August 25, 2016

Google Will Penalize Sites That Have Terrible Pop-Ups

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Pop-up internet ads are horrible, and most people hate them.

How have these noxious mechanisms managed to survive this long? Because, sadly, they serve as vital revenue streams for many of the biggest publishers in the world.

Nevertheless, as of January 2017, Google will penalize the mobile search rankings of websites that display certain types of pop-ups to users on mobile.

Of particular note are pop-ups (also called interstitials) that completely obscure the content on the page either before or after a reader has navigated to the page and “gateway” type ads that force a user to dismiss them before revealing any actual content.

ALSO READ: Gallup Says 60% of B2B Customers Just Don’t Care About Brands

Google announced the change yesterday and uses relatively straightforward reasoning to justify the new penalty:

“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to the user than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile experience . . . pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”

Visual representations of bad pop-ups as drawn by a Google employee

Visual representations of bad pop-ups as drawn by a Google employee

Not all mobile pop-ups will trigger a penalty. Interstitials that indicate a legal obligation (i.e., an age requirement) or that serve as a login mechanism are still fair play. So are banner ads that “use a reasonable amount of screen space.”

Google Knows Mobile Browsing Isn’t Great

This announcement is a welcome and consistent move from Google. Everyone’s favorite search engine megalith has taken several steps to improve the mobile web experience over the past two years. For reference, see the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project and the mobile-friendly label from 2014.

Now Google is trying to incentivize content publishers to stop using the objectively terrible strategy of blocking an entire page’s content on mobile with an advertisement. This is undoubtedly a good thing, because not only are mobile popups intrusive, but they also drain data and stall loading times.

Google is working hard to improve the mobile web experience, because, well, it needs improving. Mobile browsers pale in comparison to their desktop counterparts, which drives more mobile users to applications like Facebook rather than Chrome or Safari.

Developing a protocol that makes sites load faster and penalizing websites that use annoying ads are clearly steps in a larger quest to build a mobile experience people actually want.

Considerations for Marketers

For the demand generation marketer, pop-ups can serve an important function in converting web traffic. So it there any reason to panic if you have a pop-up on your site?

ALSO READ: How to Perfect the Art of Email Capture

Not if you’re using one that respects basic human decency. Pop-ups that don’t invade the entire screen are often effective means of capturing emails or directing traffic to a specific part of your site. They can be beneficial to the user experience, so it seems unlikely that Google will target them in the foreseeable future.

We all know that filling out a form on a mobile device is a special kind of torture.

Plus, this penalization only applies to mobile, and we all know that filling out a form on a mobile device is a special kind of torture, so it’s not the best way to obtain emails in the first place. If you need inspiration for capturing emails on your website, this study from Buffer is a great place to start.