A Guide to Using Interstitial Pages Without Incurring Penalties

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By Boris Dzhingarov

Interstitial pages are often a topic of hot debate. The reason for this is that they have been misused and abused for so long that Google finally had to step up a few years ago to define what they are in terms of adding value to the user experience. As of 2017, Google has been assessing penalties for the improper use of interstitials because they became overly intrusive rather than adding anything of value to a website or app.

You may not recognize the term and may be wondering exactly what an interstitial is that they would gain so much attention from the search giant. However, if you have done any amount of browsing on the web, you will probably recognize them immediately as a source of frustration you’ve encountered more than once. Let’s start by defining what they are before looking at how they should be used without incurring penalties.

Interstitial Pages Loosely Defined

You will recognize exactly what they are once you hear that they are those full-page pop-ups that are so annoying if not placed correctly within the flow of content. They are ads that should be placed within the content so that they appear naturally, hence the term “interstitial ads.” While they can be annoying enough on web pages if not placed at a logical break, they are even more frustrating in mobile apps if they pop up anywhere but within a break, such as between levels in a game or perhaps after activities.

Interstitial pages and ads are not to be confused with such things as those little popups on the bottom of the screen or in banner ads, often in the center of a page. They are full-page ads that obscure literally everything else on the screen. If used correctly, they are less annoying and are an effective way of advertising, which can be in the form of images, text, or even videos.

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Sometimes they can be one of the most effective ways of advertising because they are also immune to popup blockers. They leave the user only a couple of choices: to close out the page, which would return them to the game or page they were on, or to click on the page. This will take them to the site being advertised. Some have close actions that are immediately available, and others are timed well into the ad, such as at a certain point within a video.

Now that you have read a brief definition of what they are, you can probably recall dozens of times when they popped up at the most inopportune time. This is usually because they were not programmed to pop up during a logical break on a webpage or between levels in a game.

How to Avoid Penalties

Interstitial ads can be one of the most effective strategies if used correctly, but you also need to be aware that a single misstep can put you in the sights of a Google sharpshooter. This means that any good you hoped to accomplish would be quickly put down by Google, if not sooner by disgruntled users.

The debate over whether or not they can co-exist with other forms of popup ads continues. Here again, it is because they have been misused for so many years. Google has written algorithms that will penalize a website for diminishing a pleasant user experience. The level of penalties incurred is probably tied to the amount of distraction at the wrong times. One penalty which can be, and often is, imposed is loss of rank on the organic search pages.

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It’s like Google slapping the back of a hand of a wayward child who pilfered something that didn’t belong to them. That’s exactly what misplaced interstitials are doing. They are taking space and attention from the website or game in question. While it was the webmaster who placed it there, they are the ones most likely to rebel against being useful.

With that said, the way to avoid being penalized is to learn how and where to post them. On a mobile device, they should, as mentioned, be placed at a break in a game or app, often between levels or during a video break. On websites, it is suggested that they pop up just before those ‘next’ buttons users need to click to move on to the next page. If they are placed accurately, you should not incur a penalty.

Going Beyond Penalties

There is one school of thought that contends that interstitial ads are highly effective if used correctly while other marketers believe they are more of a distraction than they are worth. It is an ongoing debate, and the only solution is to track the effectiveness of those that are placed correctly so as not to incur penalties.

Also, if you want to get technical, interstitial ads should be placed intelligently within content of a similar niche. If they are placed unobtrusively within the context of the web page or within an app, then they are more likely to get noticed by users. Google is very strong on this point. They are all about promoting a positive user experience and so they have defined where and how they can be used within a marketing strategy.

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If you look at all of Google’s algorithms, which would probably take the rest of your days online, you will see that each one is geared toward ensuring users get something of value. All penalties are assessed by the lack of user engagement or an excess of pointless search terms and links. Everything you do when building a website or mobile app should be with the end-user in mind.

Therefore, knowing that interstitial ads can be one of the most profitable forms of marketing, it is imperative that you do it right, and do it right the first time. Once you’ve incurred the wrath of the Google god, it will be hard to work your way back to a solid ranking on page one of the SERPs, and that’s the bottom line.