesn’t slow your page load time.
It comes down to courtesy. When designing website elements like interstitials, make sure your site delivers the kind of page experience that satisfies visitors and Google.
For more details on the update, keep reading our page experience series:
- What’s the Page Experience Update?
- How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Site
- Intrusive Interstitials & Why They’re Bad for SEO
- HTTPS for Users and Ranking
- Core Web Vitals Overview
- Core Web Vitals: LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
- Core Web Vitals: FID (First Input Delay)
- Core Web Vitals: CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
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