The PopUpdate: Google’s newest ranking factor wants popups to die

google popup update

It’s not just popups. It’s popups, interstitials… in Google’s words, anything “intrusive” that prevents you from getting to the content immediately.

google popup interstitial update
Image from the Google blog announcement

Basically, Google says exasperation is a bad user experience. So if you as a user would experience a little sigh of exasperation upon seeing the webpage in question, that’s bad.

This is likely good news for you as a web surfer. (Less sighs of exasperation.)

This is likely bad news for you as a website owner or marketer.

Thanks to a number of top digital marketers extolling the email-lead-capturing prowess of popups and popular, easy to implement apps like SumoMe’s welcome mat, it seems that I hardly visit a website without being accosted, uh, welcomed… by some promise of a free something in exchange for my email address.

But now Google is saying that you’re not being a good host if you block your visitors from getting the content they came for until they’ve seen your popup or interstitial.

Come January 10, 2017, the PopUpdate will go into effect. Any intrusive popups or interstitials will be a count against you.

To be fair, there are two reasons not to panic yet:

  1. It’s not worth panicking over molehills.

As Google reminds us, “Remember, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”

  1. Google’s update is only calling this a MOBILE search factor.

BUT – if the goal is to reward sites with a great user experience and penalize ones that don’t deliver one, then it seems very likely that the PopUpdate would soon be applied as a ranking factor across the board – not just on mobile. After all, popups and interstitials are plenty intrusive on my desktop also.

So you don’t HAVE to panic yet, but if you don’t start planning ahead now, when Google moves on to desktop, you’re going to be behind.

So don’t panic. But how should you as a marketer be planning ahead?

  1. Start testing other email lead capture techniques like content upgrades, slideup boxes, hello bars.
  2. Improve your all-around mobile SEO (how fast do your pages load, for instance?). Google did say this popup issue was *one* factor. If you can more easily boost a few other factors Google has also said are big deals (did I ask how fast your mobile pages load?) than suffer the consequences of changing this one, that’s probably your best move.
  3. If you can get granular, you might want to differentiate between the pages you are aiming to have rank in Google, and the pages you are not expecting to rank in Google. Put your interstitials and ads on the pages that you don’t expect to rank, but do have heavy traffic from other sources.
  4. Finetune your popup offer until you have copy so succinct and powerful that you can fit it on a banner on the top of your webpage. That’s fine with Google, as long as the page visible below is mainly your unique content. Space limitations can often hone your offer until it glows.

Google was nice enough to tell us about the PopUpdate a few months in advance. Use that time wisely!

photo credit: Pop! Design, Culture, Fashion 1956-1976 via photopin (license)

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