opentable-app-ad-story OpenTable

You follow a link on your smartphone to a website; LinkedIn, say, or OpenTable, or any of countless examples. Instead of the pleasant mobile interface you were expecting, you’re greeted by a prompt that asks if you’re sure you wouldn’t rather download the app. A tap makes it go away, but only until the next time you visit, at which point the assault continues afresh. This is bad. Google wants to make it stop.

Today, in a post on its “Webmaster Central” blog, Google announced that it’s going to give purveyors of these app install interstitials a black mark on its “Mobile-Friendly Test,” which improves or worsens a site’s performance in search rankings based on how smartphone-compatible it is. In its initial incarnation, announced in April, the algorithm tweak primarily targeted sites whose designs weren’t optimized for a mobile browsing experience. Today’s announcement takes it a step further, dinging sites not just for layout, but for intent to annoy.

“We’ve recently made it easier for users to find and discover apps and mobile-friendly web pages,” writes Google software engineer Daniel Bathgate in today’s post. “However, 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. 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.”

The move isn’t entirely altruistic; Google has a vested interest in keeping people on the mobile web, which it can more easily monetize than in-app experiences. Today’s announcement doesn’t banish app download nudges altogether, though; the move targets interstitials that obstruct a significant portion of the site you were looking for. Google instead encourages developers to use a less obtrusive banner, be it in Safari or Chrome.

As a warning, it will hopefully prove effective. In practice, though, it may not help much on cornerstone sites like the ones mentioned above. Properties that serve a loyal audience with specialized, best-in-class service—like OpenTable and LinkedIn—may not feel a significant search pinch. Smaller sites, though, that rely on search for discovery, will hopefully fall in line. Or at least, in banner.

Either way, you should see fewer of these pop-up scourges as soon as November 1, when the change goes into effect. Between that and iOS 9’s ad blocking capabilities, your smartphone browser is in for a much less cluttered fall.

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Google Wants to Crush Agitating ‘Install Our App’ Ads