You’re browsing along, minding your own business and you find something that looks interesting to read. Clicking on it, you start scanning through the first paragraph when –

ZERK! – a pop-up covers the whole screen, plaintively imploring you to subscribe to a newsletter. Or…

BLERG! – all of the content on the page goes dark, smothered by a strident declaration about a seasonal widget sale ending soon. Or…

SHOOMF! – the content slides down out of view, replaced by a message screaming about a rapidly-approaching earlybird conference registration deadline.

If you’ve ever tried to read something on – you’ve seen them.

You hate those right? Well, Google hates them too.

This week, Google announced that it will now begin penalizing sites that use these tactics. Called “prestitials” (ads that load before a webpage is visible) or “interstitials” (ads that appear in between two pieces of content) they pose an annoyance for desktop users and a serious problem for mobile users. These ads often have tiny “close”/”skip” tap targets making them difficult (especially for those of us with – not to fingershame – fat fingers) to get past.

Google penalizes interstitial pop up ads
image source: google

The only exceptions Google permits are: (1) pages where approval is required (such as age-verification or cookie authorization), (2) paywall sites (like the Wall Street Journal).

It’s still possible to use interstitial ads, they just can’t prevent users from getting to page content. Google points to Chrome app install ad banner sizes as a good rule of thumb. These cover between 50-250 pixels of a phone or tablet screen – but no more – leaving the majority of the page accessible.

There are ways to get around this new signal, discovered by app developers when Google first tested the standard on mobile app installs. For example, one can create pages that merely look like prestitial or interstitial ads with clever web design (think full-width hero images) but which still offer full navigation through a hamburger menu. But rather than playing that game, why not take a hard look at why you’re trying to get between users and your content and think of different ways to accomplish that goal.

The reality is, interstitial ads are only going to be effective in very limited cases anyway. Trying to strongarm visitors into consuming messages they didn’t visit your site to find is out-of-step with the on-demand, consumer-centric, fully-customized ethos of the modern web.

Take all of the time you would otherwise spend thinking up, creating, installing and monitoring those interstitials and refocus it on creating content specifically for the people you’re trying to reach. Odds are it’s a healthy amount that could go to creating content as opposed to discontent for your audience.