Google’s New Policy Against “Intrusive” Mobile Interstitials

As of January 10, 2017, Google will be changing its policy regarding “intrusive” interstitials on mobile websites. Here’s what you need to know based on the information Google has shared thus far. This article will be updated as more specifics become available.

As a marketer, you work hard for your organic rankings. You’ve carefully executed a planned content marketing strategy – and your top keywords drive traffic to your site that affects your bottom line. So when a new Google search policy is announced that may negatively affect to your rankings — it’s important to understand the potential impact, and plan a response to mitigate any negative effects.

So what’s happening, exactly?

Do you ever encounter pop-ups that fire just as you click into a content piece on a mobile webpage – preventing you from seeing the content underneath? These are known as “interstitials” (also notifications, lightboxes, or pop-ins) — and they can often lead to a subpar user experience.

Because of this negative user experience impact, in August of this year, Google announced a new policy on their Webmaster Blog that targets mobile websites that use “intrusive” interstitials — that block visitors from viewing a page, for example, until they are dismissed. This new penalty applies to range of interstitial content – including above-the-fold portions of web pages that resemble standalone interstitials.

As of January 10, mobile sites that use such tactics will be penalized with lower organic search rankings.

What can I do about it?

The IgnitionOne Marketing Platform offers a Website Personalization product that enables marketers to create interstitials on their websites to visitors at key moments of consideration that feature highly relevant, targeted content. These interstitials are a key component of our customers’ onsite conversion strategies – and so we put together a helpful list of approaches to help avoid the upcoming penalty – any of which can be easily implemented within IgnitionOne:

Mitigating Tactic #1: Behavior-based Targeting

The first tactic that IgnitionOne recommends is one that we have advocated to clients for years: using interstitials only to targeting specific visitors at key moments during their customer journey.

Behavior-based targeting not only circumvents the new Google policy — it makes for smarter marketing. Rather than firing interstitials out the moment a user reaches your site, fire based on individual user score instead. For example, the IgnitionOne Score tracks a user’s real-time behavior on your website, allowing you to set a specific score threshold for when and how an interstitial will appear to an individual user. At IgnitionOne, we’re confident that score-based and rules-based targeting will not only likely avoid Google penalties, but will also increase the likelihood of reaching qualified users with higher interest in your brand.

With IgnitionOne, you can restrict your interstitials to display based on a visitor “Score” and product of interest – ensuring that only targeted visitors see your interstitial messaging.

Mitigating Tactic #2: Rules-based Targeting

A second tactic to employ is to selectively display interstitials only upon a set of predefined actions once visitors are on a page.

IgnitionOne has long been a proponent of rules-based targeting, and we recommend it as another option that may circumvent penalties from Google. Rules-based targeting allows you to set up interstitials based on certain parameters or triggers — rather than simply appearing on a site’s homepage after a time delay, or when a user scrolls. Triggers might include exit intent, or clicking through to another URL (i.e. “Click to continue reading this article”). In a video released shortly after Google’s August announcement, Google webmaster trends analyst John Mueller stated that exit-intent popups would be exempted from the upcoming penalty.

These more complex triggers can be easily set through the IgnitionOne Marketing Platform. For example, IgnitionOne Website Personalization can be configured to target only those users whose activity demonstrates exit intent, allowing you to serve up tailored creative that circumvents potential penalties while increasing the likelihood of engagement.

Mitigating Tactic #3: Non-intrusive Formats

Another tactic is to use nonintrusive formats for your onsite notifications.

Non-intrusive formats mentioned specifically by Google include banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space — or that expand when top or bottom bars are tapped. Other alternative formats could include slide-in or toast notifications. Google has suggested that such alternative formats offer will not be penalized. These options do not block any user content – providing for a better overall user experience — yet still provide the opportunity to connect with users as soon as they arrive on your homepage.

At IgnitionOne, we believe that connecting with users who demonstrate the highest propensity to engage through behavior-based and rules-based targeting is still a strong tactic when compared to generalized interstitials that live on a homepage. However, this option allows you to maintain those first-touch, top-of-funnel interstitials on your site without suffering diminished page rankings.

Mitigating Tactic #4: Turn Mobile Off

The final option, of course, is to turn off your mobile interstitials altogether.

This is a drastic response to the upcoming penalty. However, while the suggestions above reasonably assure that you will avoid any penalty — this last method is the only one that offers a 100% guarantee. That said – we believe most marketers would rather live with a penalty that forego the opportunity to convert their site traffic – and so this option may not be a realistic solution for most websites. That’s why we’d recommend considering the above three tactics above prior to pulling the plug on mobile interstitials altogether.


With the availability of behavior-based targeting, rules-based targeting and non-intrusive formats, there is a lot of leeway for marketers to focus on experiences that do not interrupt customers’ onsite journeys. It will still be possible to exercise creativity and explore new methods of content marketing while circumventing any penalties, and IgnitionOne is here to help.

Questions? Comments? Give us a call or drop us a note.

Looking for more information on how the Google penalty may affect you, or what you can do about it? Get in touch today. Our Website Personalization experts are standing by to help.

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