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article imageGoogle to crack down on mobile sites with intrusive popup ads

By James Walker     Aug 24, 2016 in Technology
Google has announced a crackdown on mobile sites that make use of intrusive pop-up adverts. It is revising its search algorithms to lower the rank of these sites. The move will help users avoid bad advertising and could reduce traffic to offending pages.
Google announced the changes in a blog post directed to site administrators yesterday. It expressed a view on intrusive advertising that most consumers will share, stating ads reduce accessibility, provide a poorer experience, waste data and made it harder to quickly find content online.
The company noted that adverts can hide content that is indexed by Google. The search engine only looks at the main body of the page. This data is used to create the page's search listing, including the description displayed beneath its title. This description is often the key motivator when a user clicks on the link as they expect to find content directly linked to the description. All too often, the text they want to read is obscured by an interstitial ad, however.
The problem is worst on mobile devices with small screens, slower processors and limited amounts of data. Adverts can bring phones almost to a standstill, consuming data and potentially costing the user money, while preventing them accessing the content they wanted to read.
Google has now stated it will side with the users. On January 10, 2017, it will revise its search rankings to place a bias against sites that use interstitial adverts. It will detect offending webpages by gauging the accessibility of the main content. Sites which fail the check may not rank as highly in Google's search results. Users may be shown a different listing with similar content which displays immediately after loading the page.
Google warned site managers to check their pages for three different kinds of ad. It will always mark pages that show a popup obscuring the main content, whether it appears immediately after loading the page or later during scrolling. Standalone interstitials that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content will also be ranked lower. Finally, above-the-fold ad layouts which are visually similar to a standalone interstitial will be marked as less accessible.
The changes are likely to disrupt traffic to sites using the offending ads. Unless the majority of visitors originate from sources other than Google, the revised search listings could impact the number of visitors that websites observe. Some big-name sites may be affected by the crack down. Interstitial ads are common across the web, including on the pages of some of the world's largest publishers.
"Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible," said Google. "This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly."
Examples of pop-ups that will still be allowed
Examples of pop-ups that will still be allowed
Google
Google recognised that some interstitials and pop-ups are an important component of webpages. Its technology will detect and not block login dialogues and easily dismissible banners, such as browser alerts when a website has a corresponding native app. Pop-ups displayed for legal reasons, such as cookie usage or age verification prompts, will not be affected.
While the crackdown should be mostly positive for users, critics will see it as another demonstration of Google's ability to effectively control who sees what online. Combined with other influential hit providers, such as Facebook and Twitter, the company is able to disrupt traffic to publishers and give previously low-ranking sites high visibility. Although Google insists it acts based on user feedback, opponents of the company's ability to regulate online traffic aren't likely to be enamoured by the latest move.
Google said it will continue to monitor its ranking signals and made adjustments as required. It advised webmasters that the new signal is "one of hundreds" so pages with interstitials may not be affected, if the standard of their content is high. Administrators have just over three months to get their sites ready for the change.
More about Google, Smartphones, Mobile, Advertising, intrusive ads