Yesterday Google announced some changes to how it helps users find mobile-friendly content. They will now penalise websites that use intrusive pop-ups or interstitials. Websites that Google deems to be blocking quick and easy access to content through such tactics will be have a lower mobile search ranking from January 1, 2017. More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan so this news will be welcomed by consumers who hate annoying pop-ups but could be a big deal for many marketers.

Why should a pharma digital marketer care?

There are many use cases for pop-ups and interstitials on websites – site login, user verification, email sign up, promotion notices, etc. For pharma digital marketerers, there are compliance-required interstitials in addition to those that are used for data base building and promotions. This is something to now be conscious of when evaluating existing websites and planning future online initiatives – particularly until more details emerge on Google handles this at a practical level.

Google have been on a mobile optimisation quest

This news follows Google’s two-year journey to ensure a better mobile search experience for consumers. They began by tagging search results as ‘mobile friendly’ when they discovered many sites were not optimised for mobile viewers. Adding this simple label seems to have had a significant impact as 85% of sites now meet the search giant’s mobile criteria. In light of this improvement, the label is no longer necessary.

“To keep search results uncluttered, we’ll be removing the label, although the mobile-friendly criteria will continue to be a ranking signal.”

What will Google penalise in this pop-up clamp down?what pharma digital marketers need to know about google mobile optimisation

The secret sauce to a mobile optimised experience is to remove ‘friction’ for the user – avoid having too many buttons to click, things to slide and stuff to pinch or zoom. This adds to the frustration of a user on a mobile device. They want to click a link in a search result and get to the content that meets their needs. They want this to be quick and painless. Google has said:

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible.

Right now there is no need for your Legal or Compliance colleagues to get stressed. Google has clearly said that:

Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for 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 that is behind a paywall.

…Are not going to be affected by this move as long as they are “used responsibly“. So what is ‘responsible’?

mobile optimisation to stop users leaving siteQuick tips

  • For six years now people have talked about designing for ‘mobile first’. If you are not doing this, why not?
  • Test and optimise all aspects of your mobile digital experience – from the platform through to any logins, forms or downloads and how easy it is to view and consume individual content pieces.
  • Speed kills. If your site or content does not load quickly on mobile devices people will not ‘wait around’. People want instant gratification. Know your websites’ speed to load and improve on marketers put your site through google's mobile friendly test
  • Aim to remove friction for the user. Your goal should be to get as close as you can to a ‘one click’ experience. On a mobile device speed and convenience of viewing is everything. Google have written a good overview on this.
  • If you are using any type of pop-up, interstitial or page take over features – use a reasonable amount of screen space and make sure that across mobile devices, the pop-ups are easily dismissable.
  • Put your site through Google’s mobile-friendly ‘test’.