Google recently announced two major changes in its mobile search results. The change that anyone would first probably notice is that Google is removing the ‘mobile friendly’ label that highlighted pages which were easy to read on a mobile from its mobile search results pages.
The second change, however, is more profound and wide-reaching. Starting January 10th, 2017, the company will start reprimanding all mobile pages that show intrusive interstitials when a user first opens a page by ranking them lower in its search results.
The punishment for annoying apps that take over the entire screen and have the smallest possible button for dismissing them, which inevitably leads you to click on them accidentally even though you didn’t really want to, will likely be a huge blow to marketers. But, for the users, it will be a welcome change.
It’s worth noting that Google wouldn’t be punishing all sites that use interstitials — only the ones that make content less accessible. This refers to pop-ups that cover the main content after users navigate to a page (or as they are browsing) as well as standalone interstitials that have to be dismissed before you can access the main content.
However, there seems to be more to the news than meets the eye. This is not the first time that Google has taken the initiative of improving the mobile browsing experience to make it more attractive to users. Since 2014, Google has constantly tried to further the cause of mobile browsing by giving mobile friendly sites a boost in search ranking. By updating its algorithms, it has started favouring websites that look and perform better on mobile devices, making them appear higher on search results.
But what is the reason behind making the websites mobile friendly? Wouldn’t the user just prefer to browse through a mobile app instead?
“As people increasingly search on their mobile devices, we want to make sure they can find content that’s not only relevant and timely, but also easy to read and interact with on smaller mobile screens”, a Google spokesperson said.
While Google insists that the reason behind shuffling its algorithm has to do with driving traffic to websites (with more and more users preferring to browse the internet on their smartphone rather than on a computer), it is no secret that Google sells ads that point to websites but generally cannot direct searches to content inside apps.
“Encouraging developers to tailor sites to look good on smartphones should lead to more sales and consequently higher prices for Google’s mobile ads”, said Matt Ackley, Chief Marketing Officer of Marin Software, an advertising technology firm. Advertising accounted for 90% of Google’s $66 billion in revenue in 2014.
Some companies, including Indian eCommerce giant Flipkart, have dumped their mobile websites and told visitors to use their mobile apps instead. This has hugely impacted Google’s cross-device tracking ability that only works for mobile browsers.
Can this new move by Google be yet another attempt at pushing mobile browsers towards users and trying to get them to shift their focus from mobile apps? Users, it’s up to you to decide.