Day of Reckoning for autoplay VSLs and popups

by | Jan 18, 2018 | Actionable SEO Tips

In June last year, Google announced that their Chrome browser would begin automatically blocking ads that fail the initial better ads standards as set out by the Coalition for Better Ads beginning in early 2018. The official Google Developers blog states that February 15th is the day of reckoning for pop-ups.

Google’s quest to clamp down on pop-ups and intrusive interstitials began in early 2017 when they started penalizing sites showing full-page pop-ups on mobile, on traffic from Google Search. They’ve now set their sights on auto-playing videos while doubling down on pop-up blocking.

Various outlets such as Venture Beat and an official Google presentation suggest that the auto-play video policy changes will come into full force as soon as Chrome 64 rolls out next Tuesday, on January 23rd.

What exactly are the Google Chrome video policy changes?

Once Chrome 64 have rolled out, the new policy changes will only allow auto-playing video content under the following conditions:

  • The content is muted, or does not include any audio (video only). Muted auto-play will always be allowed.
  • The user tapped or clicked somewhere on the site during the browsing session meaning if you land on a site, and click a link to a promo on the same domain, the promo will auto-play, if it’s set to do so.
  • On mobile, if the site has been added to the Home Screen by the user.
  • On desktop, if the user has frequently played media on the site, according to the Media Engagement Index.

If your video ad or promo don’t comply with these guidelines, your video will not play.

How will the auto-play video changes affect your
current marketing strategy?

When you click through from an email in your inbox to a promo, the VSL will no longer auto-play, even if it was set up to do so. I’ve installed the new Chrome 64 Beta version to see what a blocked auto-playing videos look like.

It isn’t good news. Here are two Agora examples, where I clicked through from my inbox.


Here’s an example of an auto-playing video no longer working in Google Chrome

In the example above, a black box appears. No play button appears and there isn’t any indication that you need to press something or somewhere on the screen to start the VSL.

The example below is even worse. There’s no indication that there is supposed to be a video on this page.


Chrome no longer plays video automatically

Here’s what it looks like in reality.

It’s not just your email marketing campaigns that are affected. If you use auto-playing VSL’s on your PPC landing pages or confirmation pages, they’ll also need to be updated. There is one exception.

However, if your confirmation page is on the same domain as your landing page, you’re fine. The video will auto-play as the user has interacted with the domain on the landing page.

If your confirmation page is on a different domain however, the VSL won’t play and you’ll have the same issues that I outlined above.

How will this impact your business?

Google Chrome is by far the most popular web-browser. According to w3Counter 59% of internet users use Google Chrome.

You can see how these changes affect your web traffic by looking in your Google Analytics account by following these steps:

Step 1: Login to your Google Analytics account and select the property you want to view.

Step 2: Choose your date range.

Step 3: Click Audience > Technology > Browser & OS.


How to find browser usage stats in Google Analytics

In this example, 52% (over 250,000 people) of your overall site traffic would’ve been affected. And that’s only for December.

Is there an easy fix?

Thankfully, there appears to be. The Google Developers blog has posted some code that will place a play button on any content that doesn’t auto-play. You can view that code snippet, here.

The Google Chrome 64 pop-up changes

Beginning February 15th, Chrome will block ads that fail the initial better ads standards set out by the Coalition for Better Ads.

I have some good news regarding these changes. If you aren’t notified in the Ad Experience Report in Search Console, these changes may not affect you.

If your site does fall foul of these standards, and you get a notification, you’ll have 30 days to remove any offending ads and resubmit for approval. If you fail to do so, Google will block all ads from your website until you get re-approved.

NOTE: If you are seeing a notification from the Ad Experience Report, please reach out. I am seeing not yet reviewed on all the sites we have access to.

I have even better news in relation to pop-ups. I reached out to OptinMonster, which is the most popular pop-up plugin used on WordPress sites, and they’ve confirmed that their pop-ups pass the coalition for better ads guidelines.


OptinMonster pop-ups pass new ad standards

If it’s either all their pop-ups, or just their lightbox pop-up, I’m not sure. Their upcoming blog post should answer that question. Stay tuned.

If you don’t use the OptinMonster plugin, you have less than a month to review your pop-ups. Be prepared!

I also reached out to Lytics, which a lot of Agora groups use on their sites. Their response was also positive, assuring that Lytics is very well positioned for Google Chrome changes & filters. Google will penalize sites that deploy popups indiscriminately, but not targeted pop-ups, such as those created in Lytics. Our CTO is very Google-friendly & compliant, so we are staying in front of any potential issues with Chrome (and IE).

I’ve also asked both OptinCat and Ninja Pop-ups about their plugins but both have ignored me. If you use these plugins, you can contact OptinCat here and Ninja Pop-ups here to ask how they’ll fare with the new changes.

If you’re using a different ad-serving solution for your traffic, keep a close eye on your Google Search Console account, and be ready to act if you get a notification.

Why are Google making these changes?

The official line from Google is that these ad-blocking changes will help improve user-experience. They’ve stated that 1 out of every 5 user feedback reports submitted on Chrome for desktop mention “unwanted content”.

However, I don’t buy it. The real reason is, like any business, Google wants to improve their bottom line.

By blocking the most annoying and intrusive ads, Google hopes that users don’t install ad-blocking software that block all Google ads on search, display, and video. Before these Google changes were announced, it was expected that ad-block software used by internet users would hit the 30% mark.

Blocking some of its own ads will mean that there will be less inventory available to advertisers, which in turn will mean that the cost of running your PPC campaigns will increase. Hopefully this will also mean that some of the poor-quality sites on which your ads are served on when you initially launch a new AdWords account or campaign, will no longer need to be manually excluded.

Less ads and better a user-experience for users while Google increases its ad revenue?

Looks like a win for everybody, except us marketers.

Thanks for reading.
Colm O'Sullivan
Colm O’Sullivan, AIM