Interstitial Update – Run, Scream & Panic!

The big G made an announcement that an update targeting interstitial ads or stoppers is coming in January 2017.  It’s now time to panic, run and scream.  You may want to quit and burn your site to the ground because SEO is dead!  Know what else is dead?

Affiliate marketing is dead.  Blogging is dead.  PPC is dead.  Social media, email marketing and apps are all dead!  You know what else is dead?  Elvis.  Well, actually he didn’t die.  He transferred his existence into a cat and is now living 9 lives so he can continuously attack blue suede shoes…ya, I went there.  Sound ridiculous?  So is panicking over this update (which isn’t even an update if you read below).  Although if you do panic and mess up your site, I’m hoping you’re in the same niche as me since you’ll be making my job easier.

This post will walk you through Google’s announcement and help you determine if you have anything to worry about.  The reality is that nobody will know anything until it rolls out.  If you do get hit (there are almost always casualties), then you fix the issue and try some of the steps in the last section of this post.

  • Overview
  • Ranking Factor vs. Penalty (what is this?)
  • What Google is Targeting vs. What People Are Saying
  • When Should You React

google announced an update ecard

Overview

The first thing you should do is actually read and think about what Google said.  I know, that takes work and time, but it is important if you want to actually understand what they’re doing and what their goal is.  Here’s the link to the announcement.  It clearly says the goal is to help MOBILE users get to content faster after they’ve clicked on organic rankings.  This is in the first section of the post about the update.

In the second paragraph is says “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.”.  It is important to understand what this means.  I go into more detail in Ranking factor vs. penalty in the first section below.  This could mean that you may be able to keep your interstitials on non organic traffic like PPC or email, you can probably keep it on landing pages and you can keep it on social media ad flows.

The next paragraph gives specific examples of what they’re targeting.  This is also important to understand, so they give us pretty images and graphics to demonstrate.

The fourth section gives specific examples of what they consider to be a good practice with interstitials.

Now go and read the actual announcement, then come back here and figure out if you have anything to worry about in the three sections below.

Ranking factor vs. penalty (what is this?)

In the second paragraph they clearly say it effects pages that rank organically and may only show them lower, not remove them from the search results.  A penalty removes a site and/or a page, a ranking factor lowers the ability of a page to rank.  Therefore if your rankings fall and you’re using interstitials, change your strategy on the pages you need to have rank.  It’s really that simple.

You don’t need to alter the entire site, your full UX, sales funnels, etc…  i.e. do not panic.  You only need to address which pages are affected if and only if they are impacting by this update (which isn’t an actual update).  You also won’t know until it rolls out in January.  Even if you have pages that fluctuate before they roll this out, it probably wasn’t the update so look at other factors on your site and in your SEO strategy.

Now this bigger thing, THIS IS NOT AN ALGORITHM UPDATE OR A PENALTY, IT IS A RANKING SIGNAL BEING ADDED TO THE MAIN ALGORITHM.

If you’re shaking your head no and that I’m wrong about it being a ranking signal vs. a penalty, then you clearly didn’t read their announcement.  In the section about the ways to use interstitials and not be impacted, they say it’s a signal, not a penalty or big algorithm update.

“By contrast, here are some examples of techniques that, used responsibly, would not be affected by the new signal:”

If you’re still shaking your head like we’re talking about politics, read the first part of the closing where they say:

“Remember, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking.”

Now go read the announcement.  When you’re done continue to the next section.

google interstitial update

What Google Is Targeting vs. What People Are Saying

Google’s goal and where they strive is showing quality content (I’m shaking my head at this one and am ashamed I said it) in a quick and easy to digest manner.  If they show pages that require you to pay, if those same pages make you wait for content (show you ads or a time frame to wait while a video plays) or make the content not easily accessible, Google is not providing a good UX to their searchers.  This means they need to rethink which pages they show results for.  Otherwise end users stop using them and go to Bing, Yahoo or Lycos.  😉

What does this mean for you as a webmaster, blogger, ecommerce store, etc…?

Google is targeting the sites that prevent a mobile end user from finding content quickly and easily.  This could be using something not easy to get rid of because the X is small and hidden or you have to zoom out on a mobile device to find it.  It could be a site that requires you to watch an ad before showing you the results for your query.  Another type of site that should worry about it’s organic page rankings would be one that charges a fee to access content.  If you’re doing these things, remove them from the mobile pages that you want to have rank or that get hit and you need to recover.

There, that’s it. Create a better mobile experience that doesn’t make people have to work to find your content if you want to keep these pages showing after this ranking signal launches.  Now you need to know when to start taking action.

When Should You React

Unless you are currently doing one of the things Google clearly says not to do, and you have top rankings already, then wait.  The new ranking signal (not penalty or update) doesn’t go live until January 2017.  After it goes live and the panic and rumors go away, evaluate where your top ranking pages may have slipped, see if they really did and if you have a non-best practice interstitial showing on the mobile version and then take a strategic approach.

  • First look to see if it is mobile traffic that declined on a page basis, not sitewide.
  • Second, look in search console, analytics and even tools like Authority Labs to see if the pages did in fact drop.
  • Next go in and remove the interstitial from the mobile version of these pages.
  • Once completed, cache these pages and fetch as Google.
  • Now wait for a bit and see if the rankings for these pages come back up.

Now that you’re done panicking, go find those people who didn’t actually read and send them this post.  Chances are they’ll just blast me for saying I’m spewing out garbage and that I’m wrong, but they probably didn’t actually read this post either.  =0)

The only way to actually know what will happen with the interstitial ranking signal being added is to wait and see.  Once it goes live, someone will do an update post on how they got hit, how they know and what they’re doing to fix it.  If you have dropped in rankings a bit, this is an easy one to fix so don’t panic.

Let your IT team know what to prepare for and what you may need changed, but make it a lower priority for now.  If you’re not doing what Google has warned about in their announcement with interstitials, continue like normal and just check your analytics, Authority Labs and rankings for the next few days or weeks after it launches and then see if the new ranking signal had an impact on your mobile pages.

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