Google gives thumbs down to pesky interstitial ad

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Google is backing away from a bad ad.We’ve all had the sensation of opening a new window to check a favorite website, or scrolling down the page of this or that engrossing online article, only to blunder right into an advertising ambush. Maybe you get smacked in the eyeballs by an expanding mid-page banner, or worse, your view is suddenly obscure by one of those skins that blots out the page you were just reading to direct your attention for just a few moments to — to what, exactly?

Many, if not most, web surfers don’t bother sticking around to find out. And that’s one reason why Google is removing so-called “interstitials” that encourage mobile users to download its Google+ mobile web app. Permanently. The company announced its decision at the end of last week via a post to the Google Webmaster Blog by Google+ software engineer David Morell. Now, before we get with the hosannas, it’s probably wise to examine the scope of this momentous decision.

That is to say, we’re talking about Google deciding, on its own initiative, to remove one particular kind of interstitial ad from circulating in its own Android OS. If you have an Android phone, and you use the native Android browser to access web content, then you will no longer be periodically interrupted by a Google-backed interstitial that encourages you to improve your browsing experience by downloading the Google+ mobile web app. Big frickin’ deal. That’s one interstitial ad dead while thousand more remain alive to taunt us.

Also, even Google is basically straight-up admitting these days that no one cares about Google+. Indeed, many are actively enraged by it. So thanks for zotzing that thing that was getting all up in our faces about that other thing that makes us all mad in the first place.

The larger and more intriguing implication is what was revealed by the research that pushed Google to take action. Morell blogs that Google had a bad feeling about the offending interstitial — probably much like that time that Luke Skywalker’s road trip to Alderaan ran into that small moon — but that the company wanted to validate its instincts with actual statistics. Cut to later, when research revealed that 69 percent of users confronted by the Google+ mobile web interstitial simply closed their browser altogether. “That’s it! I’m outta here.”

That’s not a reaction, as you might imagine, that any web entity likes to witness. Perhaps even more impressively, however, Google chose to heed the voice of the 69 percent in defiance of a not-at-all insignificant 9 percent of visitors who actually clicked through to download the app. As Morell points out, a 9 percent click-thru rate on just about anything would sound like manna from heaven to most click-starved webmasters. Google got another telling nudge, however, from a test-run removal of the mobile web app interstitial ad, which resulted in notable increased user interaction.

So the bottom line is that the voice of the people, or more accurately the swipes of their fingers, convinced at least one key mover and shaker to retreat from an unpopular advertising policy.

All of this probably doesn’t quite herald the dawning of a revolution in web advertising. Web ads in general, and interstitials in particular, are likely to still be annoying, and most of us probably won’t particularly notice the absence of just one of them from our overall experience. On the other hand, if Google’s actions convince even one other company to reevaluate its approach to online advertising, then, well, that’s progress, right? Just don’t think that nobody cares the next time that you close your browser tab in abject frustration.

Everybody link arms. Maybe together, we can turn this one small step for Google into one giant leap for ad-kind.

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CertMag Staff

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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