Google tightens ranking factors around mobile search

Google is making changes to its mobile algorithm with penalties for brands who push mobile apps too hard, but will it learn from its own lesson?

Changes to mobile advertising are on the way.

Google has announced that from 1 November it will begin penalising mobile sites that display full-page app install adverts, as part of its ongoing effort to promote mobile-friendly sites on its web search.

The announcement posted on Google’s own Webmaster Central blog comes after the mobile-friendly algorithm update earlier this year, and states that sites displaying the full-page ads, often referred to as interstitials, will “no longer be considered mobile-friendly” as they do not represent “a good search experience” for users.

In the blog post, Google Search software engineer, Daniel Bathgate, writes: “Sometimes a user may tap on a search result on a mobile device and see an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content and promotes the user to install an app.

“Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page.”

The analysis Bathgate refers to most likely relates to a study published by Google in July this year on the decision to remove similar interstitial adverts from Google+ pages on mobile. The results of the study showed that only 9% of visits to Google’s interstitial pages resulted in the ‘Get App’ button being pressed. With a massive 69% of users abandoning the page after coming face-to-face with the full page advert.

Do as I say, not as I do

It is unclear whether Google will now penalise its own sites or restructure the way it connects with users in relation to this re-examining of the mobile algorithm for breaking this rule, or if Google will stop prompting mobile users to install its apps altogether.

What is more likely is a change to where and when we see full page interstitial ads for apps. Last week Google announced their ‘beautiful new designs for full-screen in-app ads’ which companies might want to start investing in. Although similar to the full-page app adverts found while browsing the mobile web, the new interstitials will only appear in apps that have already been downloaded. The post on the AdWords blog described the new interstitial designs as coming with “a beautiful cover photo, round install button, and matching colour schemes.”

The new ads will also feature a technology called “colour extraction” making the ad more consistent with the look and feel of the brand, which, Google promises, “can improve conversion rate.”

What does this mean for brands?

Google’s aforementioned mobile-friendly update, dubbed ‘mobilegeddon’ by some SEOs and web developers, demanded a multitude of changes to mitigate the possible dips in search traffic that it brought. However, the latest polishing of the mobile search algorithm is unlikely to cause too much cause for concern as meeting the new requirements will be as simple as removing a pop-up.

The changes to how brands advertise on the mobile web will not affect banner ads. As Bathgate writes: “Banners provide a consistent user interface for promoting an app and provide the user with the ability to control their browsing experience. Webmasters can also use their own implementations of app install banners as long as they don’t block searchers from viewing the page’s content.”

Full page pop-up ads that are not for apps will also be unaffected. Although sometimes a hindrance to the user experience of mobile browsing, they are unlikely to make Google’s list of what is verboten in mobile search any time soon. The mobile web has steadily improved over recent years, in part due to Google’s development of its mobile algorithm, and this can surely only be a good thing. Similarly the sheer increase in the number of apps allowing companies to connect directly with their audience and streamline the user experience has changed the way we use the web on mobile to the point where brands may simply abandon their mobile sites in a few years completely.

Always one to stay ahead of the curve however, Google’s recent acquisition of app-streaming start-up Agawi could suggest that we may soon see content from apps we do not have installed on our devices directly in search results. Keep your eyes peeled on your mobile devices to find out.

by Euan Leopold, SEO Executive