Google Sets Its Sights on the Pop-Up Ad

By Jay Saenz / Sep 29, 2016



Say Goodbye to Interstitial and Pop-up Ads

Ethan Zucarman didn’t mean to annoy you. He was simply trying to solve a problem for his employer Tripod—a webpage-hosting provider that made it easy for anyone in the ‘90s to create websites about anything. Eventually Tripod began selling advertisements on the websites it hosted for free and that’s when the trouble began. Advertisers didn’t want their ads for family-friendly products and services displayed on pages dedicated to less-than-family-friendly activities.  

To solve the problem, Zucarman created the pop-up advertisement.

“[The pop-up] was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content,” Zucarman said in an interview with Forbes contributor Jay McGregor (Forbes, 2014).

With that, the era of annoying pop-up advertisements on websites commenced. That era, however, is beginning to come to an end—at least for mobile users. That’s because Google recently announced it will update its guidelines on January 10, 2017, ultimately penalizing websites that use certine types of interstitial (ads that cover or overlay the interface of their host application) and pop-up ads.

Cleaning up the Mobile Web

Not long ago, Google added its mobile-friendly label to search results. Google’s end goal was to ensure that smartphone users (who now account for more than half of Google’s searches*1) could easily find responsively designed websites—those that display well on mobile devices and required less user interaction to access information.

Keeping this in mind, Google’s announcement that interstitial and pop-up ads (which often cover up content and require an action from the user to dismiss) comes as no surprise to those of us in the advertising world.

According to Google’s new guidelines, these techniques make content less accessible to end-users:

  • Showing a pop-up that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a stand-alone interstitial the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a stand-alone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Likewise, here are examples of ads that will be unaffected by the new guidelines:

  • Interstitials that appear in response to a legal obligation, such as cookie usage or age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome use a reasonable amount of screen space.

What Google Wants

So now we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s explore why Google’s new guidelines aren’t all that surprising. In making these changes, Google’s end goal is simple—to stay the number one search engine in its markets. To achieve that goal, Google has to provide users with relevant content as fast and easily as possible. The better users are able to achieve their goal, the more often they’ll use Google—and the more often Google can serve them an ad.

What It Means For You

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  • Should be Empty:
  • When creating content and designing your website (including ads) we recommend you align your content with the user’s goals. Just follow these steps:

    • Don’t mislead your reader—ensure your headline, content and associated SEO are all in sync.
    • Don’t make it difficult for users to access your content. Interstitial and pop-up ads get in the way of your user’s goals. And if Google’s new policies aren’t enough to dissuade you, just look at the number of installs for Ad-Blockers on both desktop and mobile. If you don’t remove pop-ups, your users will find ways to get rid of them without your help.
    • Do ensure your site is responsive, and that text and images display clearly on multiple screen sizes.

    So Long and Thanks for All The Pop-ups

    Basically, it all comes down to being a good net citizen by creating great, user-friendly content that’s relevant to your audience. Remember, if it’s useful, they will come. And as an everyday practice, try to avoid the use of pop-up and interstitial ads. The easier it is for end-users to access your content, the better.

    If you want to learn more about Google’s new guidelines, go to

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    Jay Saenz

    Jay believes it's all about creating mutually beneficial relationships. With more than five years' experience in nonprofit development/underwriting and 13 years in direct sales, Jay specializes in finding the right match between an organization's purpose, audience and prospective partners. You won't mind taking his calls because his sales process is noticeably absent of slime—it's built on strategic collaboration, communication and teamwork.