Pop-ups have been controversial since they first appeared on websites back in the ’90s. At the time, they were used for ads, but lately, they’ve become very popular for sign-up forms or for social media follow buttons. Bloggers and business owners love them for growing their email lists, while users are often annoyed by them.
If you are wondering if you should be using them or not, or if you are already using them, you should take note of Google’s latest update. Starting next year, Google will penalize intrusive pop-ups, welcome mats, and other above the fold interstitials:
Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.
So what does this mean? To make it easier for people to read your website on mobile devices, Google will rank your site lower in search results if you are using pop-ups or other above the fold interstitials.
I know this is bad news for bloggers and marketers that love pop-ups, but the truth is they affect your website’s usability and can make a lot of people leave your site without reading your posts.
What isn’t Google allowing?
To make this cleared, Google has mentioned a few examples of intrusive interstitials:
- Pop-ups that cover the main content either immediately after the user visits a page or while the user reads the page. This means that pop-ups that appear after a few seconds or minutes are not allowed.
- Pop-ups or other interstitials that have to be closed before the user can access the page
- Layouts where the interstitial appears above the content and doesn’t cover it, but users have to scroll down to view the content (like SumoMe’s Welcome Mat)
Basically, if your readers have to dismiss something to view your content, you might be penalized by Google in the future. This doesn’t apply to large images above your content or small opt-in forms.
What will be allowed?
Not all pop-ups are bad. As long as you use them responsibly, you can still use the following interstitials:
- Interstitials used for legal reasons such as for cookie usage or age verification
- Login screens for password protected pages or private content
- Banners that don’t take a lot of space and can easily be dismissed (opt-in forms that don’t cover the whole screen like the Hello Bar)
What should you do about it?
If you don’t use pop-ups or welcome mats, this doesn’t affect you.
If you do use them, it’s important to keep in mind that this will only affect you if you have a lot of organic traffic and it will only affect your rank in mobile search results. You can continue to use them if most of your readers come from social media sites or if you don’t care about SEO.
You might not care about Google, but you should care about your readers and how easy it is for them to read your content.
As you know, a lot of readers hate pop-ups but bloggers and business owners still use them. Marketers recommend them for growing your email list because pop-ups do work. The problem is a lot of people subscribe to your newsletter or like your Facebook page because they don’t know how to dismiss your interstitial. These people won’t interact with your content and will probably unsubscribe when you send your next newsletter.
Another problem is that a lot of these interstitials will still appear even if the users have already subscribed to your newsletter.
If you want to grow your newsletter and don’t want Google to penalize your site, here are a few things you can do:
- Add a visible opt-in form in your sidebar or under your posts: I know organic opt-ins are like unicorns, but if you create good content, people will subscribe.
- Add a small opt-in form above or under your header: small opt-in forms above the fold will not be penalized and are easy to spot.
- Use content upgrades or offer a free item: updating a popular post with a free checklist or ebook will bring you a lot of new subscribers.
- Use exit intent pop-ups: While these pop-ups are still annoying to some users, they won’t affect your visitor’s experience.
- Remove them on mobile devices: Because this change will only affect searches on mobile devices, you can just turn off pop-ups on small screens.
Since I’ve never been a fan pop-ups and huge welcome mats, Google’s decision has made me very happy. I’m hoping that there will be fewer sites that use pop-ups in the future and marketers will think of other clever and user-friendly ways to grow your newsletter.
What do you think about pop-ups and welcome mats? Will this change affect your website?