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The Penalty for Popups

August 10, 2017 by Eternity

The benefits of popups are well known to those who run websites. Among other things, these popups can help you get emails, present important information in front of readers which they might easily have missed like information about an ongoing promotion, and also kick start conversations that might solve the reader’s problems.

They can also do something else: get you penalized by Google in the mobile search rankings.

As of January 2017, Google modified their search algorithm to actively push websites that employ popups down the search rankings. Their plan to do this as a means of improving user on page experience was announced in August 2016.

Specifically, the search giant said, “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.”

Google is taking no prisoners in their drive to provide searchers with the best user experience possible online, and your website could end up as roadkill if you don’t take appropriate steps.

Interstitial is one of the buzz words of this recent update and means an ad or popup that covers all or a portion of a web page. As already mentioned above, there are many reasons why they might be used on a website, not all of which concern you.

What should concern you is that readers don’t like them, and Google is stepping in to make sure that they appear less and less among the positions that are most likely to get clicked on the SERPs.

Are All Interstitial or Popups Penalized?

These popups have their uses--there’s no way around that. So Google clearly outlines on their website those are being targeted:

  • Popups that cover the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Standalone interstitials or popups that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Layouts where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
  • That pretty much takes out most of the popups out there. But there are some which are not targeted, and include, according to Google:
  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

So basically, you are better off using popups that take minimal amounts of space. Because, while this is just one out of hundreds of factors that affect ranking, the king of which is still ‘great, relevant content’, why take the risk and jeopardize your chances of rising to the top of the search results?