With 85% of mobile search results now meeting Google's mobile-friendly criteria, the search giant has found a new battle to fight...

Intrusive Pop-Ups

Don't you hate it when you're reading an article on your smartphone and you're ambushed by an unexpected pop-up that takes up the entire screen? Well, it looks like the people at Google agree with you, because they've pledged to punish sites that use this technique by diminishing their mobile search rankings. This blog post (published last week on the Google Webmaster Central Blog) makes the following promise:

"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."

The announcement feels like the start of a new chapter in Google's ongoing endeavour to give users the best possible online experience. You may remember 'Mobilegeddon', that day in April 2015 when Google changed its mobile search algorithm to favour pages with a mobile-friendly design; some time before that, in November 2014, they introduced the 'Mobile-friendly' label, which sat alongside mobile-friendly websites in the SERPs and helped users to identify at a glance which results would function well on their smartphones.

Example of Mobile Friendly Label
Image from Search Engine Land

Interestingly, Google has now retired the 'Mobile-friendly' label, stating that "85% of all pages in the mobile search results now meet this criteria and show the mobile-friendly label". Since the majority of mobile results are now mobile-friendly (probably thanks in part to the 'Mobilegeddon' algorithm change), the 'Mobile-friendly' labels were starting to make things look cluttered, so Google has gotten rid of them. In doing so, the Big G has effectively declared this particular battle won: most of the pages listed in the search engine's mobile results are now mobile-friendly (i.e. you can read and use them on a smartphone without having to zoom in), so it's time to pack up and move on to the next fight.

And the next fight for Google is against pop-ups, or "intrusive interstitials" as the new blog post calls them. Pop-up windows tend to be pretty annoying no matter what device you're using, but they're particularly problematic for mobile users, especially when they fill the whole screen and effectively blockade the user from accessing the desired content. Even so, a lot of websites - including some of the largest, most well-respected media outlets around - use irritating interstitials for all kinds of different purposes, including:
  • Encouraging people to sign up to a mailing list
  • Telling users to install an app
  • Advertising
If your website uses pop-ups for any of these purposes, you may want to revise your strategy before the 10th of January, 2017. From that date onwards, Google will be penalising sites that use intrusive interstitials, meaning that your pages may stop showing in Google search results on mobile devices - and with mobile's share of total internet use increasing all the time, that's a loss that you probably don't want to suffer!

What kind of pop-ups will trigger a penalty?

Interstitials are used in many different ways throughout the Internet. Fortunately, Google has given us a pretty solid idea of which ones they're out to get and which ones will be allowed to slip through this new penalty's net. Here are a few examples...

Scenario #1: Sign Up Now!

Let's say you have a website featuring a variety of articles about all the latest movies and TV shows. When somebody reads one of your pieces, they can view everything above the fold without interruption, but as soon as they scroll down, surprise! A pop-up window appears containing a message like this:

SIGN UP NOW!
Join our mailing list and you'll never miss the latest news and insights from our team of talented writers.

Enter your email here...

Don't worry, we'll never send you any spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

The frustrated user now has to tap on the little 'x' in the corner of your sign-up form in order to carry on reading. It's highly likely that sites using this sort of tactic will be penalised under Google's new rules, so if you're currently using pop-up forms like the example above, you should strongly consider changing tack before the 10th of January.

(To be honest, this isn't a great way to encourage people to join your mailing list anyway, as it disrupts their experience of your site and possibly sours them on your brand as a whole. You'll make your users happier - and probably get more sign-ups in the long run - if you take a different route, e.g. placing a call to action at the end of each article rather than covering up the article itself.)

Scenario #2: Try the App!

Let's now imagine that your film and TV website has a mobile app that makes it easier for smartphone users to navigate and consume your content. You know that your website, while mobile-friendly, isn't as good as your app when it comes to giving smartphone users a good online experience, and so whenever a mobile user arrives on your main site, you show them this pop-up:

BROWSING ON YOUR SMARTPHONE? RIGHT THIS WAY!
Our app makes it easy to keep up with everything we post.

Download from the App Store >
Download from Google Play >

You might think that you're doing your readers a favour here by directing them to a more user-friendly platform, but in reality, most people will just be annoyed that you've put a great big pop-up in the way of the article they wanted to read. Sites that do this probably will be penalised in Google's mobile rankings unless they cut it out by the 10th of January.

Bear in mind that Google's goal is to satisfy each query as quickly and as smoothly as possible. If they send someone to your website, it's because the algorithm thinks you have the information or the content that person wanted; if you put up barriers between the users and that content, there's a good chance that Google - eager to achieve total user satisfaction - will send people somewhere else instead.

Scenario #3: How Old Are You?

Finally, let's look at an example of an interstitial that most likely won't result in a penalty come January 2017.

Imagine you own an ecommerce website that sells wines and spirits online. Because alcoholic drinks are an age-restricted product, you are required by law to ask each user to verify their age before admitting them to your website's content. One easy way to do this? A non-dismissable pop-up that appears as soon as someone lands on your site for the first time and prompts them to enter their date of birth.

PLEASE ENTER YOUR DATE OF BIRTH

DD MM YYYY
Click to select country...

To view this website, you must be over the legal drinking age in the country where you live.

Since this interstitial is in place to fulfil a legal requirement, your website should be spared when Google cracks down on intrusive interstitials in January. Another example of a legally mandated pop-up would be a notice explaining that your website uses cookies.

Google are also saying that they'll let you off if your pop-ups "use a reasonable amount of screen space". This suggests that site owners will still be able to get away with using pop-up banners as long as they don't cover too much of the content being viewed. An example would be a small banner that appears at the top or bottom of the screen prompting users to click a link or download an app.

Download the Google app
In fact, Google use this approach themselves!

Worried that your rankings will be affected by the forthcoming Google penalty? Anxious to remove the pop-ups from your website before they cause any problems? Get in touch with Designer Websites today - call 01446 339050 or click here to request a quote for a new, Google-friendly website design.