Have you heard the latest Google news? Starting January 10, 2017, Google is cracking down on intrusive interstitials on mobile devices. Before we can talk about how this can impact your website, what exactly is an intrusive interstitial? This is Google-speak for a pop-up window. The update enforces Google’s attempt to put user experience first and foremost in their new mobile-index. While there are exceptions to this new penalty, it will require re-imagining how we use pop-ups. Let’s start by looking at Google’s announcement.

Back on August 23, 2016 Google announced that in the interest of creating a better mobile experience for searchers, they would begin not ranking as highly, websites using this tactic. The image below shows three classic examples of pop-ups:

An illustration using three cell phones to show an intrusive interstitial

Photo Credit: Google Webmaster Central Blog

Do these examples of pop-ups look familiar? Each of these could easily lead to a Google penalty. This means your website would still show up in the search engine result pages (also known as the SERPs), but could also result in a lower position than you previously ranked.

Here’s a breakdown of SERP traffic from Search Engine Watch:

Look at this way – even if you were to slip from position 1 to position 2, it could mean a serious drop in traffic, and most importantly, sales.

Exemptions to the Penalty

Google has laid out some important exceptions to this new penalty. If you’re required to obtain consent to place cookies (tracking scripts) on a visitor’s device prior to use of the site, this will continue to be allowed, and you will not be penalized.

In addition, if you’re required to verify a user’s age before they can enter the site, this is also allowed.

Google has also stated if your banner takes up a reasonable amount of space on the screen, such as the Chrome app download banner, this will be allowed under these new guidelines.

Lastly, Google has also indicated if your site content is behind a pay wall, and requires users to sign-in to view content, this is also permitted under the new guidelines. The image below shows these exemptions and what will continue to be allowed under these new guidelines.

An illustration of three cell phones showing a google pop up penalty on mobile

Photo Credit: Google Webmaster Central Blog

What Google Doesn’t Consider an Intrusive Interstitial

In light of this new penalty, it has left both marketers and website owners wondering how they can continue to capitalize on successful campaigns using pop-ups.

Several studies are showing the value a properly implemented pop-up strategy can have. So, what should we do next? In a recent Google Webmaster’s Hangout, the topic was on this very question – how marketers could continue to use pop-ups on mobile, or whether Google was looking to ban them entirely. The question pertained to an interstitial triggered on exit intent and whether this would still be allowed.

John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google Switzerland, replied with the following:

At the moment those wouldn’t count. What we’re looking for is really interstitials that show up on the interaction between the search click and going through the page and seeing the content. So that’s kind of the the place we’re looking for those interstitials. What you do afterwards, like if someone clicks on stuff within your website or closes the tab or something like that then that’s kind of between you and the user.”

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How to Avoid an Interstitial Penalty

Does your site use pop-ups? Here are steps to take to avoid a penalty:

  1. Make sure to remove any intrusive interstitials that trigger when a user lands on your site (unless your pop-up falls into one of the above categories).
  2. Check your analytics. Do you see a high bounce rate? Do people leave your site when they see your pop-up?
  3. If you are unsure how people are interacting with your pop-ups, consider a heat mapping program to give you this insight. Visual Web Optimizer and Hotjar are just two programs in particular that will give you an inside look into how visitors behave on your site. Alternatively, if you aren’t using pop-ups, is there a portion of your site that could benefit from this strategy?
  4. Redesign/Reimagine how your pop-ups would display. Can you make them smaller and take up a “reasonable amount of space”? Can you change the settings so they trigger based on user decisions (exit intent, sequence of pages, or time on site). If there are ads you have to show, try shrinking the size.
  5. Check the design and messaging of your pop-ups so they fit in with the branding of your site. Also, make sure you are offering your visitors value in exchange for their email address. It should go without saying, but be nice, courteous, and friendly. No one likes the feeling of being used, so don’t.
  6. Test, test, and test. A/B test different versions of your pop-ups to see which converts better. Also, test different versions of a page, one with a pop-up and one without to see if user satisfaction is higher or lower. We want to make sure our decisions are driven by data.

The good news here is we need to rethink our interstitial strategies and how they could be affecting user experience. We need to adjust our marketing so pop-ups are triggered based on user actions or types of pages and use those pop-ups to bring value to users (coupon codes, deals, email signups, free downloads), versus just going after them for their email.

Is your business prepared for these new changes? What are your thoughts on this new penalty? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!


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