Unless you’ve been extremely lucky, you will have likely come across an interstitial at some point or another, and if you’re unaware of what the term “interstitial” refers to; these are the banners that appear on a screen when viewing a mobile page that traditionally advertise something to you in some form or another. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from advertising the latest car on the market, to checking your age or letting you know that the content you were trying to find is also available in a handy app. For many people these interstitials have become somewhat an annoyance, and if you’ve come across them it’s easy to see why. Even on the most stable Wi-Fi connection an interstitial can cause noticeable slow down to page load times on a mobile device, particularly if that interstitial is media intensive. Beyond the potential slow down to your browsing nobody wants an unexpected advert to pop up when you’ve begun reading an article, especially if that interstitial is telling you to stop reading the content that you’ve already started, and to download an app to read it. In this Blackboard Monday we’re going to look into interstitials and explain why you need to be careful with using them.
How to Properly Implement Interstitials
Before we delve into the pitfalls of interstitials we feel that it’s important that we clear the air on an issue of the overall use of interstitials. As is so often the case in the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), something will come along that changes what was previously considered an acceptable SEO practice, and a level of overreaction occurs as SEO folk scramble not to be caught out. Interstitials are not entirely a bad thing; in fact they can be very beneficial particularly if you want to raise awareness of your app to mobile users which could very well streamline their user experience. Essentially apps provide another route to your potential clients, so it makes sense to advertise them on your website, but you need to do so carefully. What Google is saying is that the way interstitials are implemented needs to change. App install banners that take up a small amount of space at the top of a page, such as the Native App Install Banners that Chrome uses and Safari’s Smart Banners are still absolutely fine, and Google have said that “other types of interstitials” won’t be affected by this change, so it’s safe to assume that for now adverts and “sign up for our newsletter” style interstitials will be unaffected, but we imagine that won’t be for too much longer. Full page interstitials are considered to be improper practice, so you need to ensure that your interstitials don’t hinder users from viewing the content on the page that they appear on, or to put it another way, don’t make them invasive and ruin your visitors experience on your website.
Full Disclosure from Google
Google is getting irate over the issue of app banners, and when we say irate we don’t necessarily mean that the all-seeing Google overlords are going to smite every website that uses full page interstitials from existence, but they have been pretty open about how they’ll treat them. From 1st November Google will include interstitials as a metric in their algorithm for ranking mobile friendly websites, which if you’ve kept up to date with the changes that occurred back on 21st April you’ll be familiar with what this means to you. If you’re unfamiliar Google made changes to its algorithm and began including how mobile friendly your website is as a metric for smart phone and tablet device searches, taking into account how a website looked and performed on such devices. This encouraged a vast majority of website owners to make their website responsive which ensured that their pages including the content, the size of texts and the ease at which links can be clicked were scaled well to mobile devices. Whilst Google doesn’t outright penalise websites for not being responsive, owners of these sites may begin to notice that the growth of their rankings begins to slow, as Google no longer includes the traffic that they could be gaining from the ever increasing number of mobile web browser. It’s apparent that this ban on full page app banners will bear similar results, so whilst a loss of rankings won’t necessarily occur, you will lose out on potential growth.
Why Full Page Interstitials Are Bad (Except Because Google Tells You So)
As we’ve already said, you don’t necessarily need to panic and completely redesign your website, just be aware that change is coming that could affect your rankings. However it is important to be aware of a few issues that full page interstitials, whether they are for apps, adverts or calls to action, could be having on your rankings that you might not have considered:
Ouch, My Bounce Rate
You might have been racking your brain trying to figure out why you can’t get your bounce rate down, you might even have given up a little (shame on you if you have), but if you currently have full page interstitials in place on your website then you may have found your culprit. Obviously with any SEO conundrum such as a poor bounce rate it’s advisable to do a type ‘a’ and ‘b’ test (essentially having a control and test group of pages) to try to identify the problem, but unless you have any other glaring issues it’s likely that your interstitials are causing an issue. As we’ve already said, as a general rule an interstitial is an interruption to a user’s experience of your website, which Google has identified as an issue through their own research on their Google+ page, where they found that 69% of visitors promptly abandoned the site when faced with a full page advert. So removing full page interstitials has a great success rate of improving the experience of your visitors which in turn should improve your bounce rate.
Interstitials Are Transparent
Before you start hatching a master plan to make your full page interstitials transparent to get around Google by making your content visible underneath; stop. That’s not what we mean. From the perspective of your average user full page interstitials aren’t just intrusive; they make your intentions painfully transparent. They make it apparent to each and every visitor that is subjected to them that you want something from them, and until they do what you’re asking or say “no thank you”, you’re going to deny them access to your content. It’s the equivalent of a shop owner asking you if you intend to spend any money in their store or not before they let you in. Sure you can say no and stroll on in, but it’s off-putting and in many respects will cause your average individual to put their guard up. You want each visitor to enter your website, have a browse and feel like they’ve made a decision to make a purchase or sign up to your mailing list of their own accord. In essence you don’t want to make your marketing so obvious. Keep in mind that some of the most successful marketing campaigns in the world have succeeded because they’re everywhere but not screaming at you to part with your money, instead conveying a simple message and ethos behind the brand.
They’re Not Desperately Effective
In the aforementioned case study Google also utilised their research to indicate how effective their full page interstitial advert was for promoting app downloads. The results were interesting with only 9% of users actually using the download link being offered, which whilst when seen as a Click Through Rate (CTR) is quite positive, for many websites the numbers that this 9% of visitors bring won’t be as beneficial as frequent visitors. Google found through a previous study in which the interstitial was removed that the number of 1 day active users on the mobile site increased by 17%, and although Android devices weren’t included as a metric as most Android devices already come with Google+ pre-installed; iOS downloads of the Google+ app didn’t really change with a very minor decrease of 2%. It’s clear that there’s little benefit to a full page interstitial, although it does raise some awareness of your app.
Weighing Up the Pros and Cons
Before we get into the pros and cons of interstitials it’s important to reiterate the obvious; Google doesn’t like them and they’ve been clear that they will be detrimental to your mobile usability as of the 1st November. Whilst there are some benefits to full page interstitials in that they raise awareness of your app, or the obvious advertising benefit, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Full page interstitials feel artificial, forced and are detrimental to the user experience of your visitors. Sure they’re that one pushy salesman who may make a handful of sales here and there, but in the long term they’ll just put people off visiting your website and you will in turn see an increase in bounce rates. At Michael Bell One we’re on board with Google when it comes to how we view interstitials, as we feel that from a design standpoint full page interstitials are clunky and detract from the content that you’re putting out on your website. From an SEO standpoint it’s clear that they’ll have a negative impact on almost any SEO campaign.
Talk to the People Who Know
Our web design and development team have years of experience in designing great looking websites, and our development team ensure that they run smoothly, which through design and development leads to a great user experience. Along with the efforts that our SEO team put in we ensure that we provide your website visitors with a positive user experience that keeps them naturally returning time and time again, and encourages natural and ethical visitor-to-client conversion rates to increase. If you want to find out more about how your website can achieve better results utilising our SEO techniques, or to talk to us about a redesign or new build website don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can contact me (Jake Judd) or David Park using our online contact form, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling our Lewes office on 01273 478822, and we’ll be more than happy to discuss how the team at Michael Bell One can help you.