Do App Interstitials Create A Bad User Experience?

Google may denounce mobile app interstitials, but according to Yelp chief executive (CEO) Jeremy Stoppelman, that may be because apps pose a threat to the company’s search business.

Last month, Google published research on its own interstitials with the Google+ mobile site and found that 9 percent of users actually clicked the “Get App” button, while 69 percent abandoned the page altogether. After replacing the interstitial with a less in-your-face Smart App Banner, Google saw one-day active users on the mobile site increase by 17 percent. Per Google’s mobile SEO guide, which advises advertisers to stay away, “In extreme cases, the interstitial is designed to make it very difficult for the user to dismiss it and view the real content of the page. Since screen real-estate on mobile devices is limited, any interstitial negatively impacts the user’s experience.”

AJ Ghergich, founder of content marketing agency Ghergich & Co., says that regarding this research, it’s important to consider the source and the product.

“Maybe people just didn’t want to download Google+; it’s not like it’s a huge success, so is it shocking people aren’t downloading the app in droves?” Ghergich says. “The engineer from Google makes a dangerous assumption that your results will be similar to his single test. Google’s hope ‘that you will reconsider the use of promotional interstitials’ is ridiculous if it’s based on a single failed test.”

In a guest post on Search Engine Land yesterday, Stoppelman pointed out that Google still employs the full-page interstitial method for promoting apps such as Gmail and Google Maps. Playing off a Steve Jobs quote, the CEO noted that in order for people to use apps – which, according to comScore, account for seven of every eight minutes the average user spends consuming media – they have to be able to discover the apps and know they exist.

“After users cross the bridge from mobile Web to apps, they likely don’t go back,” Stoppelman wrote. “This presents an existential threat to Google’s core business of search, which envisions Google as the ‘middleman’ for all information transactions on the Internet. Apps disintermediate, or in plain English, remove the middleman and allow the consumer to interact directly with the developer.”

Stoppelman added that when interstitials are annoying, it’s because of the developers behind them more than the ad format being inherently disruptive. Sam Hurley, head of search at U.K. digital agency Midas Media, points out that while interstitials may not be inherently disruptive, they are inherently interruptive – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Let’s face it: full-screen interruptive marketing is always going to foster negative feedback. However, the effectiveness of such advertising is to be reckoned with. Frustrating as these ads may be, the user has no option but to digest the information presented to them,” Hurley says, mentioning the power of visual recall.

Like Stoppelman, Hurley finds Google’s research self-serving and biased. “I’d personally discount this information purely due to the amount of variables which come into play,” he says. “A fair test demands a multi-faceted approach, not a sweeping statement derived from a single experiment using a single app and product.”

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