When is a mobile friendly website not mobile friendly?

Friday, October 09, 2015
Grant Whiteside

When is a mobile friendly website not mobile friendly?

When Google says it’s not.

As of November 1st 2015, mobile websites that actively promote an interstitial advert asking the user to download the app version of their content could see their websites being penalised on Google’s organic search results.

As usual, there are two sides to the story. The official Google line is: ”app interstitial ads that cover a “significant amount of content” on your page will be considered NOT mobile-friendly and will not rank as well as mobile-friendly Web pages.”

In layman’s terms, if your ad hides the content of the page, because you were more interested in getting people to download you app, the website won’t rank as well when people are searching on mobile devices.

Here is Hostelworld.com, it’s an example of a mobile website that will fall into this category.

hostelworld interstitial

But there’s another side to the story…

As the browsers, the add blockers and the app builders fight for market share and revenues, it could be argued that getting users onto a native platform (an app), free from competitors adverts and from paying Google additional click costs, is a safer, more profitable way of gaining customers and keeping them.  The secondary return is the data gathered by the brand via the app which gives the brand better opportunities for personalisation and creating audience extensions.

So who is in the right in this occasion?

The reason why Google want you to use their search engine, use their network, get their cookies and use their browser is because this is how they provide a more relevant experience for the user and profitable experience for both the advertiser and Google.

If a searcher on a mobile phone asked to ‘download the Amazon app’ on Google, there is zero ambiguity of what they were looking for. However, if the searcher saw the listing, noticed it was ‘mobile friendly’ and was presented with an intrusive advert that did not provide the content they expected, which then resulted in the user having to close the advert to see the content, this could easily argued as being a poor user experience.

Testing your mobile website to see if it is mobile friendly is easy. Simply try out Google’s mobile friendly test, if anything is not up to scratch it should tell you. If you are using an interstitial advert that hides most of the screen, now is the time to change it.

There are of course workarounds that will soon be classed as ‘black hat’ techniques; where desktop websites offer the option of an app experience or a poorer web browser experience in the form of an interstitial advert – my guess is it will be a matter of months before these also get penalised.

Compromise is a great thing; Google holds more market share than any other advertising platform, so try avoiding biting the hand that feeds you. If you have a great app that is worth its weight in gold to your company then consider creating content and user reviews to sell its merits, or simply create a less intrusive advert instead.

At the end of the day it’ll be worth it. Your users don’t want to be told what to do any more than you do. Google have the date of the change set in stone: you have until November 1st to sort this issue out or risk getting penalised.