What Are Interstitials, and Are They Hurting Your SEO?

A lot of people seem to think SEO is dead.

People have been saying “SEO is dead” every since SEO started. But this time, could it be different?

Look at what’s happened recently. Google unleashed RankBrain, a machine learning algorithm shift. Keyword research seems to be going the way of the Model T. Artificial intelligence is overtaking the world of SEO.

And yet, SEO is not dead. But it is changing in dramatic ways.

In Google’s never-ending quest to provide its users with the best possible search results, it will be executing yet another algorithm update in the near future.

According to the Google Webmaster Central Blog, “to improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”

If you’re not an SEO nerd, this basically means that sites with mobile popups—or what Google calls “interstitials”—may be penalized.

Any sort of potential penalty obviously doesn’t bode well for your website, so it’s important to understand the details of this impending update and whether you’re likely to be affected.

Here is what you need to know to make sure you’re not adversely impacted.

What are interstitials?

First things first. Just what is Google talking about when it refers to interstitials?

The formal definition from Tech Target is this:

“An interstitial (something ‘in between’) is a page that is inserted in the normal flow of editorial content structure on a website for the purpose of advertising or promotion.”

You’ve seen these before, right? You’re tap-tapping along, and then boom!—a popup.


Unlike other types of ads, e.g., banner ads, interstitials require the user to manually click/tap on the ad or click/tap on the “x” (close) button.

You’re basically prevented from exploring a website until you comply and click on a link or “x.”

This is obviously disruptive, and many people (including Google) feel that it detracts from the overall user experience.

Here are three different examples Google specifically mentions that make content less accessible:


Google also provides some examples of techniques that make content less accessible to a user:

  • “Showing a popup 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 standalone interstitial that 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 standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.”

Not everything that seems like an interstitial is actually an interstitial. Cookie permissions, age verification, and small banners are all okay in Google’s eyes.

image04A mixed reaction

I think it’s fair to say most of search engine users will be happy about this update. They’ll encounter fewer annoyances when they access content.

But as can be expected, not everyone is thrilled.

As you might imagine, there are plenty of publishers who feel that this will negatively impact their conversion rates on products/services/offers.

Here’s a tweet from Skift CEO, Rafat Ali, voicing his dismay:


But regardless of what public opinion may be, this update will happen on January 10, 2017.

Love it or hate it, you’ll need to be aware of the potential repercussions of having interstitials on your website.

Google’s logic behind this move

As you probably already know, Google has been placing an emphasis on mobile friendliness for some time.

And it’s easy to see why.

With 80 percent of Internet users owning smartphones and 47 percent owning tablets, Google most definitely needs to cater to these users if it wants to remain the global juggernaut it is today.

It’s got to stay ahead of the game.


Because mobile use actually surpassed desktop use in 2015, Google has been putting an increasing priority on optimizing the mobile experience.


Google’s first major mobile-friendly update (also known as “Mobilegeddon”) occurred on April 21, 2015, and there’s been no looking back.

They even created the mobile-friendly test, where you can determine whether your pages conform to the new standard and where you can receive input on how you can improve in this area.


Since then, they’ve steadily cracked down on websites that fail to provide a favorable experience to mobile users, and this next update is just another part of this progression.

And I get it.

How many times have you attempted to explore a site on your smartphone only to be interrupted by intrusive popups?

It happens to me a lot. They take up most or all of the screen and are really annoying.

What might be only a slight inconvenience on a desktop or laptop is a monumental distraction on a smartphone.

That’s why I definitely understand Google’s decision.

Are interstitials hurting your SEO?

Here’s the deal.

Up until January 10, 2017, having interstitials on your website shouldn’t have any impact on your rankings.

It’s business as usual for the time being.

But once that day rolls around, all bets are off.

While it remains to be seen just how big of an impact this update will be, it’s safe to say it’s not going to do your SEO any favors if you’re still using interstitials.

I think this update is somewhat of a wake-up call, telling us we need to focus more on the user and find ways to promote our offers without being disruptive.

What do I need to do to prevent penalties?

