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Should Your Website Use a Pop-Up? Google Says No

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We’ve all seen it before: you’re browsing a website, reading an interesting article, when suddenly a huge, intrusive pop-up appears, blocking the content. These pop-ups and other interstitials often cover the entire page, frustratingly in the way of what you were trying to access. To navigate away from these ads, you must carefully click a small, hard-to-find x button, trying not to inadvertently click the ad itself. On mobile devices, these types of pop-ups can be even more of a nuisance. Should businesses continue to use them?

Google Announces Upcoming Changes

If you ask Google, the overwhelming response would be “no.” Pop-ups may serve a purpose, but according to recently announced changes, Google will soon begin penalising sites that use these intrusive pop-ups, impacting their overall search engine rankings. The complex Google search engine algorithm will take into account whether or not sites have these pop-ups and dock their ranking score accordingly.

Pop-ups that appear when a user first enters a site as well as those that pop up mid-content are included in what Google will penalise. This new rule also applies to interstitials and stand-alone content that covers the ‘true’ content on a page, either by covering the top half of a page or blocking the content completely. The change seems to be mostly aimed at pop-ups on mobile devices, which render such sites less “mobile-friendly” than one would hope.

These new changes go into effect in January of 2017, giving business owners and marketers plenty of time to adapt their sites to meet the standards. But is it truly necessary for every site to remove all pop-ups and interstitials?

Do Pop-Ups Work?

Despite the common consumer attitude about pop-ups (annoying, unnecessary, intrusive, dumb!), web user behaviour ultimately suggests that pop-ups have positive results for businesses that use them. According to self-reported statistics by Entrepreneur.com, pop-ups helped them increase subscriptions by 86% and sales by an incredible 162%. And many other websites are following suit. In some cases, such as the sites of bloggers, pop-ups aren’t strictly advertising a product or service, but asking readers to subscribe or join a mailing list. The regularity with which such pop-ups are seen points to the notion that these are indeed having their intended effect—especially when a free opt-in offer is on the table.

Other Options for You

Authoritative, successful sites that are already ranking well may not be affected by the upcoming change at all. Google reminds us that hundreds of factors go into their ranking algorithm; this new change is just one of many. For sites offering valuable content and relevant information, the inclusion of pop-ups may not hurt them in the long run. However, sites that are still striving to improve rankings and remain competitive may wish to adhere to the new rules, as the difference could be significant enough to push them onto the front page or give them an edge over another equivalent site.

Should your website use a pop-up? Perhaps not. Instead, you can look for alternate ways to promote a product, offer a free gift, or gain more subscribers.

Side-bar opt-in forms seem to have a fair success rate for brands looking to build an email list. Many marketers find positive results with embedded in-content subscription forms. Google also says that unobtrusive banner ads at the top of a screen will be acceptable if they only use a “reasonable amount of screen space,” although the precise dimensions of this statement are still unclear. It’s also important to note that necessary pop-ups, such as those that relate legal information or ask users to verify their age, will not be penalised by Google.

And if you’re looking for fresh new ways to advertise without pop-ups, it might be time to consider funneling more of your resources into social media ads or good old fashioned email marketing.

What do you think? Does your business plan to get rid of all pop-up ads?

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