In a bid to improve user experience on mobile, Google has announced it’s changing one of the signals within its algorithm to penalise websites displaying intrusive pop-up ads.

The move means that the pages where content isn’t easily accessible to the user because of intrusive interstitials might not rank as highly as they used to. Google claims such practice makes for a poor experience and is ‘frustrating’ for users, particularly on smaller smartphone screens.

The search giant defines an intrusive pop-up ad as one that covers the entire screen and makes it impossible for the user to read content, and usually has to be dismissed before the content can be accessed.

Carat’s global digital partner, Fern Potter, believes the move marks another step towards “responsible advertising”, as Google focuses not only on the search volume but also user experience.

“In penalising the use of the format, those brands that have taken the time to consider consumer engagement and created mobile specific experiences will be rewarded,” she said.

The change comes into life today (January 10) and follows an alteration made in 2015, which was introduced to devalue websites which include pop-ups prompting users to install a mobile app.

A boon for user experience

Potter considers the change as a “positive step” towards quality and ‘user-first’ thinking.

“With 87% of time spent on mobile being in-app, according to Comscore, the problem of disruptive formats is still very much linked to display and video advertising as opposed to search,” she commented.

Pop-ups aren’t likely die out just yet, though. If the ad takes up a ‘reasonable’ amount of space on the site – or if the page uses pop-ups in response to a legal obligation such as age verification or cookie usage – it won’t be affected by the change.

The alteration is one of the hundreds of signals the search giant uses in its ranking algorithm, and a page with intrusive pop-ups can still come up high in results if Google classifies its content as particularly relevant to the searcher.