In my opinion, it’s best to err on the side of caution in situations like these.

The last thing you want is for your rankings to take a major hit because of interstitials.

I would recommend removing any popups or intrusive ads at least for the time being until the dust settles.

If using interstitials has been a key piece of your revenue model, I would suggest considering alternative options.

What are the alternatives?

Your best bet would be replacing a popup with a banner ad.

According to Google, one technique that won’t be affected by the new signal is “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.”


Usually, the ideal positioning for a banner ad is at the top of the screen, where it’s very noticeable but doesn’t detract from the user experience.

You can still use a considerable amount of screen space to grab the attention of visitors as long as it’s not overly intrusive.

When done correctly, a well-placed banner ad should still generate a good number of clicks and ensure that visitors are aware of your offers.

Another possibility is a stationary sidebar ad. These tend to work well because they’re still noticeable even after a visitor scrolls down your site.

Even when it’s below the fold, a sidebar ad will continue to appear, increasing your chances of getting clicks.

But what if I absolutely have to use popups?

If you feel like skipping popups altogether is going to kill your conversions, there is a third option: the time-driven popup.

Such a popup ad will only appear after a visitor has been on your site for a certain amount of time and explored your content to some extent.

Unlike a regular popup, where a visitor is hit instantaneously after arriving on your site, this delayed popup ensures they have at least some level of interest and be more open to an offer.

However, I would still exercise caution with this technique because there is the potential for penalties.

A final note

It’s important to note that there are certain legal-centric interstitials that won’t be adversely affected.

For example, an age verification popup won’t be impacted:


Google also makes one important point in relation to the new algorithm update:

“Remember, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”

Translation: if you’ve got epic content that’s highly relevant to what the user is searching for, you probably won’t take that big of a hit even if your site has interstitials.


This upcoming update from Google is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it should create a better overall user experience (UX) so that search engine users can explore a site’s content without being barraged with intrusive popup ads. A better UX is always a good thing.

On the other hand, this can really hurt conversion rates of some businesses.

If one of your primary ways of getting clicks and driving revenue has been through interstitials, this can put you in a difficult position.

In this case, you’ll need to come up with another strategy for funneling traffic to the desired location.

Let me level with you here. I love using popups. I get a lot of flak for this, but here’s the truth: popups work.

When I use popups, my conversion rates increase, readership soars, and revenue goes up. Besides, in my user research, I consistently hear people say “I’m glad I filled out my email address on that popup because ____.” I see that I’m giving value, and that’s fulfilling to me.

Yes, I’m a fan of popups. Honestly, I’m not too sure what to think about the interstitial algorithm. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

As I’ve learned time and time again, adaptability is one of the most important traits of a savvy marketer. You need to be able to roll with the punches and adapt on the fly in order to achieve sustained success.

By making the appropriate changes and striving to create a streamlined, distraction-free user experience, you can avoid penalties and keep the leads coming in.

That’s what I plan to do.

Are you a fan of this Google update or not?


  1. Sure, it’s going to affect lot of big players, but it is also true to acknowledge that some sites irritates with popups in mobile screen or the don’t implemented it user friendly.

    • There are clear rules to adapt the popups now. So yes it will change sites but it is in the best interest of users.

  2. I wonder how would Google will handle sites like Forbes in this case that throws a big pop-up blocker and doesn’t even let you to visit the website unless the site is being whitelisted.

    I think those are worst than Interstitials because the traffic cannot even visit and see anything.

    But it would be interesting to see how the list building process gets affected. Most likely people will start coming up with possible workarounds.

    • Forbes was the first site that came to my mind; thanks for that comment, Udit.
      Although I’m on a desktop, this website popped up 2 interstitials and a page-consuming banner ad. Are you going to change that, Neil?

    • I would expect they would have to adapt as Google requested.

      • Wow similar thoughts.

        I really hate the popups from Forbes site. Seriously, they should stop using it. Almost every time I visit it, I don’t spend too much time because of their annoying ads or popups.

        If you are using ads or popups, make sure they are not affecting your readership. If so, you should rethink about your ad usage or you’re going to affect both readership and search engine results from Google.

