Google Inc. is updating its mobile search algorithm for the second time this year.

The search giant will no longer consider sites mobile-friendly if those sites have an overlay promoting consumers to download its app on the initial page off of search results. The penalty will only apply if the overlay covers a significant amount of content on that page and the overlay is specifically about downloading the company’s app. Sites that Google deems mobile-friendly rank higher in organic smartphone search results than mobile sites that don’t get that designation. Google made this announcement on its official webmaster blog on Tuesday.

“Sometimes a user may tap on a search result on a mobile device and see an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content and prompts the user to install an app,” Google writes in the blog. “Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page.”

Google will start weighing this as a mobile-friendly factor on Nov. 1.

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is now updated so businesses can check to see if their site will be affected by this new policy.


Brian Klais, founder and president at Pure Oxygen Labs LLC, a mobile marketing and mobile search engine optimization firm, hopes this penalty will encourage companies “to abandon this form of mobile spam.”

“App install interstitials are just another ‘bait and switch’ tactic,” he says. “Mobile searchers find highly ranked web pages in the search results that once clicked, serve content other than what they expected to see.”

Not many retailers use this tactic, Klais says. App download interstitials are mostly seen on publisher sites and popular media sites, such as Yelp, he says. Yelp’s vice president of policy, Luther Lowe, is not happy with Google’s announcement.

“Google saw its users fleeing mobile search via an exit door that led to apps,” Lowe says.  Lowe did not say whether Yelp would change its app download interstitial.


Klais says removing the interstitials isn’t technically difficult. He says it forces companies to reconsider  how to promote app installs.

Instead of overlays, Google recommends that businesses use app install banner ads provided by a browser, such as Safari’s Smart Banners and Chrome’s native App Install Banners. Webmasters can also create their own install banners, as long as they don’t block the consumers from viewing the page’s content, Google writes.

“[Banner ads] are an acceptable way to promote the app to a captive audience at no cost,” Klais says. 28% of the Mobile 500 who have iOS apps use Safari’s Smart Banners.

Google on April 21 changed its mobile algorithm to factor into organic search results if a site was easy to navigate on a smartphone. In assessing how well a website renders on smartphones, Googlebot web crawlers penalize websites for the following: software that often crashes on mobile devices, such as Flash Video; the need for consumers to pinch and zoom to navigate a page; and if a website has faulty redirects.


After the update, organic search visits fell by as much as 10% for nonmobile-friendly sites compared to the previous year, according to the Adobe Digital Index “Q2 2015 Digital Advertising Report,” which based its report on its clients’ 890 billion digital ad impressions from search and social platforms and 21 billion social visits from social network sites.