Google has confirmed a number of changes via its Webmaster Blog this week, which include the ditching of the ‘mobile friendly’ tag. However, the search engine’s new policy on interstitial ads is perhaps the more notable change. Here’s what was announced:

The mobile friendly tag is disappearing


The mobile friendly tag was introduced around two years ago, and the idea was to indicate to users which search results would provide a good user experience on a mobile device. Generally, if your page had text that was readable on mobile screens, didn’t require the user to zoom and scroll and didn’t have elements that weren’t compatible with mobile, you received the mobile friendly tag.

However, with around 85% of pages now meeting these standards, Google argues that the tag is simply redundant, so it is putting it out to pasture in an attempt to free-up some page space.

Mobile friendliness will still very much be a factor in search results, and you will still receive a mobile usability report in search console, but you just won’t see the ‘mobile friendly’ tag next to your search results.

Interstitial ads will be penalised

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Perhaps the bigger news is that Google has announced that it will be penalising websites that use what it calls “intrusive” interstitials – pop-ups that obscure the main content - on mobile pages.

From 10 January 2017, pages that use these interstitials are likely to be penalised in mobile search. The actual wording that Google uses is:

“To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”

This will include most forms of pop-up or interstitial that could obscure the content that the user had searched for, pages that require a user to dismiss the pop-up before they can access the content, or pages where the ad forces content below the page fold. Examples of this will include ads, offers and promotions and ‘call to actions’ such as newsletter sign-up banners.

This sounds familiar….

google mobile app overlays

If you’re thinking that this sounds familiar, you’d be right. Back in September 2015, Google announced that it would be stripping the mobile friendly tag from any page that used interstitials to promote a mobile app.

The move was designed to encourage brands to enhance their mobile site user experience, rather than their mobile applications.

However, that change didn't affect pop-ups for ads, call to actions or promotional offers. That, it appears, is all going to change.

What won’t be penalised?


There are a couple of exceptions to the rule, and these tend to apply primarily to issues such as legal or regulatory notices.

These include pop-ups that contain legal content, including content that is required by local laws or an industry regulator, such as age verification systems or risk warnings. Statements relating to cookie usage are also exempt. Pop-ups for user login, where the content is not indexed by Google (for example, because it is behind a paywall) are also unaffected.

Banners that take up only a “reasonable amount of screen space” and “are easily dismissible” will also be unaffected by the change. Examples offered by Google on the Webmaster Blog include “app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome”.