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September 19, 2016

Google Penalties Coming for Mobile Pop Ups

“The trend has been mobile was winning. It’s now won.”

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc.

When Eric Schmidt claimed that mobile had “won,” he was profoundly aware that these pocket-sized devices were the future of the digital world.

Since then, Google has been implementing an aggressive mobile-first strategy. The company recently unveiled its new virtual assistant, has developed a speedy and nimble content delivery method which has since been adopted by eCommerce websites, made serious pushes for websites to become mobile-friendly through “Mobilegeddon” and then again with what some called “Mobilgeddon 2,” along with a slew of other initiatives that clearly outlined mobile’s importance to the top name in search.

Much to the chagrin of many, but surprise of none, Google is back at it again with an increase to the strict guidelines that mobile sites must adhere to in order to compete in the SERPs.

In a recent blog post by Google product manager Doantam Phan, it was announced that, in just a few months, companies would no longer be able to use various types of mobile pop ups on their websites. He stated:

“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 Jan. 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.”

This is not all that shocking considering that many are keenly aware of just how intrusive certain pop ups can be and how these adverts effectively diminish the user experience. And when it comes to user experience, this is at the top of Google’s list of priorities.

Starting in January 2017, Google will be doing away with mobile friendly badges due to 85 percent of the mobile SERPs meeting its standards, and any site that is still leveraging the technology known as “interstitial” pop ups would effectively be penalized and demoted in Google’s mobile search rankings.

Some examples of interstitials pop ups that Google outlined in its blog post are:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been in-lined underneath the fold

Keep in mind, however, this is not the first time that the big G has nixed intrusive mobile ads. Almost exactly one year earlier, the search behemoth announced that it would penalize any site that displayed full screen ads that prompted users to download the app for a site. This latest change is merely the continuation of a cycle that has already been set in motion.

Whether this is just the next logical step for Google or not, it is still highly disconcerting for many business owners who rely on these pop ups to gain subscribers, drive conversions, display the latest offers, and many more utilities that help a business reach its goals. So how, exactly, are brands to achieve the same results in a post-pop up mobile world?

How to Adapt. Again.

At this point, you should be pretty used to the drill; Google changes the rules, you adjust the sails, rinse and repeat. While the newest update can put quite a damper on the pop up party taking place on many mobile sites, it is not as bad as it seems.

First, most sites that force these types of full-screen ads would merely annoy a user – causing them to click off of the popup immediately – or send them packing to find a site where they could immediately consume the material they are after.

Additionally, and most importantly, Google is not outlawing pop ups altogether. Pop ups pertaining to age verification, the use of cookies, and similar notifications are still permitted. Alongside these pop ups, Google is also still allowing ads that are deemed un-intrusive and, “banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible.”

Google stated that app-install banners from Chrome and Safari are prime examples of popups that meet the aforementioned criteria. If app-install banners don’t meet your needs, you may want to check out services like Hello Bar. Furthermore, the WordPress plugin directory touts more than 1,000 plugins that give site owners the ability to create and manage popups.

The only thing to be cautious about here is that Google did not specify the sizes deemed appropriate and acceptable for “a reasonable amount of screen space,” so do be sure to carefully review the forthcoming rules and guidelines before implementing any of these solutions.

No matter what constitutes as reasonable, site owners still have until January of next year before these rules are implemented. Be sure to take this time to research your options for replacing your current pop up experience with something that will fit in with Google’s new standards for mobile websites. There are a myriad of options available, and surely one of them will help to drive the goals your site aims to achieve.

Do you think this update will majorly impact websites, or just be a minor inconvenience to them? What other big changes to the mobile experience do you expect to see from Google in 2017?


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Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.

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