In September 2016, Google made a rare announcement concerning algorithm changes. In short, it said that mobile sites that used popups, overlays, and light boxes that interfered with the mobile user’s experience would be penalized and drop-ranked.
This caused many companies to immediately pull their mobile website popups and interstitials well in advance of the January deadline. SearchEngineLand monitored the activity of mobile sites that continued to use popups, however, and found that —as of March— none had suffered any setbacks regarding ranking.
Popups can be very effective at creating engagement. On the surface, the reports are good news for SME and startups who love popup technology for its ease of use, and cost-effectiveness. However, just because Google hasn’t lowered the boom on mobile interstitials, doesn’t mean that it won’t do so in the future —and without further warning. Therefore, it is important to take a look at the search engine’s policy and adhere to Google’s recommendations as best practices, going forward.
An interstitial is a partial or full-page element requiring a response from the user, and that interrupts sequential content. An interstitial can be a popup opt-in form or an advertisement. It forces the user to be exposed to the element before they are allowed to continue on their content path.
According to Google’s Webmaster Central blog, the types of popups, popovers and light boxes that may be impacted negatively by Google’s penalties include:
● Popups that cover the main content immediately after navigation to a page from mobile search results, or at any time while they are viewing displayed content.
● Standalone interstitials that a user must interact with to dismiss before they are allowed to access the main content.
● A layout in which the above-the-fold portion appears static, like a standalone interstitial, however, the original content appears underneath the fold.
● A popup that covers more than 40 percent of the device screen.
It is important to note that mobile websites built with user experience in mind, are not likely to be affected. This brings up the issue of mobile-friendly versus mobile-first. Mobile friendly sites are traditional sites designed for desktop use that have been retrofitted for mobile usability and responsiveness. Because this is tough to do, there are often issues with screenflow and load times.
Mobile first websites are designed to function the same on the desktop as they do on a mobile device and adapt seamlessly to various device screen sizes and orientations, as well as work with touch screen technology. For companies just starting out, it is recommended to go with a mobile first design from the outset. Not only does this “future proof” the website but it improves the user experience and protects the financial investment and increases ROI.
Since Google’s policy on popups is in line with the goal of improving the mobile user’s experience it is exceedingly important that you utilize the same purpose when implementing your mobile website. Whether your goal is mobile-friendly or mobile-first, you can continue to use popups to generate leads and close deals effectively, you simply have to keep the user experience in mind.