Will “Pop-Up Windows” Affect Your Website’s Google Rankings?

One of Google’s missions is to improve the Internet for everyone. They do this by wielding their immense power over search results by applying dozens of mostly-secret website ranking factors that affect how likely it is for a given domain to be found when someone searches. In the real-world, this translates to “play by Google’s rules or be invisible to searchers on the web.” An effective play because everyone wants their site to be found as often as possible.

Although Google rarely publicly announces changes to their search ranking algorithms, now and then they do come out with a warning about an upcoming penalty or new ranking factor. For example, you may recall in early 2015, their announcements that sites need to be mobile friendly or a few months ago, that sites that use a secure sockets layers (SSL) certificate will be given a ranking boost. Recently they have made another such announcement via their webmaster blog: Google is going to start penalizing sites that have certain types of popup windows (also known as interstitials).

What are Interstitial Pop-Up Windows?

If you’re not familiar with the term interstitials or “interstitial ads,” it’s still very likely that you frequently encounter them. There are a large number of popular Internet destinations that have deployed them in various ways. For example, if you’ve followed a link to an article, there may be a full-page advertisement that blocks the way to the content you’re after. You have to click it or dismiss it in order to get to the actual article.  Another typical way these are used occurs while you’ve been browsing a site for a few minutes, suddenly a video pops onto the screen.

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This type of ad has become commonplace in the last few years with content providers because they provide a definitive way to get a site visitor’s attention. In other words, they’ve become popular because they are somewhat effective at getting people to click on ads or respond to calls to action. So content providers tend to like them, while content consumers have less positive feelings about them.

What We Know and Don’t Know Based on this Announcement

In their blog post, Google gives only a few details about what they will and will not penalize. Generally speaking, they will lower the rankings of pages that use techniques to make content less accessible to someone browsing the site. That would include using a standalone interstitial pop-up ad that the user has to dismiss before seeing the main content or utilizing a popup that covers an unreasonable amount of space on a page. Unfortunately, the blog post doesn’t give exact specifications as to what exactly an unreasonable amount of space is, nor many other specific details about what you can and cannot get away with, although they did provide a few examples using a few less-than-clear images:

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The above images do give us some idea, although again, lack specifics. Certainly, the gist of what they’re saying is understood: don’t put unreasonable popups in the way of your main content. The blog post also mentions instances of interstitial usage that they won’t penalize: They will not be penalizing popup login dialog boxes, nor interstitials that appear as a result of legal obligations such as age verifications for an establishment that offers liquor.

Time will tell how severe the ranking penalty is and will hopefully provide more clarity on what Google will allow. If your site uses interstitials that may receive a penalty, it would be a good idea to try to remove them to steer clear of this issue.  

If you need SEO consulting for your website, contact the Millennium Marketing Solutions Digital Team today. We can help you determine how to improve your search rankings and make suggestions on how to improve your user interface.

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