What’s Behind Google’s About-Face On Interstitials?

By September 10, 2015No Comments

Interstitial_298x178ArticleSo Google has decided that interstitial ads aren’t such a great idea after all. After initially recommending them to website developers, the search giant now says that it will begin to devalue content behind interstitials for organic rankings.

In this Q&A, Paul Krellwitz, Acronym’s Director, SEO, discusses the pros and cons of continuing to use interstitial ads given the potential impact of this recent guidance from Google.

Q: So what constitutes an interstitial ad?

A: On mobile sites, interstitials most frequently are used to encourage users to download the site’s app rather than simply visit the mobile site. On desktop versions, these screens are commonly monetized. They show ads or videos that have to be viewed at least to some degree before they can be bypassed and users can access the content they came looking for. Here’s an example from the home page of Forbes, which has employed interstitials for many years.

Q: What did you make of Google’s pronouncement?

A: My initial reaction, purely from a user perspective was, “Fantastic! I hate those things!” Then I got to wondering: “Would it make a difference?”

Q: It would seem that Google has user experience in mind, yes?

A: Yes, Google said it considers interstitials bad for users, which makes sense. Anything that stands as a distraction or an impediment preventing people from getting to the content they want is bound to be considered counterproductive.

Q: Do you think that devaluing content behind interstitials will motivate webmasters to drop these ads?

A: That depends. If the interstitials are monetized, then a webmaster/site owner has to ask, “Do we get more revenue in hand from that ad than the content itself can generate?” They would also have to look at how their competition responds to Google’s admonition. If everyone else follows the search giant’s guidance and abandons the practice of using interstitials, then the question becomes whether it’s worth bucking the trend.

Q: What else is at play here?

A: The other major factor is the extent of a negative ranking factor for continuing to use interstitials. After all, we all know that there are literally hundreds of factors that go into establishing rank for a single URL. An interstitial is a single aspect. If Google wanted to, it could always crank the knob to 11 on this one and absolutely punish content behind interstitials. In that case, the ramifications for SEO could be dire. High-volume traffic pages—and potentially entire domains—could get pushed down in the Search Engine Results Pages. But will they? That remains to be seen.

Q: The New York Times says it will discontinue using interstitials. But Forbes seems to be plugging right along. Why might that be?

A: The New York Times is dropping interstitials in favor of more “native” type advertising at specific times of the day. In short, it’s more likely they’re being dropped to accommodate a new “day-part” type strategy with their audience more than the Google heads-up.

The suggestion from Google is that it may take a less favorable view of content behind interstitials, insofar as Forbes goes, is probably a suck-it-and-see thing. Until they do see any drastic drop in rankings or traffic, they’ll continue to run them. If they stop running them due to the Google thing, I doubt if their audience would care much (or even notice) anyway.

The other interesting thing is, for publishers such as Forbes, the technology they use to power their ad campaigns (including the interstitial units) is actually supplied by Google in the first place (DART for Publishers).