Google’s New Mobile Search Ranking Signal


Google recently announced that from 10th January 2017 mobile websites that provide a poor user experience when transitioning from the search results page to the page content will be penalised in terms of mobile SERP rankings. So what constitutes a poor user experience in this instance?

Google wants users to be able to find the content they’re searching for quickly and easily, and while most text, images and video are now responsive and optimised for mobile viewing (so much so that Google will soon be removing the mobile-friendly label from search results), there still appears to be a hurdle to overcome… the dreaded popups and interstitials on page load!

There are certain interstitials which Google class as being intrusive and therefore detrimental to the user experience – include them at your peril!

  • Popups covering the main content, either upon page load or during page navigation.
  • Standalone interstitials that have to be dismissed before the user can access the page content.
  • Above-the-fold sections that look like standalone interstitials, with the main content inlined beneath the fold.

The idea is to make page content immediately accessible to the user without them having to navigate around popups and interstitials which might obscure their view of what they’re searching for. And let’s face it, from a business point of view, why would you want to risk the visitor clicking away from your beautifully designed mobile site because they were put off by a popup?

Of course, in some cases a popup or standalone interstitial is necessary to the functionality of the site, so Google will be making some exceptions to the new ranking signal. The following techniques should be exempt from feeling Google’s wrath…

  • 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.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

This new ranking signal will also include the check for app-install interstitials, which will be removed from the mobile-friendly test to avoid duplication (N.B. the mobile-friendly label is being removed from the search results, but the criteria will continue to be a ranking signal).

It seems ‘intent of the search query’ will continue to be one of the strongest ranking signals, so a page with great, relevant content AND an annoying popup is likely to rank higher than a pointless page with no popups. Which is as it should be I suppose.

If you’d like to find out more about optimising your website for mobile, please get in touch today – we’d be happy to discuss your options!