By: Le Dan Pham
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be difficult to grasp. Visitors may find your website at the top of search rankings, but might find your website difficult to navigate or it’s not enough to convert them into a new customer. Their experience may be negatively affected by the elements you have implemented to help convert and retain customers, mainly pop-ups. Since 2017, Google has devalued the use of intrusive pop-ups and other interstitials that might have a negative effect on users' experience, especially users’ on their mobile devices. However, pop-ups are still considered valuable to help increase conversion rates. The best pop-ups can reach up to a 50% conversion rate!
In this blog post, we will cover:
Types of pop-ups / intrusive Interstitials
Factors that affect SEO
How to use pop-ups mindfully and what mistakes to avoid
It is important to remember that not all pop-ups are equal. Their effects vary accordingly depending on your content, the timing, the size of the pop-up and so forth. The top-performing pop-ups such as those with a 40% conversion rate appeared on pages with corresponding, relevant content and only 8% of the top 10% of pop-ups appeared for less than 4 seconds. With this in mind, you can determine whether pop-ups are worth the risks for your business and if it does, how to do it effectively without annoying your visitors and potential clients.
Types of Pop-Ups / Intrusive Interstitials
These pop-ups are most popular as they are SEO-friendly and are great for displaying important messages to their users such as subscription services, on-demand chat help, discounts or free download offers. These types of pop-ups are opened in the same browser and can be layered on top of the current page’s content. They can be placed on different parts of the screen such as along the side, centered or “triggered” when a cursor hovers over it (although, we don’t recommend “trigger” pop-ups as the user can accidentally hover or click on it without meaning to).
Overlays are generally favored over other types of pop-ups since they are effective at capturing emails/leads, are context-dependent on the page that the user is on and, if used correctly, are not distracting or disruptive to the user’s experience.
On the other hand, consider how these pop-ups are affecting users visiting on their mobile devices. Is it showing valuable information? How large is the pop-up on their screens? “If you are hurting visitor interaction by a few seconds on average per visit, but you are getting 5% of your visitors to give you an email address, that's probably worth it. If it's more like 30 seconds and 1%, maybe not as good. This will be discussed further but in general, as long as overlay pop-ups are easy to close/exit and do not open up on a new page if the user accidentally clicks on it, it remains an effective conversion method.
Similar to overlay pop-ups, these pop-ups are also shown on the screen partially; however, the user must interact with them before they can fully access the website. For example, The New York Times would have a modal pop-up after a certain number of articles have been read. The user has to sign up either through their social media accounts or email in order to access more articles.
Modal pop-ups are mostly effective unless they are disrupting the user’s experience. This includes spam and advertising. Modal pop-ups prompt the user to take action and are usually used for news sites and blogs that need to understand their audience to build their content. In the example above, The New York Times can make a profit from their content, improve their CTAs, encourage engagement and build an email list to cater to their audience more effectively.
New Window Pop-Ups
These pop-ups are highly regarded as being disruptive to the user experience. Not only are they annoying to users who are on their mobile phones, this type of pop-up stays open even when the web user goes to a different website on the main window. Likewise, Google really dislikes these pop-ups, so there’s a higher chance they will be penalized and are ineffective at retaining potential clients. They tend to distract the user from your main content page and are often hard to close. There are not many effective uses of these types of pop-ups and they should be avoided if possible.
Users spend the vast majority of their time on mobile devices rather than larger screens, hence, pop-ups can come at a huge expense to your marketing strategy if not used correctly. Google describes intrusive interstitial as anything that blocks the user from seeing the content after entering the site directly from search engine result pages (SERPs). In other words, pop-ups that cover the content and force the user to close it to continue reading, standalone interstitials that show up before the user can access the content or having the upper portion of a website look like an interstitial. If it is disruptive to the user, there is a high chance that it is an intrusive interstitial.
Overall, pop-ups should take less than 15% of the page’s area and should enhance the content that you are trying to display rather than take away from the user’s experience. It should be used effectively, such as to show an age restriction guideline before accessing the site. The main focus of Google’s pop-up restrictions is on what users view the minute they enter your website from the SERP. However, if they have been browsing your website for a while or start scrolling and clicking on items on your site, these pop-ups are considered relative to that action and are not penalized.
