By Joe Dysart
Got Pop-Up Ads?
Google May Penalize You
Beginning this year, Google’s army of coders will penalize businesses that traffic in annoying pop-up ads.
Google is cracking down on mobile websites that intentionally degrade the web-browsing experience for the rest of us. Beginning in January 2017, the search-engine giant announced plans to push mobile websites down in its search-engine returns if they deliberately harass visitors with bothersome pop-up ads.
The same goes for businesses that design websites that deliberately force visitors to endure ads before they can get to content: Your website could appear lower in Google search-engine returns if you persist in this ploy.
“It’s hard to believe that browsing the web on a mobile phone can still feel so slow, with users abandoning sites that just don’t load quickly,” said Nick Zukoski, a software engineer for Google.
Besides attempting to foster faster download speeds, Google’s crackdown is also seen by many web analysts as a furtive response to the proliferation of free ad-blocking plug-ins that web cruisers are installing on their browsers. Essentially, many users are fed up with intrusive ads deliberately designed to interrupt their interaction with content.
And by the close of 2016, nearly 70 million web users were expected to be cruising with special browser plug-ins—ad blockers—designed to block intrusive, annoying web advertising, according to eMarketer (www.emarketer.com). Moreover, eMarketer said, another 17 million web users are expected to join the ranks of the advertising disaffected by the close of 2017. Those droves of people disgusted with web advertising concern Google, which draws virtually all of its revenue from web advertising.
“In today’s world of personalized content, being forced to watch an ad that has no relevance is a missed opportunity and feels increasingly intrusive on precious screen time,” said Gavin Mann, industry lead for the global broadcast industry at Accenture. “Industry needs to do everything possible to make ads less of an infringement on precious screen time by building on early successes that deliver targeted, relevant and entertaining ads in a creative style appreciated by the individual.”
Indeed, a study released last summer by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (www.iab.com) found that two-thirds of ad-blocker users in the United States said they would consider abandoning the tool if the advertising community cleans up its act.
“Bringing ad-blocking consumers back into the fold is the establishment of a lean scoring system, which will allow for the user experience to be measured against clear-cut benchmarks,” said Alanna Gombert, a senior vice president at IAB.
Essentially, that scoring system recommends eliminating the same kind of pop-up ads Google will be penalizing, and it also advises businesses to forgo planting ads that auto-play audio and/or video when a user interacts with a web page or ad. It suggests that businesses ensure that ads don’t slow web browsing and ensure that ads are free of malware.
Another major no-no: avoid refusing to show content to users who are currently using ad blockers, according to Gombert.
Of course, it may take a while—if ever—before the lion’s share of advertisers actually adopts the IAB’s scoring system and produces friendlier ads. In the meantime, Google is dead set on moving ahead with its ad penalization program. Specific businesses in the crosshairs are those that use pop-up ads that annoy people by appearing from nowhere when they’re browsing content and force them to search for a tiny little “X” to click on to stop the distraction, according to Doantam Phan, product manager for Google.
Taboo, too, will be the ads you find already hovering over a page when you click there from Google or other search-engine link. Businesses that attempt to force feed ads to visitors by placing the ads “above the fold” on the home page of a website will also suffer a ranking downgrade.
But amid all the discipline, there will be some exceptions. Some pop-ups will continue to be allowed under the Google crackdown, including:
- Pop-up content that must legally be displayed, such as a website’s policy on cookies or warnings to minors that they are prohibited from visiting the website.
- Log-in dialog boxes that need to pop up when a visitor needs to enter private credentials (such as an ID and password) to access content deeper in the site.
- Banners that pop up on a page but confine their display to a “reasonable” amount of space on the page.
Businesses looking to comply with Google’s new rules—as well as embrace Google’s mission to make mobile web browsing as fast and effortless as possible—can check out a companion initiative from Google that offers design tips for mobile pages that result in quicksilver download times. Known as the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project (AMP; www.ampproject.org/docs/get_started/about-amp.html), such pages rely on special technical and architectural approaches to guarantee faster download speeds, according to Google’s Zukoski.
“To us—and many in the industry—it was clear that something needed to change,” Zukoski said. “That was why we started working with the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, an open source initiative to improve the mobile web experience for everyone.”
As an open-source project, AMP offers free download-friendly web components that businesses can use to embed rich media objects in their pages and digital advertising, such as video, social media, display advertising or website analytics, according to Zukowski.
AMP pages also enjoy fast download speeds with their ability to be cached in the cloud, which significantly reduces the amount of time AMP content needs in order to appear on a phone or similar device of a mobile user. Under the open source initiative, any company can use cloud caching services.
Google, for example, offers a free cloud caching service that any business can use to store its AMP-compliant mobile pages. Under the arrangement, a company still controls all of its content; its ads simply download faster because they’re stored in Google’s cache.
“Publishers increase revenue with better-performing ads while ensuring that users can get back to their content anytime they want,” said Vamsee Jasti, product manager for the AMP Project.
Company design techs who are interested in “AMP-lifying” their pages will want to check out the AMP HTML specification for AMP pages on GitHub (www.github.com/ampproject/amphtml). And businesses using the Wordpress community will want to check out a special tool for Wordpress websites—the Wordpress AMP plug-in (www.wordpress.org/plugins/amp)—which automatically generates accelerated AMP pages of Wordpress posts.
More good news: The open-source AMP community is currently working on a way for AMP pages to support common website analytics programs currently in use on the web today.
“Users are more likely to click on ads they may be interested in if they know that they’ll have a positive experience,” Jasti said. With AMP, “advertisers benefit from increased user engagement and higher conversion rates.”