Google to start penalising mobile websites that display intrusive pop-ups
Google just announced that as of next year, they may start to penalise sites that show intrusive pop-ups. Here is their official line:
pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.
You can read more on their official blog post, entitled "Helping users easily access content on mobile".
You can see examples of these pop-ups, or intersitials, in the above image. Broadly speaking, there are 3 types.
Type 1 - Email Captures
Let me start off by saying that pop-ups that ask for email addresses DO WORK, especially when you offer some form of incentive with it such as a free report/e-book.
However, you need to be smart about how you implement them. All too often, we see pop-ups appearing straightaway, before the visitor has had a chance to view any content on the site.
And at times the experience is dreadful on mobile devices - unable to close the pop-up, fields or labels being cut off or simply not being able to even fill in the form. And the most annoying thing of all? Clicking on a link in an email and being asked to sign up to a mailing list even though you just came from their email campaign! See below for our recommendations on the proper way to ask for information.
Type 2 - Huge "Welcome Mat" Intersitials
These are the type of ads that take up the full screen when you land on the site and you need to scroll down or hit a link/arrow to read the content.
Again, they are proven to work in that they will most likely increase the number of people signing-up to your blog, but they also annoy a large part of your audience and are especially annoying on mobile as you need scroll down quite a bit to read the article/page.
Type 3 - Full Page Ads
You have probably seen these types of ads on Forbes.com - you click on a search result or a link expecting to read an interesting story but you are bombarded by a full page ad and small "Continue to the site" link.
I honestly can't ever remember encountering this and thinking to myself "Oh look, an ad for exactly what I was looking for!". Quite the opposite, I get frustrated and my user experience is ruined. Google wants to improve the experience for their users, especially when it comes to mobile-based searchers, so it's clear as to why they will penalise sites that are doing this.
Not all pop-ups will be penalised.
There are times when pop-ups and intersitials are ok however.
Pop-ups that ask for age verification, that notifiy users of important information such as cookie usage or that ask them to log-in to view the content, will not cause any penalities.
Also, banners that only take up a small area of the visitor's device will be ok, as in the 3rd example above.
Our recommendations to avoid being penalised by Google
Some of these recommendations are ones we've been putting into practice for our clients for a while now, while some are specific to this latest news by Google.
Recommendation 1: Use a 2-step pop-up via a call-to-action
Instead of showing a pop-up straightaway, display one or more call-to-action links/banners throughout your page/content. Give people the chance to absorb some of your content and then present with them an obvious call-to-action, preferably with an added incentive such as "Sign-up to our mailing list and receive an exclusive e-book/report for ...".
Recommendation 2: Only show pop-ups after a certain timeframe or set of actions
This is the strategy we have been implementing for a number of years now - show a pop-up only if the user has been on the page for a certain duration, or visited multiple pages. Will Google's latest news, we will ensure that our implementation of these "delayed" pop-ups adhere to their guidelines.
Recommendation 3: Avoid showing pop-ups on pages that rank high in Google such as your homepage and category pages
You can use Google Analytics to see which pages on your site bring in the most traffic from Google and avoid displaying pop-ups on those pages. Vice versa, if you have pages that have very little organic traffic coming from Google, you don't necessarily need to make any changes from a ranking perspective - but you still want to ensure your users' experience is as good as it possiby can be.
The trade-off: Higher conversion rates versus reduced organic ranking
It will be interesting to see what happens when Google turns these new ranking signals on next year. But we expect it will result in you having to face the following conundrum - turn off all/most of your pop-ups and get less sign-ups and conversions, or face the possiblity of your site/pages being penalised.
But it's not really a conundrum in the majority of cases - if your site ranks lower in Google, you will get less traffic and the number of people signing up to your blog or enquiring on your product will fall regardless!