If you've been online anytime in the past two or three years, you've probably noticed a growing trend of popup notices on a majority of the sites you visit. Most popular is the newsletter popup. Now, 10-15 years ago, popup notices were primarily ads — and they were annoying. We hated them. I'm not entirely sure when our feelings for the popup changed, but it has. Both as a visitor to a website and as the author: popups are great. They save room on the ever-important sidebar, they're fast and easy to implement, and they aren't complicated. And who doesn't want to download that free book your offering in exchange for signing up?
But, if you've been paying attention to the powers that be over at Google, then you'll already know what I'm about to say: that newsletter popup could hurt your site's search engine optimization (SEO). And it's not because Google dislikes popups, per se. They aren't trying to penalize people who use popups. Rather, they are trying to streamline their site indexes for mobile users.
People are More Mobile than Ever.
You see, I might just be the last person on Earth who still accesses the Internet primarily from my computer instead of from my smartphone. Okay, I'm probably not the last person on Earth — but I'm certainly part of a shrinking minority. People are mobile, always have been. If you can shrink it and carry it, they will go for it. And that includes the Internet.
So when people are using the Internet from their mobile devices, that means they need to be able to access the content on those devices easily and quickly. You think people get impatient while waiting for a website to load on a computer? That's nothing compared to how fast they will move on from your site if they can't get it to load on their smartphone.
The problem is that a lot of websites are designed to be viewed on a computer, and then tweaked to work on a mobile device. That's all fine and dandy for some things, but not necessarily for visitors. Certain coding can make things look cluttered and hard to read on a mobile device. A newsletter popup just happens to be one of those things. By popping up and covering the content, many mobile visitors are actually being turned away from the site because they can't get the form to work, or to go away, so they can continue reading the content they actually came for.
Google has been Trying for Years to Address This Problem.
Two years ago, Google started applying a “mobile-friendly” tag to their search results to help their searchers find content they could view on their mobile device more easily. Because really, when you visit a website on a smartphone, do you want to have to zoom way in, or scroll from side to side, just so you can see bits and pieces? No. No one does.
Google tried to help web authors attain that badge by offering their Mobile-Friendly Test. Type in your URL and Google would run a quick test to determine how friendly the design is for mobile devices. And a few seconds later you'll see your results. If your site passes the test, you will see a “submit” button so you can get that badge.
Why the Change?
Google found that despite the fact most sites now have mobile-friendly designs, these popups (which they call “interstitials” Really Google? You had to make me look that up?) still interfered with the visitor experience on mobile devices. These popups block the content that visitors are looking for and in some cases can be difficult to dismiss or get rid of. Not exactly mobile-friendly, right?
So this week, Google has made further changes to its indexing algorithms:
“pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”
If you have a newsletter popup signup form, don't panic. Having the popup doesn't necessarily mean you will disappear off the front page. Content in still king. And if your site is filled with great, relevant content then that popup may not even affect your ranking. But if you would like to check the details for yourself, head over to Google and read on which types of interstitials (I can't help it, it's kind of a fun word now!) are acceptable and which ones might kill your SEO.