        Luckily for Forbes (with a great DA and millions of links), they might not see any negative effect sooner.

        • They will be affected as others would be. I think it would be good to round up all the tactics sites use to adapt to this.

    • MacKenzie from Great Whyte :

      Thank you for mentioning it Udit. Forbes’ popups are very aggravating.

      Especially if you follow an articlw from LinkedIn, get their popup then are unable to find the article you wanted in the first place.

      I have been forced to start over a few times. I wondered if it was only on mobile.

  3. Theodore M. DeBettencourt :

    Hi Neil – long time reader here. I’m in the Law Firm Chat space and this is going to be a huge problem for all of the hosted law firm chat companies out there. 90% of them (as they exist today) will be in violation of Google’s new Mobile Pop-up rules. We designed our chat boxes to be Google Friendly on Mobile even with the new update rolling out early next year.

    We’ve been getting good market traction and wrote a piece about this very issue here:


    I’d love anyone’s feedback on this. We’re currently running FB Custom Audience Traffic to it. Nothing crazy – just dipping our toe in the water to build up or Remarketing Audience.

    In the law firm space hosted chat went from few and far between to pretty much mandatory for firms that actively market so this will be a pretty big change.

    I’m a big fan of pop-ups too.

    Why? Because it’s as you say.

    “popups work.”

  4. Definitely those pop up annoying and specilly when you can’t even see the “X” to close it. As a user , I close the whole window and never go back 🙂

  5. Edvin Lofgren :

    I think this is both good and bad. I love popups like lots of other people here simply because it works.

    At the same time, I know that some popups can be very annoying. While others can give great value.

    As for us marketers, it’s just as you say. We have to adapt to the changes and find new ways.

    Thanks for the great info.

  6. This is such a great article and so well-timed (like all of your articles), Neil. A colleague had just directed me to that original post and I have been wondering “I wonder what Neil thinks of this..”.

    Thank you for posting! I think we’ll err on the side of caution as well, and adapt to the advice you’ve given here.

  7. Sarah Nenni Daher :

    Exit-intent popups – yes or no?

    I would think because they don’t interrupt the UX, they’d be okay to use without penalty.

    I would like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on these. ??

  8. timing is key i think. the ones 3/4s into or towards the end of the content, or even “time on sight” work best i think. makes sense, the end user has demonstrated their interest in the content or page

  9. I do believe that we, as human beings, have a tendency of resisting to change. so “UPDATES” no matter how delightful they are, brings us the matter of resistance, but on the other hand adaptability is one of the greatest gift that we have as a trade off to that.
    I am not a fan of this Google update because it is hard to change!!! but I need the stream to flow into my market, so I adapt! to create something bigger.

  10. I think it’s time to penalize those sites with interruptive ads

  11. I think it’s extremely annoying. No offense, Neil, but landing on your website here, I was bombarded with your newsletter at the top, a Facebook pop-up and I’m looking at an ad in the lower left corner. These are the reasons people install Adblock and I don’t blame Google one bit for taking the initiative. These ads are intrusive, annoying and deserve to be penalized. In my opinion, if I really like something or want to keep updated, I go out of my way to find the newsletter, etc.

  12. Hi Neil,
    As the owner of Hello Bar, what’s your take on using the pop ups?

    • I would be interested to know Google’s stance on your hello bar as well. A thin static bar CTA at the top in my opinion is great and not intrusive at all like pop ups.

      Essentially you could just build it as part of your site in basic HTML, you’ve just made it easy for site owners to do that, so I’d say it should not be considered a interstitial. Even if it scrolls down the page with you like a sticky navigation I wouldn’t consider it one IMHO.

    • Clearly, they work but I feel they can be overused and pushy when used in the wrong manner.

    • I’m also curious about this. Neil you say that they would change screen sizes, and best to adapt – can you expound? You mean Hello Bar is going to adapt?

      Also curious, how would something like Welcome Mat by SumoMe work in this stance?

      • Hello bar will adapt to the idea it needs to for the Google update. But the adapting will involve the bar itself changing based on the screen size of the user.

  13. Hey Neil,

    Google has indeed taken a good decision to penalise sites with nasty popups everywhere. But as I guess, it won’t penalised sites using smart and effective popups, as you suggested above.
    This is the high time for webmasters to think about the alternatives for collecting leads through user-friendly mediums.
    Thanks for sharing the hot news.

  14. Great Article Neil..!!!

  15. Neil,

    Great info. Thank you!

    Maybe the folks at Google should just take over our websites. That way they can control their revenue AND our revenue, fully.

    The Franchise King®

  16. Vatsala Shukla :

    Checking the settings of the popups to ensure compliance with the new Google stand on interstitials is a first step in preparing for 2017. Icegram was proactive on this front and wrote a blog post about the changes in settings to prevent penalty soon after Google made it’s announcement. After that, it’s for their plugin user to do the needful.

    I like popups. Looking forward to seeing what happens in 2017 and taking corrective actions.

  17. As an SEO and general user; i also think the intrusive popups are distracting, irritating and example of worst user experiences.

    Sorry to say Neil, your instant filler popups of this site is the same.

    Google took the right step and I am sure this should be something co-related to SEO.

  18. Rodrick Rajive Lal :

    This was most informative and revealing. The curb on pop ups will improve user experience no doubt, but affect conversion rates. Good for the user but bad for sellers!

  19. Kelvin Igbinigie :

    Wow! Google is at it again. Thanks Neil for letting us know this on time. It’s really a double edged sword.. 🙂

    I am also a fan of popups… It works for me and for my clients. With this new update, I have to start thinking of ways not to be too affected.

    And just like you stated “adaptability is one of the most important traits of a savvy marketer”.. We’ve got no choice right now than to adapt…

    • Thanks for the comment Kelvin. It’s exciting to me when I see these things like this, as it allows marketers to find new approaches.

  20. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for another awesome blogpost. You have mentioned that Google will affect mobile sites with popups, how about removing the popups from mobile and tablet version and sticking with it for desktop and laptops? can that be a possibility?

  21. Nine out of ten I leave the site as soon as Interstitials on mobile site as they are annoying, Mobile site should have as little ads as possible (just my opinion). I don’t mind them as much on desktop though.

  22. Antonio Mecca - Seo Roma :

    Hi Neil, wonderful post. I think that each site owner can do anything he wants on your website. In all honesty I think google is exaggerating now, is not he who should decide how the web should be.

  23. Is it also applicable for the popup we show for collecting the email or newsletters?

  24. Horrible!

    we ourselves made slaves of Google and now he is in position to dictate whatever he wants.

    PS: Is it not happening your site as well? 🙂

  25. Teddy Tech - SEO & Web designing in Kerala India :

    Thanks Niel for the new update.
    We are doing SEO & digital marketing services for some hotels and tourism sites in Kerala and India.
    I think it will be little difficult to avoid pop-ups in our sites. Since we need to showcase our new offers and get some database for newsletters.
    Please tel more about this subject it maybe helpful for many.


    • I feel you can make the content more powerful to help showcase the products more. The pop-ups remember will effect everyone not just you so it’s about how you react.

  26. Hi Neil,

    What a great post. In my humble opinion, I think that would impact some big sites with lot of monetization methods, as well as thos pop up ads. However, from readers’ perspective, that’ll help a lot as somehow those interstitials were anoying.

  27. Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. I’m truly grateful and really impressed. Really appreciate for your amazing article. Thank you for this valuable information.

  28. Gestión Redes Salamanca :

    I don´t like pop-ups. I even hate pop-ups when I´m surfing the web.
    But I use them in my web to collect subscribers. Pop-ups work really well to build an email list.
    Are these pop-ups also penalized by Google?

  29. yes, popups are annoying and they really irritate the user who visits your blog.
    i wonder how this will effect on some popular blogs that use popups.

  30. Great Information Thank you!

  31. If you go to homeportfolio dot com and click on one of the links in the footer. you’ll notice you are presented with an interstitial. Can you tell me if that hurts our SEO and if we lose any link juice or suffer in any other way as a result of this linking method?

    my main concern is whether having anchor text that says “bathroom ideas” that goes to an interstitial that doesn’t mention bathroom ideas is non-relevant… even if it refreshes 12 seconds to a page that is.

    Thanks for Great Post.

    You always inspire me

  32. Muhammad Sufiyan Shaikh :

    that’s great bad news 🙁 , but it actually make sense for user experience point of view.
    I will wait until NEIL SIR post a new strategy that could help prevent google palatinates and remain productive, thanks.

  33. Jente Kasprowski :

    And what about Page-level ads, I run them on a website and Adsense (Google) uses page filling ads/ popups there. Will their own ads cause a penalty? I doubt that… https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/6245304?hl=en

  34. Akash Srivastava :

    Thanks Neil for another great article. I also suggest my clients and everyone “don’t use interstitials”. However, I understand that we can see fewer conversions because of this but we need to make sure we don’t get penalized.

  35. Jonas Dohlmann :

    Great article, Neil!
    Something that is not quite clear to me though is: Does Google only take landingpages into consideration or do they penalize interstitials on all pages on a website?
    I tried to find out on Google’s own blog but without any success here.
    In my case, we have a lot of SEO landing pages without any pop ups, but when users want to dive deeper into our content we prompt them to sign up with an interstitial. I’m not quite sure if this will be included as a bad signal in Google’s eyes?
    If anyone else has some insights here I would be happy to hear it 🙂

    • Jonas Dohlmann :

      Or if you, Neil, have some insights here, that you can share I would be grateful. Just not sure if you have time to respond to the myriads of comments 🙂

    • This looks a site-wide problem, so landing pages will need to follow the rules as well.

      If you adapt the size based on screen size you should be fine.

  36. Yes, I am a fan of this update. I hate pop-ups which interrupts reading an article or blog post. I don’t want to date older women and if I somebody writes exceptional good content I think I would look for a newsletter option myself. Stop using pop-ups.

  37. Neil,

    If my interstitial pops up after the 2nd or 3rd page view, do you think this tactic will be penalized?

  38. Apex Web Firm :

    Someone once said if a website has a search bar in it, your able to optimize it. SEO will never be dead.. I believe only the people doing it wrong think so.

  39. Question about what will qualify as an interstitial to google – What I have at the top of every post on my blog is not A pop-up, but I do have a video there’s above the text because almost all my blogposts have an accompanying video I did of the blogpost (or if I don’t have a video a large image featuring the title of the post) – so the text still doesn’t start till after this as a result – do you think this would be counted as the same way as a pop-up? I don’t know what the algorithm is using to determine what is above the fold as qualifying or not. Example of A post like this here:

  40. What i think is funny is that when I clicked on your email link, I got an interstitial which actually deflected me off of the main page. I had to close and click again to get through.

    So I’m not a fan of interstitials. They are not only annoying, they sometimes take the users to points unknown.

  41. Felipe Lourenço :

    Hi, Neil.

    Great content, tks for your help.

    Do you think pages that uses Hello Bar are candidates to be affected?

  42. I dont think SEO is dead. Why ? Because is #1 traffic source for my new blog.

  43. Great insight Neil, but I do miss your challenges, are you due any soon?

    • I have some better articles coming to my sites soon, but the challenges were a challenge to do for sure.

      Thank you for the feedback and I will reconsider that approach in the future.

  44. i think sites with interstitals can be penalized because the hurt user experience,even if the sites are not pernalized,they might be ranked lower to their competitors. But mainly user experience affects seo,so if the interstitial ads affects the site visitors then it should be checked.

  45. I think if the interstitials affects user experience of your blog then yourrankings might be affected,seo actually depends mainly on user experience. Interstitials shouldnt be used in such a way that it affect the your blog navigation or loading.

  46. If its hurts, then Youtube should be slammed for it. But, its Google’s big kid.

  47. Hi Neil,

    Yes, agree with this update completely, Instead of waiting till JAN 17 and hurting your SEO it’s better to remove this pop-ups from mobile and implement them in your desktop version, because I loved pop-ups a growth hacking technique.

