What are Intrusive Interstitials, and What is Their Mobile SEO Ranking Penalty?

At the start of 2017, Google announced that it would begin enforcing penalties on certain mobile sites that show large interstitials, which prohibit users from easily interacting with the content on mobile websites. If a given mobile site doesn’t comply with Google’s requirements around intrusive interstitials, it will rank lower in Google search results—in this mobile-first world, a very costly penalty indeed.

Originally, these penalties were focused on interstitials that prompt users to install apps. These penalties have since been broadened, however.

What is an intrusive interstitial?

Google’s definition of an intrusive Interstitial alludes to “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user.” To reduce confusion, Google provided a few concrete examples, which I’ve shared below:

  • Any page a user lands on immediately from a search result that shows a pop-up that covers up the main content
  • A standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing content
  • Any layout where something resembling an interstitial is laid out on the page and content is included beneath the fold

While the new rules seemingly cover every type of interstitial, there still are some that won’t be penalized under the new rules. Google will still permit:

  • Any sort of login prompt that appears on the site
  • An interstitial that appears for a legal purpose (example: opt-in for tracking of cookies)
  • Banners that are easily dismissible and don’t take up too much of the page


Why is Google putting this new rule in action?

There are a couple reasons why Google wants to put a limit on these interstitials. Google has stated that these user experiences “can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

However, Google also wants to more easily contain users in its walled garden, and not allow them be so easily linked out of their search engine or their Chrome browser.


Can interstitials be displayed without penalty from Google?

The good news is that you can display calls-to-action (CTAs) for your audience without incurring search ranking penalties from Google.

Solution 1: Use Apple and Google Smart Banners to drive app installs.

Google explicitly stated that these banners will not be penalized under their restrictions. The downside with this option is that the banners will stay the same for all users across all pages of your website, and there is no real ability to customize these banners.

Getting clear attribution on these banners is also difficult. Marketing teams who choose to use these banners to drive app installs will not be able to fully understand their campaigns, because they won’t be able to discern which original sources led to which app downloads.

Lastly, users cannot be deferred deep linked through the install process. Thus, users will end up on the app homepage, rather than being routed directly to the specific page or product they were originally viewing. Dropping app installers on the app homepage, unsurprisingly, is reportedly a less satisfying user onboarding experience, and leads to lessened rates of engagement and conversion down the line.

Solution 2: Use homemade smart banners or interstitials to drive app installs.

There remains the possibility to develop your own homemade banners or interstitials in compliance with Google’s regulations. The clear drawback here is that any sort of customization to creative assets can’t be easily executed by members of your Marketing team, and will require extensive work from your Engineering team.

Furthermore, this option leaves your Marketing and Engineering teams most vulnerable to any developing regulations from Google’s end. Your prized homemade banner or interstitial could be harshly penalized under Google’s next set of interstitial regulations, and then it could well be back to drawing board for you and your teams. As such, developing your own Google-compliant smart banner or interstitial could mean a substantial initial investment as well as intermittent (not to mention unpredictable) subsequent investments of marketing and engineering time, talent, and resources.

Solution 3: Branch’s Journeys Web-to-App solution

Through the use of Branch’s Journeys offering, you can convert mobile web traffic into high-value app users by easily leveraging half-page or third-page interstitials that comply with Google’s regulations. In addition to effortless interstitials, you will have access to essential mobile marketing features like:

  • Audience segmentation, to make sure the right members of your audience see the right banners or interstitials.
  • Customizable templates that anybody on your team can create and edit within minutes.
  • A/B testing of multiple compliant banners or interstitials, to see which messages/designs work best for your audience.
  • Scheduling capabilities, to publish and remove banners or interstitials at specific, flexible times. (For example, you could have a Google-compliant interstitial show only on Black Friday for a specific promotion.)
  • Simple, seamless integration into your existing mobile marketing stack.

While it may seem that Google has taken a crucial step to rid mobile sites of interstitials that many brands use to drive mobile growth, there are actually a number of strategic ways to stay compliant with Google while driving users to your app.