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.
Intrusive interstitial examples from Google.
“Helping users easily access content on mobile,” Google Webmaster Central Blog

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
Interstitial examples that are OK per Google.
“Helping users easily access content on mobile,” Google Webmaster Central Blog

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.

Google offers in-depth guidance on creating a mobile-friendly site here, including how to avoid common mistakes with pop-ups.

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:

  1. Use pop-up banners that don’t take up 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.
  2. Make sure users can easily dismiss the pop-up. That “X” should be clearly visible and easy to press.
  3. 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.
  4. Segment your pop-ups by the audience to make the message more relevant to them. For example, new versus returning visitors.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. What’s the Page Experience Update?
  2. How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Site
  3. Intrusive Interstitials & Why They’re Bad for SEO
  4. HTTPS for Users and Ranking
  5. Core Web Vitals Overview
  6. Core Web Vitals: LCP (Largest Contentful Paint)
  7. Core Web Vitals: FID (First Input Delay)
  8. Core Web Vitals: CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift)
E-book on Google's Page Experience Update.
Click to get this entire series as a printable e-book.

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FAQ: How can I avoid using intrusive interstitials while maintaining a positive user experience on my website?

Optimizing user experience has become paramount. As websites aim to engage visitors and convey their messages effectively, avoiding intrusive interstitials while maintaining a positive user experience is both pertinent and challenging. Intrusive interstitials, those pesky pop-ups that hinder access to content, can disrupt user interaction flow and potentially drive visitors away. However, striking the balance between your website’s goals and users’ needs is achievable with the right approach.

Regarding intrusive interstitials, the key lies in embracing user-centric design. These pop-ups are roadblocks; they deter users from reaching their desired destinations. To avoid frustrating your audience, consider using subtle banners that convey important messages without obstructing the content. Strategically position these banners to ensure minimal disruption and easy dismissal. By respecting your users’ journey, you show that your website values their experience.

Experience teaches us that timing is crucial in web interactions. Similarly, consider when your pop-ups appear. Intrusive interstitials that greet users immediately can lead to dissatisfaction. Instead, slightly delay their appearance, allowing users to immerse themselves in the content before encountering interruptions. This strategic delay minimizes frustration and contributes to a smoother user journey.

Moreover, segmenting your audience allows you to tailor messages effectively. New visitors might benefit from different pop-ups compared to returning users. Personalization enhances user experience and showcases your website’s attentiveness to individual needs. This level of detail underscores your commitment to delivering value without compromising usability.

A well-executed exit intent strategy can also be effective. Instead of bombarding users upon entry, consider triggering pop-ups as users navigate toward exiting your site. This approach respects their initial engagement while allowing them to share additional content or offers. This way, your pop-ups become valuable extensions of their journey.

Thoughtful design and strategic implementation are key to avoiding intrusive interstitials while maintaining a positive user experience. By considering the user journey, optimizing timing, segmenting audiences, and leveraging exit intent, you can strike a harmonious balance between your website’s objectives and your users’ satisfaction.

Step-by-Step Procedure:

  1. Evaluate your pop-ups’ purpose and alignment with user experience goals.
  2. Identify critical messages that need to be conveyed through pop-ups.
  3. Design subtle banners that complement your website’s visual aesthetics.
  4. Position banners in non-obtrusive locations, such as the sides or bottoms of pages.
  5. Ensure the “X” button to dismiss pop-ups is easily visible and accessible.
  6. Introduce a slight delay before pop-ups appear after users navigate to a page.
  7. Implement exit intent triggers for pop-ups to engage users before they leave.
  8. Segment your audience based on characteristics or behaviors.
  9. Tailor pop-up messages to suit different audience segments.
  10. Prioritize mobile responsiveness for all pop-up designs.
  11. A/B tests different pop-up designs and timings to gauge user preferences.
  12. Monitor user engagement and bounce rates to assess the impact of pop-ups.
  13. Use analytics to understand user interaction with pop-ups.
  14. Continuously refine pop-up strategies based on user feedback and data.
  15. Focus on delivering value through pop-ups, such as exclusive offers or content.
  16. Avoid using pop-ups excessively; opt for quality over quantity.
  17. Prioritize the overall user journey and seamless navigation.
  18. Stay updated with industry best practices and evolving user preferences.
  19. Seek feedback from users to gauge their perception of your pop-ups.
  20. Continuously adapt and evolve pop-up strategies based on user behaviors and trends.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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11 Replies to “Page Experience Matters: Intrusive Interstitials & Why They’re Bad for SEO”

Hey, The speed of the page is important in on-page SEO. If your website is sluggish, visitors will most likely bounce after seeing it. Thank you for bringing these points to our attention.

I can’t believe I’m still having to explain this to clients in 2021! I had one only last week, they seem to love these pop ups for some reason and it can be difficult to convince them to remove or reduce them, your article will serve as a useful resource to point them to.

I had actually felt this as a user. I remember once when I visited such a site it was full of those ads and the page was taking too much time to load. I could not even scroll or navigate fastly. Honestly, it was not a good experience for me as an audience. I think usually some of the large news sites have a lot of those interstitial ads.

Popups are a nightmare, especially on mobile

can you suggest some good fonts for a mobile-responsive website, please?

Hey, In on page optimization the speed of page matters, Because of your website is slow is surely bounce back after clicking on your site. Thanks for sharing these points with us.

Excellent advice – thanks Bruce :-)

Are pop ups really a good idea? How do they impact the page load speed issue?

I always leave a website (completely) if they have these annoying & spammy pop-ups. Thx for writing about this!

Paula Allen

Stephen: I’m with you on that! Sometimes a pop-up offers just what I need, when I need it, but rarely is that immediately upon opening a page.

Web-pages should be designed user friendly to attract new customers.

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