Intrusive interstitials: What’s all the fuss about?

This August, Google announced that it will take down and possibly penalise “intrusive interstitials” on mobile web pages from January 2017, in a move that is indicative of the growing momentum for higher quality advertising.

As the search engine acknowledges in its blog, “pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is more immediately accessible.” To address this, the changes will see Google potentially downgrade the mobile search ranking of sites which use excessive interstitial pop ups, providing a major incentive for advertisers to develop more effective and consumer-focused content.

User experience rules all

This initiative marks another key step in the battle against poor quality advertising, and Google should be applauded for recognising that consumers deserve to be protected from unscrupulous advertisers that want to grab attention at all costs.

According to research from Harvard Business School, capturing attention is gradually proving trickier, and with the emergence of omnichannel, consumers have become inundated with intrusive and irrelevant adverts across multiple channels, driving them to disengage. However, even as consumers’ attention becomes harder to attract, the industry needs to acknowledge that it's been abusing the patience of consumers, and work towards better creative, underpinned with better and more precise targeting.

The user experience is therefore now becoming a key priority for a growing number of channels and industry players, as we’ve seen with Facebook’s decision to disable ad blockers and commit to improving the quality of advertising. This in turn is driving demand for new, more user-friendly advertising formats such as native, which is mutually beneficial for advertisers, publishers and consumers alike; native formats are proven to dramatically increase consumer engagement, and have the added advantage of being bypassed by ad blockers.

As an estimated 80 per cent of mobile users are currently using ad blockers or desiring to do so in the future, this immunity is vital to enable brands to reach their intended audience without interruption.

Turning native

With IHS predicting that by 2020 in-app native advertising revenue will generate almost two-thirds (63.2 per cent) of mobile display advertising revenue, amounting to $53.4 billion in total, it’s clear that the advertising landscape is changing, and shifting away from the interruptive or annoying adverts that have caused the surge in ad blocker downloads, and prompted Google’s decision.

So what exactly is native advertising? Native adverts are designed to fit seamlessly with editorial content, mirroring its look and feel. As a result, the format is much more consumer-friendly than intrusive interstitials, enhancing, rather than disrupting, the customer experience. This approach is proven to drive consumer engagement and encourage sharing, with a recent IPG Media Labs study revealing that 32 per cent of consumers are likely to share a native ad, versus only 19 per cent who would want to share a display ad. In addition, as the content fits organically with its host platform, it is much harder for users to subconsciously block out, as can often happen with other advertising formats. 

Native adverts also have the added advantage of being able to benefit from the status of the publication they’re hosted by, helping a brand establish an affinity with users, even if they weren’t previously aware of it. The results speak for themselves; according to Forbes, native advertising can increase brand lift by as much as 82 per cent.

Location, location, location

For brands looking to maximise the success of native campaigns, integrating location data is vital. Location data can provide a wealth of high-quality and precise consumer behavioural and contextual insights,enabling marketers to build a high definition view of the consumer. Through this approach, advertisers can ensure that they target the right consumers at the right time and place, with the right content, helping to dramatically increase engagement and drive ROI. 

By addition location to native ads, marketers are able to further enrich the advertising experience, through incorporating users’ physical context into audience targeting. The ads then in turn complement both the in-app experience and the users’ physical location, making them more likely to engage.

Where do we go from here?

With the native ad industry set to quadruple in size between 2013 and 2018, coupled with the surge in ad blocker downloads, the time is ripe for the rest of the industry to acknowledge that it's been abusing the patience of consumers. It should therefore look to follow Google’s example, by making the customer experience a personal one.

At present, all companies must ensure they are preparing for the new changes and explore different options if their websites currently make use of interstitials that could affect future rankings. In the immediate future, they’ll need to address the real issue – how they can produce quality advertising and how they can educate consumers about the benefits of advertising.

While poor quality, untargeted advertising undoubtedly has many flaws, advertising has been instrumental at keeping the internet free at the point of use. We should therefore look to work towards a scenario where consumers are educated about the huge benefits advertising could bring, and where consumers accept a free service in exchange for agreeing to view personalised, targeted advertisements, delivered at an appropriate time and place. At the same time, the advertising industry has a responsibility to ensure that we’re always putting consumers’ interest must at the forefront of each campaign, by serving the right content to the right people, at the right time, in the right location, and in a user-friendly format.

Through this approach, consumers will only receive content which is interesting and relevant, which they will want to engage with. This in turn drives ROI for marketers and revenues for publishers, while enhancing the overall user experience. Once this happens, we can finally achieve publisher/consumer unity. The real question is; will you be a part of it?

Paul Thompson, VP EMEA, Blis

Image source: Shutterstock/mtkang