Pop-ups have been pretty controversial from their inception, first it was all ads but lately, pop-ups have shifted to showing sign-up forms and the like. Bloggers love them for growing their email lists but readers tend to hate them. However, until now, bloggers + marketers didn’t have a reason to think about whether or not pop-ups are really worth it – Google is changing that January 2017.
This week Google announced that they will begin penalizing websites with pop-ups and intrusive above-the-fold content (read: SumoMe’s Welcome Mat).
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.
What This Means
As you probably know by now Google uses an algorithm to rank pages in their search results. Generally speaking the best we can do is take very educated guesses at what goes into that algorithm. However, every once in a while Google will make announcements letting us know a piece of puzzle. One example was when mobile-friendliness became a ranking factor.
This new announcement is part of Google’s push for mobile accessibility and ease-of-use for its users / readers. Truth is, as much as bloggers + marketers love their pop-ups and welcome mats, they do affect usability and accessibility – especially on mobile devices – and Google is taking a stand against them.
Not All Pop-Ups Will Be Penalized
Let’s all take a deep breath before the full-on freak out. Yes, Google is penalizing pop-ups and other interstitials but it will not be penalizing all of them. Google will only be penalizing pop-ups that make content less accessible to readers. They’ve specifically identified three types they consider intrusive.
- A pop-up that covers the main content. It doesn’t matter when it shows up (immediately or after a few minutes browsing), it does matter if it covers the content the reader is trying to read
- Pop-ups that have to be dismissed / closed out before the reader can access the content.
- A layout that appears above-the-fold pushing the main content before the fold (think SumoMe’s ever-so-popular Welcome Mat)
That being said Google has specified three types of pop-ups that will not be penalized. Specifically, Google will allow for pop-ups that manage legal obligations such as for cookie usage or age verification, login dialogs for password-protected content, and banners that use a “reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible”. Two of examples of this last one would be a HelloBar banner or SumoMe’s Smart Bar.
If you’re think “Dang… that kind of covers all pop-ups“. You’re right. Google is coming hard against pop-ups.
How Will This Affect Your Blog
If you don’t use popups or welcome mats, then this will not affect you. If you DO, then keep reading…
If you look closely at the announcement, it says this algorithm change will affect mobile searches specifically. So, first consider how many people look at your blog on mobile devices. You might think it’s not that many but the percentage grows each year. Mine is at a solid 60% right now. That’s A LOT of traffic and people I just can’t ignore.
If SEO is important to you, this type of announcements are (as Joe Biden would say) a big fucking deal. That being said, Google ends the announcement with a remind “this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking.” It goes onto to say that great, relevant content might still rank high in search results even if the site uses pop-ups and welcome mats.
The thing is, Google doesn’t put these announcement forward for the heck of it – they do it to better user experiences on websites. If they’re saying pop-ups on mobiles are intrusive and provide poor usability, it’s not to piss you off, it’s because they have the data to back this up.
So even if SEO isn’t important for you stop to think about how pop-ups are affecting your readers’ experience on your blog and whether or not a couple of extra email sign ups are really worth it. If you’re currently using pop-ups think of other ways your can put sign up forms front and center such as HelloBar banner or SumoMe’s Smart Bar, which as I mentioned fall under the “non-intrusive” and “not penalized” group Google singled out. Switching to these type of forms not only will keep you in Google’s good graces, but it will also better readers’ experience on your blog.