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Google punishes interstitial ‘install our app!’ ads on mobile sites

Wed 2 Sep 2015

Google has announced that it will make the inclusion of interstitial ads for dedicated apps a ‘non-mobile-friendly’ factor in its Page Speed Insights testing facility.

In a blog statement Google software search engineer Daniel Bathgate notes that Google has recently made it easier for consumers to locate mobile apps and mobile-friendly web-pages, but that in turn it has lost patience with publishers pushing their apps at mobile viewers at the expense of content visibility. Bathgate says that “sometimes a user may tap on a search result on a mobile device and see an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content and prompts the user to install an app. Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page.”

As of yesterday publishers that target mobile users with content-obscuring imprecations to install an app will receive a penalty in the mobile section of the Page Speed Insights test – but what is likelier to worry offenders into compliance is the tacit implication that this value-judgement is likely to extend into Google’s ranking algorithms; PSI is one of the relatively few places that SEO types can get some reasonably reliable and consistent information about the company’s fiercely-protected SERPS standards.

From November 1st this year, says the blog ‘web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.’

The post notes that this new wrinkle does not affect other types of interstitial, so we can still expect to have to continue articles ‘after the jump’.

Publishers have much to gain by converting end-users from casual web-browsers to dedicated app-users, depending on how the publication’s dedicated app is set up. Requesting access to fairly personal and sensitive information such as geo-location and contacts lists has practically become ‘the price’ of installing otherwise free apps in the last five years, in spite of privacy concerns in many other areas. Additionally apps, including those provided by Google’s own Publisher service, can be outfitted with extremely fine-grained metrics which send back detailed information about how the consumer navigates through the product.

In effect there are a number of tricks that publishers could consider in order to evade the new penalty imposed by Google – IP-sniffing, device-sniffing and even responsive layouts can radically change the returned result.

Out of curiosity I put one site that I know serves interstitials – nextgov.com – through PSI, and note that the interstitials which I must click through on my laptop are not served to what the site perceives to be a mobile device. Here we see that the desktop user receives an advertisement on requesting nextgov’s news hub URL, whilst the mobile device goes straight through to the listing.

Different results from the NextGov website at Google Page Speed Insights, Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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