Google’s Crack Down on Intrusive Mobile Pop-Ups

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Tyler Ullery

Tyler started in high school learning how to market small businesses that were local to him. As time went on he started as a freelancer marketer on Fiverr and Upwork unil he decided to start his own agency with a fellow marketer.


Google is not any stranger to algorithmic changes and usually, those changes are made for the sake of the average user. Looking at a history of Google’s product announcements, user experience is usually at the core of the changes.

So it was not a surprise when Google announced its impending smackdown on mobile pop-up ads earlier this year, it was no shock that the major reason behind it was to enhance the user experience.

For many websites, the change carries major implications. Websites that rely on advertisements as their primary source of income, for example, will be some of the hardest hit by this change. To help you through this change, we put together everything you need to know below, from what the change entails, to how to prepare.

What’s New in Mobile Search

Back in 2014, Google added a “mobile-friendly” label for results that were optimized for such platforms — when text is readable without zooming or horizontal scrolling, and links are spaced well enough so that there’s a reduced chance of mis-tapping.

But two years later, Google has determined that 85% of mobile search results are optimized that way. As a result, the search engine giant is doing away with that label, and introducing new mobile-specific ranking criteria.

And now, pages with mobile pop-ups — or what Google is labeling “interstitials” — Won’t rank very high now that these changes are taking effect.

“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible,” Google’s official announcement states. “This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

Google also says that all pop-ups are not created equal. There are some specifics around which types of interstitials Google considers to be disruptive to consumers. One’s that are legally required — such as the ones used by liquor companies that verify the user’s age before entry — so they won’t impact the page’s rank.

According to the official statement, interstitials affected by Google’s crackdown include the following:

  • “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.”

What Does This Mean For Marketers?

As mentioned before, the companies that rely on these pop-ups for their revenue will be especially impacted by this change. They’re the businesses who, as Emma Hinchliffe of Mashable points out, need that ad revenue to survive. Now, these businesses face a difficult dilemma: Rank, or profit.

Losing SEO traffic can “destroy” these websites, says HubSpot’s Senior Product Marketing Manager, Marcus Andrews. And that makes sense — 51% percent of digital media is consumed via mobile, compared to a lagging 42% on desktop.

Andrews suggests that, if they haven’t done so already, marketers solve for mobile SEO first. The pain that comes with changing a revenue model is inevitable, but shorter-term — and websites that rely on advertiser dollars, he says, should figure out ways “to make money that don’t totally disrupt the mobile user experience.”

“Google is very focused on the user,” Andrews continues. “Marketers are always looking for hacky ways to increase traffic and conversion rates, and every once in awhile, Google needs to make a correction to improve the user experience.”

This actually creates an awesome opportunity for marketers to think more about their viewers– both the experience, and what that person is offered. It’s what HubSpot’s Director of Product Development, Nicholas Holland, calls a “forcing function.” It forces marketers to seriously consider the increasing overtaking of mobile technology, and what the implications will be on their overall business operations.

Basically, these developments from Google are a giant wake-up call to those who “create a bad viewer experience,” Holland says — especially those who might not even realize it. Now, they absolutely must “think through alternative revenue methods.”

But, what are those methods?

First — if you didn’t pick it up by now — remove any pop-ups you’ve been using that are meant to be interruptive to users.

“As inbound marketers, we rely on driving relevant visitors to content,” says HubSpot’s Principal Product Marketing Manager, Jeffrey Vocell. “Interstitials, especially interruptive ones, do not provide a good experience, and in many cases actually block or limit the content that can be seen.”

That’s why your best choice is to make valuable content that draws the visitors that Vocell is talking about. When you do that, Holland advises, you can focus on driving revenue — or at least potential leads — using call-to-actions and embedded forms.

Replacing intrusive interstitials with valuable content is a double-edged SEO sword. Not only are you giving the user what they are looking for — and improving your rank — but you’re also getting rid of the invasive pop-ups that, starting this year, will be lowering it.

How Can You Prepare

If you’re freaking out about Google’s change, that’s okay — but please, don’t be. As mentioned, these changes actually provide an awesome chance to use inbound marketing to generally enhance our marketing presence — on mobile, or otherwise.

Here’s what you can do to today:

  • Ditch your interruptive interstitials — unless they’re required by law. Those include age verification displays, as noted above, and pop-ups that let your user know about your cookie policy.
  • If you relied on interstitials for ad revenue, determine where that revenue is going to come from now. If you need any assistance we offer digital consultancy services.
  • Find ways to generate revenue without obstructing the user experience, and in a way that optimizes your page for mobile. Both of those factors will remain crucial to search engine ranking.
  • Know that those solutions often exist in the content you create. Make something valuable for the user. By gating it behind a landing page, you’re generating leads — and eventually sales — in a much less intrusive way that brings visitors to you.

If you follow these rules you are prepared to rank your mobile site.

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