Mobile browsing is huge business – this much is true. Anyone building or running a website without recognition of the rise in mobile browsing that has been on the up and up for the past few years will likely already have felt the pinch – ‘Mobilegeddon’, as many were terming it, saw Google alter its algorithms drastically to give greater credence in search listings to those websites and pages which provided mobile-friendly options for viewing and browsing. This means that, as more and more of us are now using our smartphones and tablets to browse the internet as opposed to our PCs and laptops, websites are now required to think more responsively to the changing use of browsing platforms – and this has caused something of a shake-up in the world of SEO.
Google are set to continue their pursuit of the perfect mobile browsing experience in early 2017, it is reported, when further changes to their flexible algorithm will require websites to return to the drawing board when it comes to their mobile website policy. Websites that already have a fully-functional mobile version or an associated app will already have been provided with the green light to ascend search rankings, as Google continues to penalise those sites which continue to pursue a desktop-only approach. It’s this approach that will likely contribute to many websites finding themselves buried beneath the rankings – meaning that if, even after Mobilegeddon, they still aren’t approaching responsive design or the idea of a mobile-friendly interface, they are certainly going to need to start making changes soon – and they’ll need to be quick about it.
Google’s algorithm changes are not brought in to aggravate website owners or web designers – rather, they exist to help make the user experience easier and more enjoyable. The changes lined up by Google for January will be focusing on ‘Interstitial Intrusion’, an element of web browsing that has proved to be a bugbear for anyone who regularly goes online. Interstitials are, by definition in this context, elements of a website that pop-up or emerge to restrict or block direct access to a page’s main content. Consider the advertising pop-ups of years past, or splash messages that emerge requesting a user join a mailing list – for many users on desktops and laptops, this is already annoying – but for mobile users, it’s positively unbearable. At least, this is the point that Google is establishing.
Attacking mobile-based interstitial intrusion is a natural step on from the Mobilegeddon revamp – Google will require websites to curb their use of interstitial mobile content, regardless of use or form, should they wish to be looked upon favourably in terms of SEO. Google’s aim is to allow mobile users to gain simple, direct access to the content they wish to read or watch without inhibitors – poor formatting was the first victim of this crusade, and now, to many users’ delight, interstitials will be the next. Interstitial advertising and suggestion may only be temporary and may be easy to dismiss, but Google insists that users not only want to read worthwhile, organic content; but that they also wish to do so without anything blocking their way. On these grounds, the changes make a lot of sense – websites that fail to improve their user experience, regardless of marketing or engagement strategy, will however be penalised by losing their grip on the keyword mountain.
The news may well have been greeted by applause from many in the industry and those who regularly browse via mobile, but there has been some concern brewing over Google’s authority to issue such penalties. Some firms are concerned that the latest algorithm change effectively enables Google to alter their engagement strategies – arguably, pop-ups and interstitials do still provide wide engagement worldwide, hence why they are still in use – but Google’s insistence on prioritising mobile sites that shy away from interstitial intrusion could cause many websites to have to reconsider their audience engagement strategy completely.
Mobile web design is now going to need to change, too. While interstitials have become widespread and are just as reviled as they are incredibly useful for engagement, firms are now going to need to focus on other areas in which their web design can directly engage and attract their audience. This will likely mean that websites will need to focus on prioritising their interstitial messages in a position where mobile users are most likely to notice them, albeit in a way that they do not impede a reader’s appreciation of the content. It may also mean big changes in the way that content is produced – Google has always championed organic content, and, as it stands, their algorithm changes have really paved the way for genuinely engaging content to rise above lesser web content.
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It is extremely unlikely that the death of the interstitial will mean the death of the email newsletter, or even an end to all direct engagement with users. After all, the changes are only said to be affecting mobile sites at this time. Further to this, the removal of interstitial content from your website will not only keep you in favour with Google, but will also ensure that your readers are able to access your content easier, and that they are therefore more likely to spend more time on the page. The changes certainly work both ways – if your readers are less likely to leave your website once interstitial content is removed, you are effectively engaging them for longer. The removal of interstitial messages from your website and a reformat of your engagement strategy will be less hassle than many of the algorithm change’s detractors may have you believe – providing you have a talented web design professional as your ally this winter, you will have nothing to worry about.
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