Is Google's plan to demote sites with pop-up ads an abuse of power?

Marketers react to the search giant's plan to crack down on "intrusive interstitials"

Websites with pop-up ads will soon be penalized in mobile Google searches.

The world’s most prominent search engine this week announced that beginning next year, sites that have interstitials and pop-up ads will appear lower in mobile search results.

The move is an attempt by the company to provide users with a smoother search experience, unobstructed by interruptive advertising.

"Our goal is to help users quickly find the best answers to their questions, regardless of the device they’re using," said Google in a blog post. "Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller." 

Pop-ups and interstitials can take the form of videos, large ads, java overlays and redirects to app stores. There will, however, be exceptions. Interstitials that verify people’s ages, "reasonably-sized" ad banners and pay wall sign-ups will not be included. The change will go into effect on January 10, 2017.

We reached out to marketers to discover whether there is any anxiety around Google’s plan and if pop-ups are still considered an effective form of advertising. 

Andy Amendola, director of digital strategy, the community

Google is back at it, policing the Internet,     under the  guise of "helping people find the content they need." This time, they are using their power for good, at least  from  the people’s perspective. Publishers may suffer, but only if they take action and abolish pop ups and interstitials. For that to happen, they must truly believe that the potential damage from a drop in search rankings outweighs the benefit they get from their precious, yet annoying, ad inventory. And I’m not quite sure that will be the case.

As advertisers, we would never recommend our clients leverage pop-ups to reach our consumers. Pop-up ads are nuisances that ruin our everyday surfing and the reason behind the explosive adoption of ad blockers. 

Ricardo Diaz, executive digital director, Omelet

I really don't believe agencies and brands should be worried about this move. Pop-up ads have been the bane of the user experience since the beginning of the Internet, and I feel like Google has great intentions in making the experience better for everyone. 

None of our clients use pop-up ads, but I'm more concerned with just how much power and influence Google has in this. They essentially own the Internet's entire ranking system and that may be a little too much power for one company.

Cristina Constandache, Managing Director EMEA, Cheetah Mobile

This is a natural evolution with the maturation of the mobile market. At the end of the day, the real penalty for intrusive, disruptive ads is lost business. There are plenty of best practices for publishers and brand marketers to emulate in terms of how to effectively monetize content while providing added value to users. We are noticing that most publishers and brands alike are improving the way they engage with their users by providing better, more relevant seamless experiences.

Mike Mikho, CMO, Laundry Service and Cycle

Marketers should only invest in content and advertising that adds value to users, and should divest from anything that doesn't. No one likes being served pop-up ads and users just ignore them anyway. Google downgrading those sites is good for users and marketers, and so are measures taken by social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to ensure that the user experience is protected above all else.

Mark Bauman, CEO, ReviveAds

The advertisers themselves are causing this increase in the usage of ad blockers and the increase in restrictions. I believe it's extreme to restrict a site on how they can advertise or market. I believe it should be up to the user to visit that site.

I don't see this as a positive for anyone except Google. I know that their advertising revenue comes from display ads and not pop ups. Only time will tell, but this could mean higher rates for display advertising or more aggressive forms of advertising out of display.

Thas Naseemuddeen, Chief Strategy Officer, Omelet

Honestly, in the last couple years, so many of our clients have moved away from traditional digital advertising units – specifically pop-ups. With the proliferation of digital ad dollars moving to the sharp targeting abilities of things like social advertising, the idea of the ‘intrusive’ pop-up is less and less palatable – and more and more archaic - from a strategic and creative perspective.

Google’s onto something with this move, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the best user experience. Happy users equals happy future customers and consumers.

Pete Sena, CCO, Digital Surgeons

It is no surprise that Google is now downgrading websites with pop-ups and interstitial ads. Their algorithm has been increasingly tweaked to consider the experience of the end searcher. If you consistently have a poor experience with sites that Google directs you to, you aren’t going to value Google as highly. Google understands the importance of ensuring positive end-to-end experiences for those that choose its platform for search.

Michael Bertini, online marketing consultant, iQuanti

Many of our clients have moved away from using these tactics, as it's frustrating for the end-user when first arriving to a website. Imagine if the first time you walked into a department store you're bombarded by a sales associate, your immediate reaction will be "I'm just looking." Well, same on the web. I think this will help marketers to starting thinking more about user experience. CRO needs to be more incorporated with SEO and this is a great start. 

Christine Chen, director of communications strategy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

 At the human level, the gesture is noble: to clean  up the web as a way of looking out for people.  Sites are often cluttered, slow, and junky. I  appreciate the gesture. While a potential good  deed for consumers, should Google, whose  mission is to organize the world’s information,  control for what they perceive as quality of experience? Quality is different than relevance, and is, at least in this instance, somewhat subjective. Site load times, on the other hand, are quite measurable and objective.

The underlying concern is that this could pose a conflict of interest in favor of their own ad products. At the very least, Google owes publishers some clarity around the rules of engagement. And they better make sure their own ad products aren’t annoying while they’re at it. By all means, a conversation worth having. It’s time to clean up the web (if that’s what we still call it).

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