Interstitial ad is a full screen ad inserted in the natural user flow of the web or mobile app. User who gets the interstitial has to choose between taking the intended action (e.g. installing a mobile app) or closing the ad and returning to the flow.
Interstitial ads proved to be very effective in converting users from mobile web to mobile apps, especially at the transition point between Google search results and the website. No surprise – it is pretty difficult to oversee a fullscreen ad that pops up when you open the website.
On the other side, this form comes with a high risk from user experience side. If applied wrong it can be very annoying for users – especially if it lacks the context of the user flow.
Unfortunately for marketers interested in building their mobile app acquisition on interstitials, new policy introduced by Google on November 2, 2015 changed the rules of the game. Google decided to penalise websites using interstitial ads to promote their mobile apps. Since then they has been perceived as mobile-unfriendly with negative consequences for the website’s rankings. New approach was described in a blog post on Google Webmaster Central from September, 2015.
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. This does not affect other types of interstitials. As an alternative to app install interstitials, browsers provide ways to promote an app that are more user-friendly.
As an alternative to interstitial ads, Google suggested dedicated app install banners supported by Safari (Smart Banners) and Chrome (as Native App Install Banners). The problem with these banners is that they offer very limited flexibility which is key for optimisation acquisition channels. So – bye, bye high conversions…
Why Google decided to do this? Officially, it is a consequence of an experiment that proved that interstitial ads are very intrusive and in fact, no less effective than other forms in conversion to the mobile app. The setup of this experiment was widely criticized. It lacked a clear business context (mobile web vs mobile app preference / functions etc.) or even information about base Bounce Rate. No doubt, the reasoning presented wasn’t flawless.
What is more, assuming that Google cares so much about user-friendliness and being non-intrusive – why they do not seem to care that much about interstitial ads that do not promote mobile apps but other products and services? Just as mobile app interstitials they often cover entire content and disrupt user flow. Maybe Adsense is a keyword here.
Some sources suggest that the key reason behind this decision is the fact that interstitial ads pose a threat to Google’s role of a middleman in nearly every Internet interaction. Sounds reasonable – if users can search for their favourite restaurant in Foursquare app, they do not have to use Google.
Mobile Apps or Mobile Web?
Looks like the Search Giant strongly disagrees with the view expressed by Steve Jobs in 2010 that mobile device usage is completely different from desktop and users prefer to use mobile apps than mobile browsers.
Whatever the reason, rules have changed and leading web products relying on this source of app acquisition had to reshape their approach. Go to case studies of the leading web products to find out how they promote their apps under Google’s new policy.