Google is now downgrading website pages within organic search results that contain content that is obscured by automatically loaded interstitials. As pharma marketers we need to be proactive about finding new solutions that can meet the requirements of site visitors, search engines AND medical/legal/regulatory teams. Let's discuss how.
Visit any US-based branded drug website and your experience is likely to be disrupted at some point, if not immediately, by an interruptive pop-up, also known as an interstitial.
These interstitials automatically appear on page load, overlayed on top of (and obscuring) website content, requiring user action to dismiss them before being allowed to navigate further. Often, interstitials are modal – which means that the user cannot interact or consume with any content “behind” the interstitial while it is shown.
Interstitials are often mandated by our pharma clients as a mechanism to comply with various medical/legal/regulatory (MLR) requirements. Some examples include ensuring the site visitor belongs to an audience to which the website content is targeted (e.g. healthcare professionals) and confirming visitor location or age, among other reasons.
Usability testing research has shown that nearly all users react negatively to the interruptive nature of this design approach. Its appearance on page load is unexpected, breaks established conventions, requires more work from the user, and most importantly, reflects negatively on the brand itself. At worst, poorly-designed interstitials are nearly impossible to dismiss on mobile devices because of their desktop-focused design. Interstitials within mobile apps have already demonstrated significant drop-off rates.1
Despite these negative effects on user experience, there has been no real imperative to explore other options with any urgency. Interstitials became pervasive because they were an easy way to present content “the user had to read” or interact with. However, as the mobile web has risen to prominence, Google is now downgrading website pages within organic search results that contain content that is obscured by automatically loaded interstitials.
Google’s crosshairs are aimed on (mobile) interstitials
As part of its mission to improve overall web usability, Google continues to identify elements it feels have a negative impact on user experience. Hence, the war on interstitials has begun, with mobile app promotion interstitials on mobile devices2 being the first to receive a rankings penalty.
Although “mobile first” is Google’s current imperative, you can rest assured that all initiatives will eventually filter down to desktop designs as well.
As Maile Ohye (Developer Programs Tech Lead @ Google) warned while speaking at SMX Advanced in June 2015, because interstitials “interrupt user workflow” you should “make important content immediately user-visible without clicks or hovers”. She added “consider hidden content (behind an interstitial) as indexed with downgraded importance”. In answering a question from the audience about how this will affect regulated industries, her response [paraphrased] was that there are no good solutions, but the only positive would be that your competitors will be in the same boat.
Your action plan for interstitials
Klick has produced a full POV on Interstitials, including:
- Common examples of interstitials used in pharma
- Alternative approaches that are better for site visitors and SEO, in order of preference
To receive a copy of the POV please contact: your Klick Account Director or our friendly BD team.
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