The Google Pop-Up (Interstitial) Penalty Explained

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On August 23rd, Google casually released a blog post entitled “Helping Users Easily Access Content on Mobile.” The title by itself sounded pretty harmless. If it were not for the fact that the Google Webmaster blog is read by most industry journalists, then no one would have paid much attention.

In a matter of hours after the blog post went live on Google, the following article titles started to make their way around the world…

Wall Street Journal
Google Search Will Penalize Mobile Sites With Interstitial Ads

Search Engine Land
Google warns it will crack down on “intrusive interstitials” in January

Business Insider
Google is going to punish mobile sites that show ‘intrusive’ full-page ads

The takeaway from these three titles alone is… There is crack down coming in January of 2017 that will punish sites that show pop-ups on mobile by penalizing them with ranking suppression.


The Three Types of Interstitials that Are Included in this Google Penalty

Google essentially wants a clear path to your content, or your rankings will start to vanish in 2017. This includes anything that essentially pops up between the beginning and end of an article. It also includes intrusive ads that push the beginning of the article down the page.

There are three big examples of this that will change the landscape of blogs and news sites.

#1 Full Page Ads – This is going to impact the bottom line of big websites like Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, which generates a large portion of their revenue from full-page interstitial ads. Ironically, when I clicked to read The Wall Street Journal’s post on the new Google Update I was greeted with an interstitial ad promoting their online subscription.

interstitial-ad-example

#2 Email Captures – This is where bloggers are going to feel the pain. Bloggers like myself and Michael Hyatt have built our email list off of strategically placed email pop-ups. This will be a tough pill to swallow for many bloggers.

interstitial-email-popup-example

#3 Excessive Above-the-Fold Interstitial – An example of this would be the top portion of every post having a large promotion or email capture. Traditional banner ads sizes are deemed acceptable by Google.

interstitial-above-the-fold-example

The good news is that Google has given everyone a four month warning before adjusting their algorithm. Back in the old days, you would just wake up and your traffic would be gone. For that, I applaud Google for creating a better way to get what they want.

I can still remember being slammed by hundreds of businesses begging me to take them on as clients after the Panda penalty wiped out 90% of their traffic overnight. Back then, there was little to be done after the penalties were handed down.

How to Prepare for the Google Pop-UP Penalty

So, what needs to be done between now and January.

For starters, identify all the pop-ups and interstitials that you have on your site. Log them all into a spreadsheet along with their performance, which could be emails captured, clicks, or ad revenue. You want to know exactly what you are going to be losing when you make the switch.

If you have any page specific pop-ups, then you will want to identify how much traffic those pages generate from Google. For the pages that do not get much traffic from Google, there is no reason to remove the pop-up. This is going to be the case for most money pages and some pillar content.

This can be identified by…

Step #1
Go to the Acquisition Section of Google Analytics, Navigate to the All Traffic Sub Section, and Click on the Organic Search Link

step1and2

Step #2
In the Primary Dimension Navigation, Click the “Landing Page” Tab

step2b

Step #3
In the search box, type in the name of your page as it appears in the url without the leading part that has the domain name and folder. If my page name is brandongaille.com/the-course, then I would do a search for “the-course.”

step3

This will show you exactly how many people are coming directly to this page via an organic Google search.

I use an email capture pop-up on my “join my course” page of my blog. This page is promoted throughout my site, but it does not get much direct traffic from Google. Therefore, I will be leaving my email capture up on this page.

This will allow me to continue to aggressively drive traffic to my “join my course” page and capture emails on the page where it counts the most.

Two Alternatives to Pop-Ups

Although the full page ads and above-the-fold interstitials have to go, there are two viable alternatives to the timed email capture pop-up.

#1 Two Step Pop-Up

LeadPages has been telling us for over a year now that the two step pop-up has the highest conversion rate of them all. You place a call-to-action on your post and the pop-up is shown only when someone clicks. This is tactic is going to be completely whitehat in regards to the January update.

#2 Exit Intent Pop-Ups

Most of the email capture plugins and software offer exit intent, which shows the pop-up only when the visitor moves to hit the back button. If you go this route, then you will want to test across all mobile devices. I have come across software in the past that works great for desktops and laptops, but it pops up at the wrong time in mobile.

I recommend using LeadPages* because they never cut corners with their software. They offer both the two step pop-up and exit intent technology. Go here to sign up to LeadPages now.*

Keep the Home Page and Category Pages Clean of Pop-Ups

The home page and top level category pages of your blog need to be kept clean. This is where most of the natural indexing of your posts occur. Remove all pop-ups from each of these pages. You do not want to take a chance of Google lowering the authority of any of these pages. This could lead to a major loss in traffic.

My Personal Plan on Adjusting to this Algorithm Change

I test everything when it comes to my blog. This will not be any different. My plan is to conduct an audit to find out what I need to change, and how those changes will impact my business. Then I will change all of my category specific and site wide pop ups to the two step pop-up.

I will most likely see a 30% drop off in my new monthly email subscribers, but it is better than losing a big portion of my Google traffic. Google is the goose that lays the golden eggs for most businesses. When the goose talks, I listen.