It's time for app developers to look past mobile interstitials

No one needed research data from Google to prove that interstitial ads on mobile devices -- or any devices really -- are both infuriating and ineffective.

Then again, it's interesting to see Google look at itself as a sort of mega-app developer and study the impact of mobile interstitial ads that urged viewers to download its Google+ app. The statistics should send any developers considering a similar tactic screaming: More than two-thirds (69 percent) abandoned the page entirely, rather than clicking through or installing. Of those who did click the "get app" button, a significant portion either already had the app or didn't seem to actually want it. The company summed up its conclusions in a blog post:

"Based on these results, we decided to permanently retire the interstitial. We believe that the increase in users on our product makes this a net positive change, and we are sharing this with the hope that you will reconsider the use of promotional interstitials. Let's remove friction and make the mobile web more useful and usable!"

Yes, indeed! And yet, as TechCrunch and others have pointed out, Gmail interstitial ads are still out there, and I personally get them from LinkedIn and many other organizations  from which I have already installed an app.

Indie developers may not be as likely (or have the budget) to resort to mobile interstitials, but for those considering such a move or who want to keep running them, here's how I would suggest most people react when they see one:

  1. "Oh, Lord, not one of these things."
  2. "Where's the little 'X' or 'close' button?"
  3. "Can I get back to where I was quickly, or go straight to the app I already have?"
  4. "No! The answer is no, I don't want this!"
  5. "I am never using this/visiting this again."

I have decided to be PG and have left out the cursing. 

Much like the desktop world, mobile interstitials go against everything all the experts on user experience say about driving engagement, monetization or anything else a developer or company would probably want. That's because, no matter how small, cleverly designed or when they are served, they put marketing needs first and users second.

Naturally, none of this will stop companies from trying. Amazon, for instance, recently started tempting developers by offering $6 CPM (cost per thousand) for interstitials ads on Android, iOS and Fire. But with all the other options available for user acquisition and generating revenue -- which includes not only in-app purchases, social media marketing and even native ads -- it's going to get harder for developers to justify this kind of compromise.

Google said Google+ installs dropped only two percent because of the interstitials in its study, but that would potentially have a huge impact on an indie developer who experienced the same thing.

Here's a tip: The next time you think about using mobile interstitials, look at your app and imagine one popping up that says "THINK AGAIN." Unlike smartphone users, all you'll have to do is just use your imagination to make it disappear. --Shane