Google Cracks Down on Intrusive Ads

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A recently announced change in the way Google Search ranks web pages has the potential to impact mobile advertising in a big way. Starting in January, the tech giant will lower the search engine ranking of sites that display intrusive pop-ups and interstitial (full-screen) ads in an effort to crack down on invasive ads on mobile web pages.

Google considers these kinds of ads problematic because they obscure content. Google also contends that these ads are often designed to be difficult to click out of, with small “x” buttons or “close” options that are not obvious.

In a blog post on the change, Google describes such ads as providing “a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible.” The company also points out that such ads are especially problematic for mobile devices, which often have smaller screens than their desktop counterparts.

There are three main advertising techniques that make content less accessible to users, according to Google. The first of these are pop-ups that cover the main content, either immediately or while a user is browsing a page; they might not fill the entire screen. The second is an interstitial that needs to be dismissed before the user can access the main content; these ads often fill the entire screen. The third uses a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page includes an interstitial that needs to be dismissed, but the main content is beneath the fold.

Nevertheless, Google also identifies some techniques that will not be affected by the change. First are interstitials that are used in response to a legal obligation, such as age verification. Second are log-in dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable, such as email. Third are banner ads that use a reasonable amount of screen space—shown in the blog post as taking up about a quarter of the screen—and can easily be dismissed.

The change is the result of continued development efforts on the part of Google. The company previously experimented with a signal that checked for interstitials asking users to install a mobile app, and it has identified a need to broaden the scope of its efforts to include other kinds of invasive ads. To avoid duplication in its signals, Google has incorporated the check for app-install ads into its new signal. Additionally, the company notes that pages with compelling content will continue to rank highly in search results, even if they include ads that Google considers to be disruptive to the user experience.

Although marketers might feel threatened by this move, given that these kinds of ads can be a valuable source of revenue, Google’s decision can also be seen as a catalyst for marketers to adopt more customer-focused strategies. Users can quickly become frustrated with ads that interrupt the content they are seeking, and their opinion of the companies responsible for those ads might diminish as a result. Instead, it might be more effective for marketers to focus on creating ads that are interesting to users, inviting them to engage because the ad’s content is valuable rather than because the ad needs to be dismissed.

“I think this is great news for consumers. Anything that adds unnecessary friction to finding answers should be eliminated whenever possible,” said Brent Leary, cofounder of CRM Essentials, in an email. “Companies relying on these intrusive tactics should be penalized, while companies focused on consistently creating compelling content deserve to be rewarded with higher rankings in searches.”

Jess Tiffany, president of the Marketing and Networking University, agrees. “I see this overall as a good thing for user experience, and if I know myself and my marketing friends, this will allow us to become more creative and effective at finding less intrusive methods to build our lists going forward,” he said in an email.

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