Google is constantly striving to improve the user experience on websites – especially for mobile users. For this reason, the Interstitial Penalty was rolled out in January 2017, as a result of which the affected websites can significantly lose mobile rankings and visibility. What is behind this penalty, what effects it can have and how to solve it? You can find out here.
What are interstitials?
Interstitials are (advertising) displays on websites that open automatically when a user loads a page. They overlay the website’s actual content and can appear, for example, in the form of a pop-up or a flash layer. Some interstitials close by themselves after a certain period of time; others have to be closed manually.
Due to their prominent placement, they attract a lot of attention from the user and be perceived as annoying, especially if they are often used or contain annoying advertising messages.
What is the interstitial penalty?
The Interstitial Penalty is a penalty imposed by Google on websites that have included annoying interstitials on the mobile version of their website. It manifests itself through a loss of mobile visibility and rankings. Interstitials prevent users from having direct access to the content of the website.
This is perceived as particularly annoying on mobile devices. On the small smartphone displays, the advertising banners often overlay the website’s entire content and are difficult to click away.
With the Interstitial Penalty, Google responded to such ads at the beginning of 2017 by penalizing said pages. The user should see the information he is looking for immediately after clicking on the search result.
Pages on which the content is difficult to access, for example, because a pop-up has to be laboriously clicked away first, rank worse. The penalty is based on URL. Only pages that can be reached directly via the mobile Google search results are affected. The penalty does not respond to interstitials that occur after the first click.
What kind of interstitials are penalised?
The penalty does not apply to all forms of interstitials. Affected are pages that include the following types:
- Advertising banners that cover most of the content and that pop-up either immediately or while the user is looking at the page
- Advertising banners that cover the entire content of the website and must be actively clicked away by the user to get to the content of the page
- Layouts in which the advertising banner covers the entire immediately visible area of the website and the user has to scroll to get to the actual content
The following are excluded from the penalty:
- Displays based on legal guidelines, such as a banner to obtain cookie consent or – in the case of adult content – inquiries about the age of the user
- Password requests for website areas that are not freely accessible
- Banners that only extend over a small part of the display and are also easy to click away.
How do you know if your website is affected by an interstitial penalty?
If you notice that your mobile visibility drops rapidly from one week to the next while your desktop visibility is stable, this can be a sign of an interstitial penalty. Usually, this should also be reflected in your website’s mobile traffic very quickly.
The collapse in visibility coincided with the second corona lockdown. An info banner was installed on the website exactly at this point, which covered the entire content of the website and had to be clicked away by the user in order to get to the main content of the page. This was not even advertising but merely information about the corona crisis. The website was punished anyway.
Incidentally, the banner hid the content on both the mobile version of the website and the desktop version, but only the mobile rankings collapsed.
After the info banner was removed from the page, the rankings recovered within two weeks, and the mobile visibility matched that of the desktop visibility again.
Funnily enough, a similar info banner was displayed on the website for the first lockdown in spring 2020, but this did not result in any penalties.
What can you do if your website is affected?
If you suspect that your website is affected by the interstitial penalty, the easiest way to get out of the penalty is to remove the interstitial from the website, at least on the mobile version of your site. The mobile rankings should then recover in the relatively short term and return to their previous level.
Alternatively, you can, of course, also use a different type of display and test whether it is sufficient to reduce your advertising banner.
Google attaches great importance to presenting users with websites in the search results that are easy to use. The interstitial penalty punishes mobile websites with annoying advertisements. Should you be affected by this penalty, it is usually sufficient to remove the disruptive elements from your website in order to return to the old visibility.