The interstitial ad: Friend or foe?

 In Archives, Mobile

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By Ghennipher Weeks

So Google is doing an about-face on interstitial ads, now saying they are annoying to users of the company’s mobile app after initially recommending that websites employ them. As a result of this potentially significant reversal, Google plans to devalue, for the purposes of SEO rankings, the content behind the rich full-screen ads that greet visitors to sites like Forbes.com and Amazon. While opinions vary at this early stage — mostly because the full impact of any resulting devaluation isn’t yet clear — marketers should begin to test how interstitials affect the user experience of their specific audiences so as to be able to judge for themselves whether to abandon them.

While marketers’ bread and butter lies in online ads, internet users have become largely “ad blind.” So one of the most popular ways to alleviate this ad-blindness has been the rich-media interstitial. These full-screen ads cover the content of a webpage while it is loading, are often quite visually engaging, and are said to be more effective than banner ads.

If you’re considering including interstitials on your site despite Google’s new policy, how do they affect the experience of your audience? Consider these pros and cons.

The promise of interstitials is that with their full-screen experience, they are interactive, immersive, and make your brand stand out to delight and engage more users than basic text or ads. Interstitial ads, in particular, are often linked to monetizing the higher quality content of media companies, including sites like HBR.org.

Recently, Google did a case study on the UX value of interstitials on its own mobile app. The company’s conclusion was that app interstitials bother users, and Google is encouraging people to stay away from them. In fact, Google webmaster trends analyst Mariya Moeva said, “Speaking as a user myself, I have yet to see an interstitial that brought me some useful info and was more important than what I was originally trying to do. They’re disruptive and can be frustrating, especially if you show them right on the first page the user ever sees from your site.”[x_pullquote cite=”” type=”right”]If you’re considering including interstitials on your site despite Google’s new policy, how do they affect the experience of your audience? Consider these pros and cons.[/x_pullquote]

So Google says it will devalue the content behind interstitials on both mobile and desktop, this after initially providing app developers with interstitial tips and recommending them on its “Think with Google” site.

Do interstitials really provide a bad user experience? Anecdotal data from Google shows that nearly 70 percent of users don’t like them. (I would add that most audiences don’t like any ads at all, but that’s not part of the data being gathered.) Interstitials have been around for many years, but despite the promise of them being a delightful, immersive experience for users, I have yet to find one piece of user data describing interstitials in that way. Most audiences have the opposite view and feel that the interstitial experience is incredibly annoying and disruptive.

That said, advertisers have to walk a fine line between grabbing the audience’s attention while not frustrating them into leaving the site completely. And interstitials do seem to have a higher than average conversion rate despite their nearly universal hatred. Nonetheless, as this article was written, The New York Times announced that it when all the interstitials it has sold within its mobile app have run, the company will drop them altogether later this year. In their place, the Times will roll out what it calls “called mobile moments,” or ads that are customized to the seven moments in a given day that are most important to readers, as identified through a 12-month study conducted by the Times’ editorial product team, Advertising Age reported.

So, are the advertising benefits of using interstitials ever worth the risk? It depends. Sometimes content needs to be hidden behind a paywall or subscription login. In this case, an interstitial may be the perfect dual-purpose in-between page to give the user a chance to log in or to pay.

Another advantage of a rich-media ad like interstitials is their ability to incorporate video. There are times when the best user experience can be gained through a video giving relevant information while content loads up in the background.

There are countless advantages of interstitials for customer-focused advertisers, but there could be serious drawbacks as well. Right now, it’s not clear exactly what the impact of Google devaluing content behind interstitials will have on search results If your goals coincide with what seems to provide a better user experience with interstitials, the best way to decide whether to keep them or scrap them is to A/B test.

Google’s recommended replacement for interstitials are banner ads to provide a better user experience. Before mindlessly jumping on that bandwagon, do your own testing. Test whether banner ads provide a better user experience than interstitials. Test the conversion rates of the different ad types. And really get to know your audience. Grow in empathy for them so that you can engage effectively and create a user experience they want to return to.

Originally published at iMedia Connection http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/39193.asp

Ghennipher_WeeksGhennipher Weeks has provided conversion-driven and insightful search engine marketing and social media strategies for national and regional brands since the late 1990s. Her client portfolio includes Philips, Wells Fargo, The Women’s Information Network, The Allegis Group, TotalGym, Overstock.com, TigerDirect, Denihan Hotels and Wharton Business School. She has spoken at SES, Webmaster World’s PubCon, EVO, WITI, Blissdom, Social Media Club, Agile Roots, Blogilicious and other conferences. Weeks is certified in Agile methodologies such as a CSM and CSPO. She joined Acronym in 2014.