Google’s John Mueller speaks on when it’s acceptable to use an intrusive interstitial; something that’s ordinarily devalued in search results.
This topic came up during a Google Webmaster Central hangout held on July 24th.
A site owner asked a series of questions about intrusive interstitials to find out if there’s a way to use them without getting their pages devalued.
Intrusive interstitials take up a significant amount of the page, hence the word “intrusive,” which makes them an effective way to drive conversions.
The problem is users find them annoying, so Google devalues pages with intrusive interstitials on mobile.
As it turns out, there is a way to use them without doing damage to search rankings.
Here’s how Mueller addressed this topic.
Hiding Intrusive Interstitials From Googlebot
The site owner asked Mueller if they could get away with serving intrusive interstitials to direct traffic, and smaller interstitials to organic traffic and Googlebot.
Serving Googlebot with different content than users see is usually considered cloaking, but apparently it’s acceptable when it comes to interstitials.
“That’s generally okay. The thing to watch out for there is that Googlebot, when we crawl and index your page, we don’t send a referrer. So that’s something where if users coming in from search see kind of an improved view – that’s fantastic.
You just need to make sure that improved view is also the one Googlebot sees when it crawls and indexes the pages. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to take that into account.”
What About Legal Interstitials?
Websites are required by law to display certain interstitials to inform users about things like data collection and privacy policies.
Sites will not get penalized for these interstitials, regardless of how intrusive they are.
Mueller says Google can recognize legal interstitials and skip over them.
The important part is that you’re showing this on top of the HTML page; not that you’re showing it instead of the HTML page.
So things like redirecting to a separate interstitial URL, or showing the interstitial instead of the actual content, that would mean that we wouldn’t be able to crawl and index the content. But if it’s a div on top of the HTML, that’s perfectly fine.”
How Would I Know if My Pages Got Devalued?
If you have been using intrusive interstitials, and are wondering whether Google devalued your pages, you may never know the answer.
Mueller says it’s not possible to determine whether a page was devalued as a result of an intrusive interstitial.
“I don’t think you can. I don’t think that’s possible. It’s one of those things that we use in the ranking algorithms where we will try to take that into account and essentially rank the website a little bit lower.
If we recognize that it’s doing things like the content above the fold on mobile is not there or filled with ads, filled with an interstitial, that kind of thing.
But it’s not like there’s a flag in Search Console, or you see a warning, or anything like that.”
How Strong is the Intrusive Interstitials Penalty?
Intrusive interstitials are a “softer” negative ranking factor.
It’s definitely not something that would affect an entire site. Only individual pages would be devalued.
Further, it won’t affect rankings when the name of the website is searched for.
“My understanding is that, especially something like the intrusive interstitial change, that’s something that is more probably a softer factor. And it’s something that wouldn’t be applied across the whole website.
In particular if people are still looking for your brand name then I wouldn’t expect to see any ranking change for that.”
Hear the full question and answer below starting at 50:15: