If you’re old enough to remember logging on to the Internet with the screech of a telephone line modem, you probably remember the scourge of pop-up ads on seemingly every website you visited. Sure, pop-up ads still exist, but with the invention of pop-up blocking apps, they aren’t seen as a surefire way to reach an audience. Eventually webmasters and advertisers began to see that 1) pop-up ads were being blocked and 2) people hated pop-ups and would eventually find a different place on the web to do business if they knew visiting a certain site would mean an onslaught of pop-ups.
Today, we have a powerful entity known as Google who, when it’s not busy with other hobbies, is working to make the web a less annoying place. While Google wasn’t quite as powerful back in the golden age of pop-ups, they certainly have enough clout today to influence the way developers build websites. In July of this year, Google hinted that that they were about to take on the equivalent of pop-up ads today: the app download interstitial.
If you browse the internet on your mobile device, you’ve certainly come across app download interstitials, which prompt you to download the website’s app when you access the page. On September 1, Google announced that in just a few months they will start dropping the hammer on websites that push their apps too hard: “After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly.”
If you have been following Google’s push toward mobile-friendliness, you’re well aware that being on the search giant’s good side in this area is an absolute necessity. Not being mobile-friendly means possibly being dropped from the organic search results, effectively being blackballed by Google. As of September 1, Google’s Mobile Usability section in the Search Console will begin warning developers if an app install interstitial has been detected.
Google wants to reassure web designers that not all interstitials will cause websites to be declared unfit for mobile. Only app interstitials that hide “a significant amount of content” will be red flagged. So if you have an app that you want to promote along with your website, you’re free to do so, as long as you use one of Google’s pre-approved methods. Google suggests using app install banners instead of an interstitial that hides the entire web page. Google understands app promotion, they just want to help people find what they’re looking for first. Google says of whole-screen interstitials: “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.”
Some of that analysis comes from Google’s own experience with using app install interstitials for their Google+ app. Google has since removed the interstitial prompt from Google+ pages after realizing that not only did people find it annoying, it wasn’t generating much interest in the app anyways. Google said that their research had shown that only 9% of people had actually converted and downloaded the app when prompted by the interstitial. Further, they found that over two-thirds of people who landed on the interstitial page abandoned it completely.
With this data, Google decided to see what would happen if they replaced the interstitial page with a less intrusive Smart App banner at the top of the page. On the first day of the change, visits to the site jumped by 17%. The change to the smaller banner didn’t affect app downloads one way or the other, but at least fewer people were abandoning the web page. After their internal experiment, Google gave a pretty big hint that app install interstitials were not going to be looked upon kindly in the near future: “We believe that the increase in users on our product makes this a net positive change, and we are sharing this with the hope that you will reconsider the use of promotional interstitials. Let’s remove friction and make the mobile web more useful and usable!”
So if Google’s anecdotal evidence regarding their own web page and app install banner is to be trusted, web developers really have nothing to lose if they fall in line before November 1, right? According to their results, app downloads won’t be affected but traffic to the website may very well increase. At least that’s what happened with Google+ web pages. But can this experience really be extrapolated to the web as a whole?
App install prompts are no doubt annoying, and plenty of people will applaud their certain demise after Google makes the change officially. But does user interaction with Google+ really tell us anything about how and why people choose to download apps? Mobile browsers are likely to come across a link to a Google+ page when searching for a local business. If they are just looking for a way to contact a local florist, why would they download the Google+ app when they can just abandon the interstitial and search for the phone number another way? It’s well known that the general public is pretty apathetic about Google+ on the whole. It’s not surprising that app installs neither rose nor fell with the removal if the interstitial.
Consider The Guardian’s John Naughton’s take on Google’s move here. Naughton agrees that the app install suggestions are annoying and he won’t shed a tear over their exit. But he argues that Google has a vested interest in keeping you on their search engine and off potentially competitive apps: “The truth is that Google is not doing this out of the goodness of its corporate heart. Its commercial interest lies firmly in the continued existence of the open web that is the source of its colossal advertising–related revenues. A shift to an online world that is a giant honeycomb of hermetically sealed apps would seriously undermine that revenue stream, because its search engine can’t find out what goes on within.”
Whether the change in policy is really meant to benefit you or Google, it’s arriving on November 1 nonetheless, and developers will have little choice but to comply.
Our Production and quality of work is based on years of training in collaboration with top level software engineers in the industry.
Webmaster Studio, Inc.
757 3rd Ave, Floor 20th
New York, NY 10017
Please sign up for our email list, where we will send you up to date news and promotions.