The Crackdown on Mobile Webpage Interstitials and How to Prevent a Penalty

Executive Summary

Mobile usability is as important as ever. In order to rank in mobile search results, websites must prove they are mobile-friendly. As a means to prevent bad practices in mobile webpages, Google has announced an update to penalize webpages that use “intrusive interstitials” starting January 2017.

According to a source from Google, most pharma websites that use interstitials should not be impacted by this update. However, for some webpages that use large interstitials, it may be worth reviewing the layout to ensure they fall in line with Google’s guidelines.

We recommend taking another look at webpages that have interstitials to possibly redesign them, as well as reconsidering any plans to implement interstitials in future website refreshes.

Background

Search engines have placed an emphasis on the importance of mobile-friendly usability over the past few years, as more and more users choose to search for answers using their mobile devices. While desktop search will continue to be a part of everyday life, mobile search has grown exponentially to the point of even becoming the primary source of organic search visits.

With the ongoing trend of mobile search as the next big source of finding information, Google released a statement declaring that, starting January 2017, it will actively evaluate all websites that use intrusive interstitials as part of their web design. Essentially, Google will review all existing interstitials and penalize the ones that interfere with a user’s ability to view a webpage’s content on mobile devices.

Interstitials in Mobile Devices

Not all pharma brand websites have this type of interstitial set up, but there are still some out there that currently utilize them for their webpages. In order to determine which interstitials still provide value to the user, Google will be evaluating all present interstitials to date against their own criteria. These are the 3 main types of interstitials that Google seeks to penalize:

Below is a visual representation of the interstitials that will likely be penalized.

These are the 3 main types Google will not specifically target and penalize:

Below is a visual representation of the interstitials that will likely avoid being penalized.

How This Affects Pharma Search Results

To analyze existing interstitials even further, we ran a few tests on a branded HCP website and an unbranded disease state awareness website aimed toward HCPs.
For one branded HCP website, we found:

  1. The interstitial covered the entire webpage, so no webpage content could be visible
  2. The interstitial required the user to either click one of 4 options or to close it entirely
  3. The interstitial appeared every time the user visited, despite previous selections made

Considering the factors above, it is more likely Google will likely penalize this particular interstitial because it covers the entire webpage, requires the user to dismiss it, and appears every time the webpage loads. This would be an example of a type of interstitial to avoid using. For one unbranded disease state awareness website, we found:

  1. The interstitial required the user to click “Yes” to access its content
  2. The interstitial covered most of the webpage, with very little content visible
  3. The interstitial does not appear again, after the user clicks a response

Recommendation: What Pharma Brands Can Do

The biggest takeaway is to reevaluate existing interstitials in branded and unbranded websites to see if they fall under the penalized or non-penalized categories. If there is no legal obligation to use interstitials, simply removing them as part of the website design could alleviate any potential issues. To monitor the impact of interstitials that have already exist in webpages and to prevent possible ranking penalties, brands can develop a process for any of the following:

  1. Record organic visits from mobile devices for webpages that have interstitials
    • Compare month over month visits from before and after the update
  2. Analyze keyword rankings for search results on mobile browsers for webpages with interstitials
    • Compare week over week rankings from before and after the update
  3. Redesign existing interstitials so they are no longer intrusive
    • Decrease the size of the interstitial so it takes up only a little space at the top
    • Implement a cookie-based tracking code that recognizes the browser’s response
    • Remove interstitial altogether if it is no longer applicable
  4. Design webpages so they do not require interstitials to be a part of the layout
    • Create a login screen for only specific users to access private content

CMI is more than happy to review these effective strategies, in order to help steadily maintain high rankings for a brand, so potential web design hiccups do not negatively impact the brand. Please feel free to contact us for additional information on how CMI can help your brand stay on top of managing a strong organic search presence.