SEO Extent


How to protect your Search Engine Ranking from pop-up penalties

Most pop ups are annoying. Any kind of interstitials are a big NO if you are looking to achieve the best user experience on your website. Although pop ups can help leverage the content marketing goals and conversion rate they can be risky. Google’s announcement back in 2018 to devalue websites with intrusive pop up ads tells why pop up ads can harm your SEO.

Why would anyone subscribe to your membership program or the weekly newsletter while s/he is just looking for some information on your website? They have tons of alternative sites that offer the exact same information and knowledge without asking for any subscription.

I’m strictly against the practice of using pop ups or push notifications on the site to get the users’ details every time they land on your website or at the time of leaving the site. If they like your information and if you are one in a million, they would naturally save your site for future. There’s absolutely no need to ask for it.

But the sad thing is that almost all websites are asking for at least a free subscription so they can store your contact details for future push notifications. The intention is clear. They either want you as a paid customer ultimately or want to make money from different sources with you as one of their subscribers. Either way, the intention is to make money. Whether this practice is right or wrong is debatable to me, but I personally don’t like pop ups, push notifications or interstitial ads of any kind.

It’s important for you to know that interstitials or pop ups can harm your Search Engine Ranking. If your website is engaged in this, it can cost you Google penalties and in turn, your SEO score and search engine ranking can drop. Therefore, if you’re putting excessive interstitials or pop ups on your website, make sure you don’t cross the limit. In this post, you will learn how to use pop ups and yet protect your search engine ranking from any pop up penalties forced by Google.

Use only non-intrusive pop up ads

Google allows websites to have non-intrusive interstitials.

Non-intrusive interstitials are the ones that you are legally required to have on your website. Age verification pop-ups and cookie use notifications are some of the most common non-intrusive interstitials that you can use to restrict your website content or let your website visitors know that your site stores cookies.

Google also allows websites to have banner ads, slide-ins, inlines and tabs that are easy to dismiss and only take up a reasonable portion of the screen. These types of interstitials can take up 15% or less portion of the screen.

In general, you need to avoid full-screen overlays, welcome mats and ad modals. It’s better for you to use top banners and slide-in boxes because they don’t harm the UX of the site too much and allow the users to continue viewing the content with no big strain to their eyes.

The timing of the pop-ups also plays an important role in deciding whether your pop-up would be intrusive or non-intrusive. If you display a pop-up immediately after a user lands on the page, that would hamper user experience greatly. Instead of showing the ad immediately you can set the timing so as to display the pop-up when the user has finished reading the blog post.

You can also protect the user experience of the site by making sure the pop-ups are displayed only for about 3 seconds and automatically close after this if the user doesn’t take any action. So, timed pop-ups are non-intrusive in nature and don’t get you any penalties.

Stay away from spammy interstitials

Most interstitials, pop ups and modals look intrusive in nature because they make the website content less accessible. Any attempt to only leverage the marketing efforts and make the content less accessible to the users is bad already, and if those interstitials are hard to dismiss, they are totally spammy because they harm the user experience. In those cases, your web page or mobile page can be devalued.

Some common examples of spammy interstitials that make the content less accessible and hurt the user experience are:

Google’s John Mueller suggests that exit pop ups or interstitials are still allowed, but you should not rely heavily on those because they can still annoy your website visitors and annoying visitors is never a good idea.

Be careful about “Gray Area” interstitials

If you are using “gray area” interstitials like language selection pop-ups on international sites, sticky sidebars, share buttons, related posts, live chat boxes or coupon pop-ups, you need to be careful.

According to John Mueller, these types of pop-ups are interstitials too, so they still have to ability to devalue your website ranking any time. Be sure to carefully track the performance of the pages displaying those pop-ups because you never know when Google would penalize those pages for these pop-ups.

As of now, there is no serious negative impact of these kinds of interstitials on your SEO, but you never know how it can impact in the future, so you have to be careful at all times.

Some examples of ads that are permitted and yet intrusive in nature are:

Page-to-page interstitials

According to Google’s John Mueller, interstitials displayed on a site’s page when a user moves from the search engine results page can hurt the site’s ranking, but when a user moves between pages of a particular site, interstitials are okay. This means Google will less likely penalize sites that use page to page interstitials. But again as you never know what would happen in the future, Google may come up with an update someday and start devaluing sites using page-to-page interstitials since they are against good UX. So, you need to cautiously use page-to-page interstitials.

Exit pop-ups

Mueller also says that pop-ups or interstitials triggered by exit intent are fine and Google won’t penalize sites for using exit pop-ups. All you need to do is use a no-index tag in your code, and you are safe.

Intrusive Ads on desktop are fine

After Google’s mobile-first indexing update, mobile pages are now getting indexed prior to desktop pages. Any intrusive interstitials on mobile pages that negatively impact the UX are strictly prohibited, but they are fine on desktop pages.

This gives a false understanding to website owners that there’s absolutely no issue in using pop-ups on desktop sites. With this false understanding many of them are using a tactic to hide pop-ups on mobile pages and continue to show them on desktop pages.

If you are one of them with no fear of potential penalties from Google for using intrusive pop-ups on desktop sites, you are doing a mistake. I don’t want to create a lot of discomfort for you by repeatedly saying this, but I have to make you cautious if you are not already. Using a trick to hide intrusive interstitials on mobile pages and display them on the desktop pages (as many of them are doing today), might work temporarily, but that is not a permanent solution.

As a responsible business website owner you must be careful at all times. The trick is working now doesn’t necessarily mean it will work always. If you don’t take necessary measures and care, it may backfire at some point in the future in case there’s an update in place. Be careful while using intrusive ads on any device because that hurts the user experience, which is bad.

Interstitials for sources other than Google organic search are okay

This is great news for you, isn’t it?

Read what Mueller has to say about this,

“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 place we’re looking for those interstitials.

What you do afterward, 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.”

What this means is that interstitials for visitors that come from sources other than your organic search results pages are fine. Google has a problem when your site visitors come from organic search page and see intrusive ads.

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