Over the past year, Google has made several changes to mobile search to encourage website owners to make their sites more mobile friendly. The biggest change was the introduction of a ranking factor for mobile friendliness which gave SEO boosts to mobile friendly sites. Last week, Google announced another change that will be just as significant for some website owners. After November 1st, Google will start penalizes sites that have mobile app install ads on pages that hide the primary content.
It’s understandable that business owners want to promote their apps to consumers. Getting people to download a dedicated app makes it easier to get content to them and collect data that can be used for personalized marketing campaigns. A common tactic is to use a banner ad that shows up when a mobile users arrives on a website that informs the user about the benefits of downloading the app.
Google will start penalizing sites where these banner ads for app installs cover most of the content for the page. The reasoning is simple, people clicked on the search results to see the content, not the ad. Google will now start giving preference to sites where the user will see the content and not go through ads first.
“After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly,” wrote Daniel Bathgate on the Google Webmaster Blog. “This does not affect other types of interstitials. As an alternative to app install interstitials, browsers provide ways to promote an app that are more user-friendly.”
Google has updated its Webmaster Tools to help website owners prepare for this change. They have already updated the Mobile-Friendly Test “to indicate that sites should avoid showing app install interstitials that hide a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page”. Similarly, the Mobile Usability report in Search Console will now show webmasters the number of pages across the entire site that need to be changed.
For mobile website owners with multiple sites or several apps to promote, this could mean changing a lot of pages. Google’s test don’t say which pages need to be changes, so this may take some detective work to find out which three pages out dozens are the ones Google wants changed. Even if the change isn’t official until November, it’s best to get started now.
Another thing to note is that this is another case where Google has given website owners advanced warning before major changes. This announcement gives webmasters ample time to find any pages on their site at issue and to make changes before the update go live. When Google did this before the original mobile-friendliness algorithm update, it reduced the number of sites that were adversely affected.
Making the necessary changes to adhere to Google’s new best practices for app ads is as important the mobile friendliness update was. If a site went through all the effort of getting their sites mobile friendly back in April, but then don’t make these changes, all the previous effort will be for naught and they will lose the mobile friendliness label. As was noted in a previous article, sites that weren’t mobile friendly when the algorithm update hit lost several ranking spots. So this isn’t something that can be taken lightly.
For more recent news about Google updates, read this article on the effects of recent change to the Google Local Pack.