Websites with annoying popup ads will be ranked lower on Google Search results pages for mobile users once a new rule is implemented.

No matter what device users have in hand, Google wants netizens to find quality content fast. While it introduced the "mobile-friendly" label a couple of years ago — to help identify which sites work fluidly on smartphones and tablets — the search engine has decided to remove the tag to keep results pages uncluttered.

But "mobile-friendliness" will continue to be a criterion for ranking high on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Google's Crackdown On 'Intrusive Interstitials'

Now, Google is hoping to improve the mobile interface even more by punishing sites that block the content of their page with pesky popup ads. The penalty, beginning Jan. 10, 2017, has to do with being ranked lower on the SERPs.

These "intrusive interstitials," Google says, make for a poor user experience compared to the one offered by pages without these popups and "where content is immediately accessible."

"While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial," writes Doantam Phan, a Google product manager. "This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result."

The new rule will force web publishers to choose between ranking high on the SERPs or earning money from advertising.

Popup ads can be especially frustrating for users of mobile devices, which have smaller screens compared to laptops and PCs. Google, always keen on hearing out the complaints of netizens, will penalize sites that employ these three common techniques:

• Showing popups that block the main content while the mobile user is browsing the webpage or soon after he or she lands from the SERPs to the webpage

• Showing the upper portion of the webpage as a "standalone interstitial" but the main content is hidden by a cutoff

• Blocking the main content of the webpage with a "standalone interstitial" that the mobile user will need to dismiss before gaining access to the actual content he or she was looking for

Not All Popups Are Bad

Google does make an exception if the site uses popups responsibly:

• Legal obligations: the popup clarifies cookie usage or user age restrictions and verification

• Login: the dialog box asks for the user's login credentials upon sign-in if content is private or covered by a subscription paywall

• The popup banner uses a "reasonable amount of screen space" and can be closed easily

Google uses hundreds of signals to determine how high a webpage should rank on the SERPs. The intent behind the search query, the company says, is still factored in, so pages that have interstitials may still rank relatively high if the content offered by the page is relevant and of high quality.

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