It has been a long time coming, but Google has finally announced that they will be punishing popups on websites in what they call the Interstitial Popup Penalty. There are hundreds of factors that are part of how a website shows up in rankings, but it appears that Google has finally heard the general public and their distance for the obtrusive popup and will now start to devalue those pages due to their annoyance.
Popups come in all shapes and sizes and for all different reasons, but the most common popups that are on websites these days are either a notice asking you to sign up for a newsletter, or asking you to sign in and receive a special coupon code. While these have been relied upon by millions of websites to help re-target and re-market a website visitor, the number of times it leads to a conversion is like quite low.
What is an Interstitial Popup?
Google was very specific in what kind of popups it was going to punish. They specifically listed Interstitial Popups. By definition, an Interstitial is “content that loads between two pages.” Wikipedia’s page on interstitials writes, “On the web, interstitials are web pages displayed before or after an expected content page, often to display advertisements or confirm the user’s age (before showing age-restricted material). “Wikipedia’s page on interstitials writes, “On the web, interstitials are web pages displayed before or after an expected content page, often to display advertisements or confirm the user’s age (before showing age-restricted material). “
From what we understand, Google has specifically listed popups that appear on a site and prevent a user from going further unless they click a small “X.” Essentially, the popup takes over the entire screen and either grays out, or overlays the entire site, unless a user signs up or exits the popup.
The penalty also does not care if the popup is immediate or if there’s a delay for when if the user scrolls. The moment that it takes over a screen and moves the visitors focus away from the content and onto a separate area, this is considered grounds for the penalty.
What kind of Popups Will Be Affected?
We know for sure that a popup that takes over the screen is a problem, so this mainly targets newsletters and signup requests. There are exceptions to the rule, but the language from Google has stated that popups that use “a reasonable amount of screen space” are exempted from the penalty.
Live Chat or Live Help Popups
You’ve seen them on various sites where a popup appears asking “Can I help you with something” or “Agents are standing by waiting to help”.
While these can be annoying, they’re often not blocking the content on the page, and so these may be excluded from the Interstitial Popup Penalty.
Age Verification Popups
Some sites, such as adult sites, mature content or sites featuring alcohol and tobacco, have popups that require a user to verify their age. There are even some video game websites that require these kinds of popups due to the content and nature of the website.
From what we understand, these particular sites will not be affected by the Interstitial Popup penalty. These are legally required on some websites, so there is most likely an exclusion in the algorithm based on content.
When you leave some websites, or you move your mouse to the top tabs on a page, there is often a large banner on the screen reminding you to signup for the newsletter.
At this time, there has been no information provided as to whether these will be part of the penalty algorithm, but when it comes to SEO and Google, taking the policy of “better safe than sorry” is what we advise.
Login Popups or overlay
Google has explicitly stated that the login boxes that show on websites will not be affected. Again, these are usually displayed after a user has clicked a particular section of the navigation and not something that just shows up out of the blue.
When does the change take effect?
If you’re using popups or banners, it’s time to rethink your marketing strategy. At this time, Google has targeted the date of January 10th, 2017 as being the date that the penalty will be enforced. It’s likely however that they can implement the penalty much sooner, but if you’re looking for a drop dead date on the penalty, it’s January 10th 2017.
Google has a habit of changing their mind, and we often seem them rolling things out in stages. While they have provided a date, we encourage users to have their websites in line long before these dates.
What are your thoughts on the penalty?
Personally, I think this a great thing. I have read that this is specifically targeting the mobile display of pages since the screen sizes are usually smaller and can be harder to find the “X” to close the popup. I believe that this will also transition to regular desktop display and will affect displays on all websites across the web.
Back in February 2012, I wrote an article called “How Your Website Can Piss Visitors Off in Three Seconds or Less” and I’d like to think that Google’s Team may have read my article and I play a part in getting this implemented on the web. The likelihood of this is very low, but as long as Google is making my life a little easier, that’s all I really care about!
What do you think? How will this play out with the large advertisers and online newspapers or article sites that blast advertisements and popups every few pages? How pissed do you think they are about these new changes coming down the pipeline?