Annoying pop-ups will hurt mobile sites in search results come January, Google announced August 23.
If you or your webmaster are among those who insist on programming pop-ups into your mobile site which block the real content or pop-ups which users have to dismiss (X-out) before getting to your real content or which trick users by looking like real content you’re going to lose out on nice search result rankings. You can continue to use those pop-ups, of course. But your site won’t show up well, if at all, in search results after January 10, 2017, according to the search overlords at Google.
No one likes those annoying pop-ups – mobile or desktop – and Google’s decision to start penalizing pop-ups in search results is a welcome effort to make the mobile web a bit more user-friendly.
In the business these pop-ups are called, “interstitials,” because why use the simple phrase, “pop-up ad,” when one can use a pretentious other word? (No wonder English is so hard to learn when we insist on turning adjectives and verbs into nouns of jargon?)
The noun, “interstice,” while rarely used but great for Scrabble, describes a very narrow space between two solid objects, such as two walls or, more commonly, between two masses of skin or organ tissue. So, yea, we can think of pop-ups as being that slim space between user and content on a smartphone screen. Um, we guess. But, jeez, why not call them, simply, “pop-ups”?
“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible,” says Google, citing the obvious. “This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.
“Although the majority of (mobile) pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. 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.”
Just the other day I was complaining, “Ugh! The content on this page is obscured by an interstitial!”
Google graciously provides examples of, um, pop-ups which if continued to be used after January 10 will condemn mobile pages to the very lowest ranks of search result pages (SERPs):
- 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.
- Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
- Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
But Google will continue to allow some types of pop-ups:
- Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
- Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
- Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. For example, the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.
Use your pop-ups responsibly.
Most sites now are useful on mobile devices
The other good news found in Google’s announcement is that 85 percent of all websites now function very well and are useful on mobile devices. Well done, webmasters and denizens of the WWW!
“Two years ago, we added a mobile-friendly label to help users find pages where the text and content was readable without zooming and the tap targets were appropriately spaced,” Google explains. “Since then, we’ve seen the ecosystem evolve and we recently found that 85% of all pages in the mobile search results now meet this criteria and show the mobile-friendly label.
“To keep search results uncluttered, we’ll be removing the label, although the mobile-friendly criteria will continue to be a ranking signal. We’ll continue providing the mobile usability report in Search Console and the mobile-friendly test to help webmasters evaluate the effect of the mobile-friendly signal on their pages.”
Google also reminds us the move it will make in January is about just one of hundreds of ranking signals it uses in search queries to rank pages and that the very best way to ensure top search result page rankings is – as we often say – good, authentic, valuable, informative, compelling content.