Google cracks down on annoying popups

The company has had it with popups and is penalising brands that feature them on mobile websites at the expense of user experience

Google cracks down on annoying popups

Mobile popups are the digital equivalent of clipboard-wielding street canvassers who step in front of people as they’re trying to make their way to catch a train or buy something they actually want. While they may be a lucrative source of ad revenue for some sites, popups can be intrusive and, oftentimes, not even particularly effective. Fortunately, one tech brand is tackling the problem head-on.

In the latest changes to its search engine algorithm, Google has announced that websites featuring popup ads – or “interstitials” – that cover the main content people are trying to see will be ranked lower in its results. The changes apply to mobile websites, where popups are particularly obstructive because of smaller screen sizes. However, popup messages that need to gain permission from visitors for legal reasons, login dialogs and banners that “use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible” are exempt from the rules.

Google explained the change in a blog post published yesterday: “Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

The tech giant’s message is clear: don’t annoy people. Much like Facebook, which recently announced changes to its ad blocking policy aimed at empowering its users, Google says it’s trying to help people find the content they’re looking for. The update complements its policy of rewarding mobile-friendly sites in its rankings, which it introduced last year.

It’s not clear how much of a factor mobile popups will play in Google’s search algorithm: its blog post reminds brands that “the new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking”. But small businesses that rely on organic traffic to bring in relevant website visitors have until January 10 2017 to review their popup policy — or risk being penalised.

Maria Barr
Maria Barr

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