Google Needs to Provide Android App Interstitial Alternative

Yesterday Matt Cutts from Google tweeted that Google search results for users on smartphones may be adjusted based on the kinds of errors a web site produces (of course I was excited):

Matt links to a page that outlines two examples of errors that might trigger this downgrade of a site’s position in the Google search results and, right in the first paragraph, links to Google’s own common mistakes page:

As part of our efforts to improve the mobile web, we published our recommendations and the most common configuration mistakes.

I think it’s fair to assume that anything listed on the “Common mistakes in smartphone sites” page can negatively impact your site ranking. In particular this section on app download interstitials caught my eye:

Many webmasters promote their site’s apps to their web visitors. There are many implementations to do this, some of which may cause indexing issues of smartphone-optimized content and others that may be too disruptive to the visitor’s usage of the site.

Based on these various considerations, we recommend using a simple banner to promote your app inline with the page’s content. This banner can be implemented using:

  • The native browser and operating system support such as Smart App Banners for Safari on iOS6.
  • An HTML image, similar to a typical small advert, that links to the correct app store for download.

I think it’s good that Google links to the Apple article. I think it’s unfortunate that Google does not link to Microsoft’s own solution. If you read my blog regularly, or just follow me on Twitter, you may know that I covered both Apple’s and Microsoft’s app banner solution in January in the post “App Store Meta Tags.”

You might also note that I stated that Google Play offers no such feature. Google, the force behind Android and the one now (or soon) penalizing sites in its search engine for app interstitials, provides no corresponding alternate solution of its own.

A great thing that Google could do for its Android users, for its search engine results, and for app developers, is to support a custom meta tag that allows web sites to promote their own Android apps in the Play store. Developers can start to replace awful Android app interstitials on web sites, users can get a cleaner experience, and site owners who can’t conceive of other ways to promote their apps on their home pages can move toward something that is easier to maintain and doesn’t penalize them.

I think it’s nice that Google is paying attention to web devs by adjusting search results, but my ranty tweets are probably falling on deaf ears. The web would be indebted to someone who can get Google’s and Android’s ear on this.

Update: July 23, 2015

I think this latest news from Google both validates how worthless I think app interstitials are, as well as how Google of all organizations should recognize the value of making a meta tag for Android just as Apple and Microsoft have done.

From Google’s own research on how an interstitial affected users:

69% of the visits abandoned our page. These users neither went to the app store nor continued to our mobile website.

Validating Tab Closed; Didn’t Read. Of course.

Update: September 1, 2015

Not only did Google finally modify its own tutorial with proper app install banners, but Google is also going to start penalizing sites that rely on app download interstitials (with some caveats) as of November.

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