Interstitial Ads- A Best Practice Guide for Publishers

Publift
June 8, 2021

Interstitial ads are one of the more popular forms of online advertising available, particularly for independent advertisers and publishers. While they can be seen ‘popping up’ on desktop websites, they are most often seen in the mobile and gaming arenas.

It is the aim of mobile interstitial ads to be placed within the user journey, with Google stating they should be  ‘typically displayed at natural transition points in the flow of an app, such as between activities or during the pause between levels in a game.’ 

However, when implemented carelessly, they can be an intrusive advertising option, hence why Google now penalizes certain interstitial ads.

Despite this, interstitial ads are still one of the most popular mobile and desktop ad formats. When applied correctly, in the right circumstances, they are an excellent ad choice for publishers looking to increase their digital marketing ROI.

This article covers the finer points of interstitial ads for online advertisers and publishers.


What Is An Interstitial Ad?

Interstitial ads are full-screen ads that cover the entire interface of a host app or site. These ads appear between content- interstitially- at natural app transition points- such as in between levels on games, or after certain activities.

As opposed to pop-up ads(as seen on the left), which overlay content and banner ads(seen in the middle), which appear at the top of content, interstitial ads(as seen on the right) are a full-screen ad that covers the entire screen.


Interstitial ad types may appear in different ad formats, including text, image, rich media, and video ads.

Interstitial ads are immune to ad blockers, which makes them a more effective choice in some cases.

When encountering an interstitial ad, users only have two options; to click the ad, which will send them to the advertiser’s desired location, or to close the ad and go back to the host site, app, or game. 

The timing of this close option depends on the ad type.

For example, non-video, interstitial ads have an immediate close option. In contrast, interstitial video ads may have up to a 5-second delay before a user can go back to the host app.


Why Use An Interstitial Ad?

Interstitial ads are one of the most popular ad formats due to their high impression rate and flow on to increased downloads and revenue. Statistics from successful online startups such as Airbnb and Pinterest have seen significant increases in app installations through optimizing interstitials.

Here’s why:

  • Interstitial ads are more prominent ads, meaning they are ideal for the mobile environment. Larger ads mean larger impressions and user engagement, assisting in overcoming ad viewability- or banner blindness- issues in the smartphone environment.
  • This higher viewability leads to higher click-through-rates
  • High click-through rates lead to higher conversion rates and overall ad revenue

For gaming apps and games that run through a mobile site, they often require the entire viewport for the interface, making the interstitial ad format one of the most popular mobile ad formats.

Penalties for Interstitial Ads

While it may seem counterintuitive for a company that makes a large portion of their revenue through advertising to penalize certain ads, Google does just this. 

As their Ads Policy states, their mission is to ‘support a healthy digital advertising ecosystem – one that is trustworthy and transparent and works for users, advertisers, and publishers.

In line with this philosophy, in 2015, Google announced they would be penalizing websites that displayed full-page ads prompting users to install mobile apps. Then, in 2017, they announced further mobile interstitial penalties applying to the following:

  • Displaying a popup that covers a page’s primary content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results or while they are scrolling through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that has to be dismissed before a user can access the main content.
  • Implementing a  page layout where the above-the-fold portion of the site appears similar to a standalone interstitial; however, the original content is actually inline underneath the fold.

Google also sets frequency capping by default–1 interstitial ad displayed in an hour for one unique user. This ensures users won’t continue to be served too many ads or the same ads repeatedly.

Penalty Exceptions

While committing the above actions will most likely see their website drop in the SERP rankings,  not all interstitials will incur a penalty. There are certain universally acceptable interstitials that users will undoubtedly be familiar with, which Google states will not be affected by the new signal.


Cookie Usage Interstitials

Cookie Interstitial Example


Cookie usage interstitials are a good example of interstitial advertising that is allowed to be displayed immediately after a user navigates to a web page. Rather than advertising a product or service, cookie interstitial announces your website’s use of cookies, requiring the user to consent to their use. Not only is this an accepted interstitial ad, in some parts of the world, such as the European Union(EU), it is a mandatory requirement, with the intent of giving users more power over the data they provide websites. Businesses in the EU must display interstitial ads outlining their cookies policy or face fines into the millions depending on the size of their business.


Age Verification Interstitials

Interstitial Age Verification Ad

Google also allows websites to place interstitial ads for the purpose of age verification on sites that contain, for example, adult content or the sale of alcohol. These websites will ask users to enter their date of birth to confirm they are legally allowed to purchase alcohol. In many countries, these interstitial consent forms are not only permissible but are also mandated by law.

Page-to-Page Interstitials

Interstitial ads that pop up when users move between a websites’ pages are acceptable, as long as those pages cannot be found in an organic Google Search.


Crossing A Paywall

Paywall Interstitial Ad Example

Many high-end, popular new and media sites employ interstitial paywall ads to encourage users to pay for premium content. This is standard practice for web and app publishers expending a large amount of money and resources to create high-quality content.


Interstitial Ads: Best Practices

As we can see, interstitial ads certainly have their place, particularly for app developers looking to monetize mobile games and mobile sites. However, with Google quick to penalize interstitial advertising that doesn’t appear at natural transition points, mobile marketers must integrate interstitial ads according to the following best practice guidelines.

Prioritize Your User’s Experience

When placing interstitial ads in programmatic advertising, it is essential to prioritize the user experience first and foremost. Interstitial ads work best in linear user experiences, meaning that the ads should appear at natural stop and start points within the app, complementing the natural flow of the app. It is recommended that ads appear before the break page or point where the user needs to click next or continue. This is because it has been shown that advertisements that appear immediately after a user clicks a button can be surprising, leading to accidental clicks, and ultimately, a lowered conversion rate.

To further optimize interstitial ads for the user experience, designers should pause any app action while the ad is showing. Audio output from the main app should be halted, for example, to ensure users don’t experience slow or unresponsive graphics while the ad is playing.

Timing Is Everything

Along with considering when and where to place interstitial ads within the user experience, publishers and advertisers need to consider how often they use interstitial ads. With intrusive advertising being one of the top reasons people uninstall mobile apps, it is crucial not to flood the user with too many app interstitial ads, which ultimately annoys users and leads to lower user retention.

Exit Button Accessibility

There are few things more frustrating than searching for seemingly invisible exit buttons on pop-up ads, and interstitial ads are no exception here. While most users understand that free mobile apps require advertising to fund their existence, they will quickly lose their tolerance for advertising if they feel they are being ‘spammed.’

While many advertisers will opt for a timeout feature- whereby an ad must be viewed for a certain period before it can be skipped or exited- best practices should again prevail here. 

Firstly, developers should ensure:

  • It is clear to users how long this ‘timeout’ will last for
  • Users have the option to skip where available
  • Users have the option to exit
  • Users can clearly see the  interstitial ad exit button, and it is not camouflaged by muted colors or other deliberately placed objects

Direct Traffic to Dedicated Landing Pages

While the above guidelines focus on best practices when a user scrolls within an app, what happens if and when they click on this ad? While getting a click is great, conversion is ultimately where the money is. Rather than sending viewers to a brand webpage, advertisers should consider creating targeted post-click landing pages designed specifically to convert new customers to their brand.

When implemented thoughtfully, interstitial ads are a fantastic ad format, particularly for publishers who work predominantly with the mobile web. 

At Publift we can help you create effective interstitial mobile ads and interstitial desktop ads to increase downloads, increase click-through rates and ultimately maximize their advertising revenue.


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