If you’ve been in the SEO game for any length of time, you’re no stranger to Google changing things up on all of us. As they constantly strive to improve the user experience for their customer base, they’ve forced many websites to do the same. One of the recent updates cracked down on the use of interstitials, particularly on mobile websites.
Interstitials? What the heck are those, you ask? That’s nothing more than a fancy name for pop-ups, page takeovers, and scroll boxes… or anything else that comes up above your content that tries to convince your visitors to stop consuming your content briefly to close it before they can continue reading. Basically, it’s anything that tries to convince your visitors to subscribe to your email list or make a purchase from you.
We’ve seen them in use for years, and we won’t see them go away completely. Google knows you have to have a way to connect with your visitors via email, and they are okay with that. The problem, however, is with the pop-ups that get in the way of allowing the visitors to have an enjoyable user experience. That’s the case here because of the mobile-first index – Google’s answer to the fact that more searches take place from mobile devices than they do desktops these days.
No matter what changes Google comes up with in the future, we can safely bet on the fact that they will be aimed at improving the user experience… so let’s talk about how you can still use interstitials on your website without risking a dip in your ranking.
1. Size Them Accordingly
There’s nothing more annoying to me as a user than when I’m looking at a website on my phone, and the pop-up asking for my email address is so large I can’t find the X to close it. I totally understand why they’re needed, especially since I’m in the business. But, that doesn’t mean I like having to scroll around on my phone to find the magic “close” button. And that’s what Google is trying to stop with these rules. So, make sure your pop-ups are responsive to ensure that no matter what screen size your mobile viewer is working with, the pop-up doesn’t disturb their overall experience on your site.
2. Use Them Only When Necessary
Think about why you’re using the pop-up or overlay. Is it truly necessary, or is there another way you can accomplish the same thing? For instance, if you’ve been earning ad revenue from the pop-ups, think about how you can replace the revenue by inserting ads elsewhere on your site, or consider using affiliate links in some of your content to make up that revenue.
If you absolutely cannot think of another way to do things on your website, then you’ll be happy to know it’s not the end of the world thanks to my next point.
3. Opt for Embedded Alternatives
If you want to still give the appearance of a pop-up, but don’t want to bug your user, you can use an embedded pop-up. All you have to do is create a break in the content, and put what would be your pop-up in that spot.
To stay in line with Google’s guidelines, make sure it’s not embedded above the fold, and design it in such a way that it stands out from the rest of the content on the page. Since users will be scrolling through the content and won’t have to close it manually, making sure it stands out will ensure it is visible to them.
You can also integrate your newsletter subscription form below every single blog post and make use of content upgrades to get email addresses.
If you’ve been using page takeovers – or full-screen pop-ups, you know they’re the best converting type of interstitial, but you can’t use them on mobile devices if you want to keep your ranking in tact. But the good news for you is, like a traditional pop-up, these too, can be embedded.
Simply include a few paragraphs of text on the page, and then the user will scroll into your take over. Yes, this won’t convert quite as well as it would have if a visitor has to close it rather than just scrolling out of it, but it’s better for you than nothing. To draw more attention to it, you could use a parallax scrolling background.
4. Opt for Triggered Pop-Ups
Under the new guidelines, pop-ups the user triggers himself are okay. This means, if you keep a pop-up hidden until the user clicks something specific within your content, you’re good to go as far as Google is concerned. It’s completely legitimate since the user navigated there with the intention of opening something else up.
So, what can you do with a user-triggered pop-up? You can use them to offer content upgrades to your email subscribers. Or you can opt to have a large subscribe button that opens a pop-up. This way, people can subscribe to your email list without interrupting their experience. When they’re done, they can go right back to consuming your content as intended. They won’t have to open separate windows to subscribe, so in this case, it could be beneficial to the user experience to use a pop-up. Just make sure your user can clearly see that what they’re about to do will open a pop-up, and make sure that pop-up is appropriate sized for mobile devices.
5. Scroll Boxes are Your Friend
Scroll boxes are a type of pop-up, but they aren’t the type you have to avoid. They only come on the screen one a user has scrolled down most of the screen on the page she is on… around at least 40%.
When she loads the page, starts reading, and at a certain point the pop-up covers a portion of the screen. This approach converts well on both mobile and desktop devices. And because they aren’t loaded right when a page is loaded, they remain compliant under Google’s rules.
6. Embrace the Hello Bar
HelloBar is a tool from Neil Patel. It’s a small bar that occupies an incredibly small portion of the top or bottom of the screen. You can use these to advertise products and sales, or to encourage more email signups.
This approach works because the bar is small enough to avoid really hiding any content, so Google stays happy. You have two options: one, make it so part of the page that when the user scrolls, the bar disappears; or two, don’t show the bar as long as a user is scrolling down, but show it instantly when a user scrolls back up. The second one is the one you want to choose for a mobile site.
Think About Your Users First – And You’ll Be Fine
As long as your pop-up doesn’t impede the user experience, you won’t see a decline in your ranking because you have it on your site. To comply, your pop-up must not cover the main content when a user comes to your page after finding it in the search engines or at any point while they are looking at the page. It must not standalone and require the user to close it before being able to access the main content. It must not use a layout where the above-the-fold part of the page appears to look like the standalone pop-up, where the original content is below the fold.
If you want to implement these on your site and do it without coding, there are a number of WordPress plugins available to help you get the job done.
The solutions I’ve shared with you in this post will keep you in compliance with Google’s rules, which will help preserve your ranking and keep your users happy. If you notice a change in ranking even when you know you’re in compliance with the interstitials guidelines, it is likely due to something else. It may be time to conduct an SEO audit to see where improvements can be made.
Has the change in how Google addresses ranking altered the way you’re using pop-ups on your website? Do you feel it has caused problems for your website? Share your thoughts in the comments below.