    It will be a good update from Google because this are big distractions for the user and gives a bad user experience, this tips are really good to implement.

  48. First Thanks Neill for sharing this with us, It was a helpful article, although it is concerning me a bit due to the clients that we got and many of them are getting huge amount of leads through their pop-up ads .

  49. Neil. Since you use these how are you going to react?

  50. Thanks Niel for the new update.
    It was great reading it.

  51. Kamal Uddin Mondal :

    nice post,I got some more interesting facts about this topic @ https://goo.gl/fuKWYx

  52. Rudra Ramya Sree :

    Hi Patel,
    Thanks for sharing information about interstitial hurting SEO. your thought process is very good easy to understand for Blogger to implement on own website. SEO play major role in generating traffic to website.

  53. Thomas McCallum :

    I think it all depends on the value the pop up delivers. It’s like you said it’s a good way of people getting to the offers that help them. But in the wrong hands they are a complete nuisance. It’s the way it’s done too. For instance your pop ups weren’t intrusive. Even the full page one for social media.

    • It is all down to the audience and timing of when they are used to pop up. It will take a time to adapt and learn the best approach when it does change.

  54. To be honest, as a user I’m glad Google has made this decision.
    I’ve seen interstitials on many sites (including this one) and it always messed with my experience. Not to mention that some interstitials are hard to close, either intentionally or due to poor coding.
    I welcome this change 😀
    I doubt you’ll suffer much in terms of new leads.

  55. Thanks Neil for updating us with this very essential content. There are sites which are so marketing centric that irritate you a lot with popups. However, Google being so harsh on good sites will definitely hurt their conversion. I like the popups which disappear after quickly. My idea would be that Google should apply this on malpracticing sites and be lenient with good sites because that’s what internet is – in other words.

    Marcus Miller// Manager@ http://enterprisemonkey.com.au/

  56. thanks yo shared this post… bcos you updating us about this article

  57. Thanks Neil, for writing about Interstitials.

  58. Cristina Sliva :

    Thanks for sharing this blog. This blog is very useul for everyone. keep it on.

  59. Residential Property in Kestopur :

    Nice information. Thanks for sharing this post.

  60. Hi
    Excellent blog. Actually, i do not like popup much when they appear again and again. But at some point we need them. Thanks for sharing and updating us with this useful information.

  61. Very nice!!Only the headings, images and snapshots are sufficient to define the total information. liked it very much.

  62. Renan Maluenda :

    “Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.”

    Neil, this article on Quick Sprout did exactly that, why would you call it out as bad SEO but use the very same technique on your website?

  63. Obat Kencing Nanah Yang Aman :

    neil heelloo
    I love above do you think of to prevent the punishment of Google thanks neil

  64. Another great insight, Neil!

    Interstitials are so frustrating as a content consumer – it looks like the changes to the way SEO will be handled are all shifting to cater to the increasing focus on UX and AI, as it should.

    In the rapidly changing world of SEO, it’s never been more important to follow the industry so you can find the fine line between good UX, getting ranked, and making conversions.

    Thanks for always publishing great stuff, Neil.

    • Thanks for reading the site Angela. Glad you found the post insightful 🙂

      • It really seems to come down to having great UX, which to me means great content that provides value, whether through video or engaging articles. Having a huge pop up come up when you’ve scrolled halfway down the page is very disrupting when you’re really engrossed in the article. I’m happy with the update and thanks for sharing Neil!

  65. Pops are popular to collect leads. but with this coming update I think we should withdraw popup from our sites. thanks for making aware of this new update.

  66. Would this penalty only affect the page/s the popup is placed on or would it have an affect on the entire site?

  67. I wonder if this would apply to “welcome mat” style plugins as well…

  68. Thanks Nail. you are really a genius
    Hopefully it will help me.

    PSC Result BD

  69. Andrew Campion :

    Niel, optinmonster recommends changing the settings to only display the interstitial on desktop but do you think that will still have an effect on overall rankings?

  70. Let's Fly Travel :

    Very nice!!Only the headings, images and snapshots are sufficient to define the total information. liked it very much.

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