Are You Prepared for the New Google Policy Changes?

by | Jan 10, 2017 | Actionable SEO Tips

Google interstitial policy changes coming in todayBack in August, Google announced a change to their Mobile Search Engine Ranking Policy. They will start penalizing sites that use intrusive interstitials on mobile web pages from January 2017. January 10th, to be exact. That’s today.

What do you need to know about Google’s interstitial policy?

Firstly, what are these intrusive interstitials that Google are talking about?

In a nutshell, intrusive interstitials are mainly pop-ups. Pop-ups are one of the biggest sources of email acquisition on our websites, accounting for up to 50% of leads each month.

Unfortunately, pop-ups are also annoying. They slow down your site and are terrible for user experience. They block the viewer from seeing the content on the page they’ve clicked through until they engage with you. That could be by submitting their email address or clicking on the X to close the pop.

In the past 18 months, Google has begun to place a huge emphasis on user experience and site speed. The introduction of AMP last year allows websites to load four times faster and use 10 times less data than a normal mobile web page. The new rules surrounding interstitials help create a better mobile user experience. Together, they help create a better mobile web, which long-term, is good for everybody.

That’s long-term, though. Short-term, the new interstitial rules create a headache for marketers, which we’ll get to a little later. Before that, we’ll look at what Google has to say.

The official word from Google

There are times when it’s difficult to get a definitive answer from Google, but they’re pretty open about the new interstitial changes. The official line from Google is that the following can result in your pages getting penalised:

  1. Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  2. Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
    Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
  3. One important thing to note is what Google’s John Mueller confirmed on Twitter. Google isn’t looking to penalize all pages with interstitials. It is only going to penalize the ones which searchers can land on from search results. It’s still OK to display a pop-up when a user navigates from one of your pages to another.

Here are six websites, viewed on mobile, that may look familiar to you. They’ve one thing in common. They all fail the new Google rules. The pages on these sites that have pop ups could potentially get penalised by Google.

Agora sites that fail the new google interstitial policy changes

Scary, right?

It is, but let’s not panic…just yet.

What does it all mean?

The big thing right now is that the changes only affect mobile visitors. We also don’t know how this is going to impact our rankings. It’s a new ranking signal, one of at least 200. How much emphasis Google will place on it is anybody’s guess.

Does that mean that we can ignore the new rules? Ignore them at your peril.

Short-term, you might be OK.

Looking at the bigger picture, speed and user experience are becoming very important in eyes of Google. Google are hell bent on creating a cleaner mobile web and rightly so. From a user’s point of view, the mobile web sucks. The majority of websites are built for desktop with little thought given to mobile viewers. The new rules help improve user experience, which should indirectly help your rankings by reducing bounce rate and increasing time spent on your site.

What do we need to do right now?

The first thing you need to do is figure out how many of your current signups come via mobile. Having this information will make it easier to make a decision on the new rules.

If you redirect signups to a Thank You Page, a quick and easy way to find out how many signups come via mobile is as follows.

In Analytics, click into Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.

In the secondary dimension field, enter your Thank You Page URL. It should look something like this.

In segments, add Mobile, Tablet, and also Desktop. Remove the All Users segment.

Your segments should now look like this.

Google Analytics Mobile v Desktop

Look at the Unique Pageviews column. This will give you the data you need.

Desktop vs tablet vs mobile in Analytics

Once you have this data, you need to decide what action needs to be taken.

At a minimum, you should monitor your rankings, and traffic, in the coming weeks. If you see a drop, you can act quickly to rectify any problems that may be caused by popups.

If mobile signups are low, the safest bet is to change your pop-ups to a solution that passes Google’s new rules. Optin Monster have stated that their floating bars are compliant with the new rules. Here’s an example of one company that has already made the change:

Google interstitial  policy compliant signup box

If you use Listrak as your pop up software, they’ve also introduced a Google compliant solution. They sent an email update about it on January 3rd and followed up with another mail, yesterday. Reach out, if you’d like me to forward it on.

Other pop-up solutions will likely follow suit. If you use different software on your site, be sure to check out if there’s a compliant pop that you can use.

The bottom line on the Google interstitial policy changes

There are a lot of things we don’t know about the upcoming changes. We don’t know how much impact they’re going to have on our business. Long term, it could be a game-changer. Pop-ups play an important role in building our lists.

Now is not the time to dwell on that, however.

Right now, you need to decide if you should take immediate action and change your mobile pop-ups to ones that are compliant or if you should take a risk, and see how it plays out.

Use the analytics data to help you decide. If a large amount of your signups come via mobile, it might be worth considering a third option. That is, testing your current mobile pop-up against a new compliant one to see if it impacts the number of names you acquire via the mobile pop-up before rolling it out fully.

Initial testing shows a drop in signups via a compliant pop-up.

Whatever option you decide to take, we’d love to know the rationale behind your decision.

Reach out, and we can discuss the pros and cons of making the change now vs waiting it out to see the initial results in the coming weeks.

Until next time,

Colm O’Sullivan
SEO Specialist, AIM