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Why Google’s crackdown on mobile pop-ups might be a good thing

September 1, 2016 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

It’s a relief for consumers and a worry for publishers: Google is cracking down on interstitial ads on mobile websites, thereby forcing publishers to rethink and revamp their mobile advertising strategies. And while the rationale might be good for Google and the ecosystem, it is worrying that the tech giant has so much power to act unilaterally.

These pop-ups, which publishers typically use to get a visitor to “like” a page on Facebook or sign up for a newsletter or serve an ad, for example, have become nearly ubiquitous across websites. Online publishers rely on them to help generate more subscribers or ad conversions. On mobile devices, where screens are smaller, these interstitials sometimes take up the entire screen, making users hunt around for a way to close them.

Dissuading Publishers
Let’s face it: These ads can be very annoying. And effective January 10, 2017, Google plans to dissuade publishers from using them by ranking those websites lower in its search results. As Mashable’s Emma Hinchliffe put it, “Google is pushing websites to choose between a high search ranking and obtrusive but lucrative ads.”

To be clear, not all interstitial ads will be penalized. Google has outlined the specifics of what it will deem appropriate versus obtrusive. Interstitials asking for age verification or permission to utilize cookies on a device are fine if used responsibly, as are banner ads that only take up a “reasonable amount of screen space,” according to a blog post by Google. But other commonly used ads that make content inaccessible, such as a pop-up that covers the main content of a website, or an interstitial that blocks the page unless a user closes the ad, are a no-no.

It’s an example of just how much authority Google has when it comes to advertising, as lower search rankings lead to less traffic on a website. But of course, more traffic—and the revenue that comes with it—is precisely what publishers and online operators want. So with this new scheme set to go into effect, using interstitials is tantamount to a lose-lose situation, as “Google’s continued nudges could make a difference in the long run,” according to The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes. The company had previously issued a penalty in November 2015 for the interstitial ads that asked users to install a mobile app, and is now somewhat rolling that penalty into this new decree.

Advantage of ad scrollers
What’s a publisher to do? Well, re-conceptualizing a mobile advertising strategy is obviously in order, to find out what mobile formats actually work. But it may not be as hard as some publishers think. A recent study by the IAB, the mobile advertising services provider PadSquad and the company Celtra, which works in display advertising, for example, found that “ad scrollers” may be the way to go. It’s an emerging mobile ad concept that allows the user to scroll the advertisement smoothly on or off the screen, and decreases “the tendency to block or overlook ads in the process,” The Drum’s Laurie Fullerton reported. The study delivered some stunning results on what happened when the scroller was used:

  • Brand category awareness increased by almost 26%
  • Ad awareness increased by almost 10%
  • Those who saw the ad were 17% more likely to consider it “distinctive”
  • Thirty-five percent of those who viewed the scroller ad expressed “positive feelings” about how the ad revealed itself
  • Sixty-three percent of those who saw the ad reported a higher purchasing intent after viewing

The study also showed that these ads were a hit with certain target audiences, namely Millennials. Forty-four percent of Millennials who viewed the ad reported positive feelings about the way the ad revealed itself, compared to 31% of those age 35 and over. Moreover, “while women saw the larger brand increases, men were much more impressed with the scroller’s look and feel,” according to the IAB.

Given that mobile advertising spending in the U.S. will increase by 41% this year and constitute 72.2% of all digital ad spending in 2019 (to become a $65.87 billion industry), publishers can’t afford to use ads without thinking of the big picture. But with smart and strategic understanding, publishers should be able to roll with Google’s changes. In fact, it might just push publishers onto better methods.

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