Factors that Affect SEO
Now that you have a grasp on the different types of pop-ups, let’s focus on how they can impact your SEO and what you can do to take advantage of using them on your website. Rand Fishkin defines these factors through these points:
Timing is everything. When will the pop-up appear and for how long? Can the user easily exit the pop-up and does it relate to what they have been reading? As mentioned, these pop-ups may not be penalized by Google but may affect how the users respond to it. The benefit of waiting until the visitor has at least read more than 80% of your content is that they will be more willing to share their email address with you.
The options you can use, rather than having immediate pop-ups include: displaying the pop-up after a delay, having a scroll option (ie. near the end of the article/page) or use exit-intent pop-ups. Exit-intent pop-ups track the users’ mouse movement, thus, if it moves outside the upper page boundary it can trigger the pop-up. Another way is to limit the time a pop-up appears on a page. If there is inactivity on the page for around 3 seconds, the pop-up will close automatically. In this scenario, make sure you are making note of how often this occurs, since this may be a problem with your content (pop-up or page) rather than a timing issue.
Similarly, pop-ups can impact loading time, which is a minor inconvenience and can have an impact on your conversion rate. Using tools such as Google Page Speed Insights, you can evaluate the impact of your pop-up on your website’s loading time. You can reduce the loading time by compressing/replacing images or using scripts/pop-up code that optimizes for performance.
What is the purpose of your pop-up? What kind of information are you telling or asking of your visitors? Certain content will not be penalized by Google if it’s purpose is to inform the user of something before they enter your site. For instance, overlay/modal pop-ups that ask for a user’s age, legal consent or cookies are permitted whilst advertisements can be more troublesome if they aren’t part of the user’s experience. The content of your pop-up should be relevant and valuable to the user, something that you can offer to their experience, such as a discount code before they make a purchase or a free session of your webinar.
Google’s aim is to improve the user experience, so as long as you are following proper guidelines and having your user in mind, this can help improve your ranking and conversions.
If your users are entering your website but immediately exiting or clicking the back button, Google will perceive your site as having poor user experience. It’s a bad sign if users are not willing to complete the tasks that you are asking for in pop-ups and are not willing to join to access your account. This will ultimately hurt your overall SEO.
How To Use Pop-Ups Mindfully and What Mistakes to Avoid
User Experience (UX) Metrics
If you feel uncertain about whether you are making the right choices with your pop-ups and if they are effective or not, you should consider looking at these metrics:
Bounce rate: bounce rate is the percentage of single interaction visits to your website. It is recommended that bounce rates should be between 26-50 percent, anything above should be looked into to figure out the cause; if it is your pop-up - is it doing more harm than good?
Browse rate: browse rate shows, depending on the entry-page in which the user enters the site, how many pages they browse on average.
Return visitors: this shows the percentage of visitors who have returned to your site over and over again
Time on site after element appears: how long the visitors stay on your page after interacting or seeing the pop-up/interstitial
Make sure you are constantly checking the performance of your site to understand how interstitials might be benefitting or hindering your SEO. To avoid having pop-ups have a negative affect on your SEO campaign, you should play it safe and keep a close eye on your statistics. Some pop-ups to look out for include sticky sidebar, live chat boxes, share buttons, coupon pop-ups.
On the other hand, intrusive ads are still allowed on desktop, some people may choose to hide it from their mobile viewers. But with constant Google updates and new regulations being put in place, you should consider more permanent solutions rather than temporarily hiding mobile pop-ups to avoid being penalized in the future.
Google is iteratively updating their algorithms guidance. We recommend that you stay up-to-date and informed to avoid ambiguous pop-ups whenever possible. Be aware of how to use interstitials and pop-ups effectively and always have the user’s experience in mind. Consider why you believe pop-ups are the most effective method - as long as you are following the steps above, being penalized by Google can be avoided.
Google’s guidelines are concerned with how user-friendly your website is, as well as the relevance of the content. When pop-ups are used correctly, it will not be a threat to your SEO strategy. In addition, pop-ups can be helpful to optimize your website conversion and using them wisely can also help your SERP ranking.
Keep up with trends and check out our review of Google’s January 2020 core update for more fundamentals and best practices.