The death of popup ads: Google’s new policy will penalize websites with intrusive popups

Which ads are allowed, which not and what can site owners do?

Have you ever found a website through a Google search on your phone, and the entire page was covered with popup ads that wouldn’t budge unless you entered your email or took some desired action? Or maybe you’ve been startled by a popup that appeared as soon as you scrolled on a web page. Either way, admit it – they can be annoying. Especially on your mobile device.

Popup Ads
Image Source: WDnet – / License: CC0 Public Domain

If you’ve ever complained about these kinds of popup ads, or intrusive interstitials as Google calls them, then this Google announcement is bound to make you happy. Here’s an excerpt from an article posted on their Webmaster Central Blog about the issue:

“While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

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 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.”

In other words, get rid of the popups that obstruct users from accessing your content freely, or we’ll demote your page’s rank in our search engine. Yikes. This latest announcement comes as part of Google’s campaign to make accessing the web from a mobile device as user-friendly as possible.

Mobile User Experience
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For those of us who frequently consume content online, this could feel like a win. But, how does this affect you as a website owner with popups, appear on scroll ads or locked content on your site? Let’s explore these questions further in this article and shed some light on this new Google policy.

Why do intrusive ads even exist in the first place?

Different WordPress websites or else use popups and locked content for all kinds of reasons. The most common reason for using such popups however is to collect email subscribers in exchange for helpful and informative free resources, early access to exclusive content, or a regular newsletter.

Write with intention
Image Source: FirmBee – / License: CC0 Public Domain

Many WordPress plugins like SumoMe or OptinMonster offer a variety of popups and locked content in order to maximize building your email list. Some of these plugins are triggered by behavior on your page, or appear when a user is about to leave your page. Others completely block you from accessing content on a page until you take a desired action.

For WordPress website owners, the use of these intrusive interstitials has grown their email lists exponentially, but they are in direct violation of Google’s mission to make mobile browsing better for everyone. Remember the great Google mobile update, the Mobilegeddon, a couple of time ago?

What Google really means by intrusive interstitials

It still might not be clear to everyone what exactly Google means with intrusive interstitials. In the same article from their Webmaster Central Blog, they listed three examples of interstitials that would be a no go to use on your website. Let’s look at some visual examples of these:

Example 1: Standalone interstitial

Standalone Interstitial
Image Source: JuralMin – / License: CC0 Public Domain

On opening a website, you’re presented with a standalone interstitial. All of the content on the page is locked by a popup that you have to dismiss in order to access the main content on the page. This obviously makes content less accessible to the user. You have to perform an action in order to see what you actually visited.

Example 2: A popup that covers the main content

Popup Advertisement
Image Source: JuralMin – / License: CC0 Public Domain

This kind of popup might appear a few seconds after navigating onto a website. You’re allowed to access content and browse the website for a time, but after a certain time limit this popup will be triggered. The first undesirable technique that Google mentioned in their announcement was:

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.

So any popup, banner or advertisement that covers all of your content forcing website visitors to take some action in order to access your content, will result in the flagging of your website and ultimately demoting it in Google searches which might have negative impact on your website.

Example 3: Other miscellaneous examples

Examples Insterstitials Google
Image Source: Screenshot –

Above, you’ll see examples of interstitials that Google is trying to put a ban on, when it comes to mobile devices. The real problem that Google is trying to combat is the use of large adverts or interstitials that detract from a user’s browsing experience on their mobile devices. Mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets don’t have as much screen real estate to sacrifice for these kinds of ads as you would on a laptop or desktop.

So, what kind of popup ads and interstitials can I use?

Image Source: qimono – / License: Public Domain CC0

The most important component of whatever interstitial you choose to use on your website, is that it doesn’t obstruct or deter visitors who access your website from a mobile device. Therefore, here are a few alternatives and permitted popups for your WordPress website:

  • Popups used to verify a visitor’s age or display any form of legal notice
  • Popups on all of those websites that are not indexed by Google
  • Banners that use a small amount of screen space, perhaps 10-15% percent
  • Banners that appear in the sidebar on your website
  • Popups appearing on scroll that take up only a minimal amount of screen space

Most WordPress plugins that offer the soon-to-be banned interstitials might also have options that are Google approved. So don’t worry or freak out – all hope isn’t lost! In the long run, this new Google announcement will herald a new wave in the way content is consumed online, and even in online marketing. For example, popup ads have been linked to higher bounce rates and a decrease in the credibility of your brand.

Image Optimization Mobile
Optimize your content for mobile devices – Image Source: Unsplash – / CC0 Public Domain

However if you absolutely must use these kinds of ads, do so at the expense of your search engine rank and be sure to turn them off for mobile devices. Removing intrusive interstitials from your site might actually help your brand in the long run! How do you feel about Google’s announcement, and what do you think it will mean for the future of online marketing? Please leave a comment below.

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