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How to Use Pop-Ups Without Hurting Your SEO Rankings?

Jason Roy

Pop-ups and SEO do not go hand in hand, but they are both equally important, and that is a dilemma for any webmaster or online business owner.

Pop-ups: To use or not to use.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, brings free organic traffic. It is the long-term traffic strategy that most online business owners and webmasters want. After all, without SEO, for how long you can afford to drive traffic with paid ads!

On the other hand, what good is all that traffic which doesn’t convert into leads?

You can drive thousands and thousands of traffic visitors to your website — via paid or organic channels — yet they won’t matter if they don’t convert. Pop-ups help them convert random website visitors into business leads. According to a study, highly effective pop-ups can convert at a 9.28% conversion rate.

The problem today is that Google hates intrusive pop-ups. Websites that heavily use pop-ups get demoted in Google's search engine results pages (SERPs). Google devalues intrusive pop-ups that ruin the user experience.

So we are at a crossroads.

Either not to use pop-ups and get even better at search engine rankings or use pop-ups and sacrifice some of that good position in SERPs and get better at lead generation.

The good news is that there is a third option as well.

You can use pop-ups (to a certain extent) without hurting your search engine rankings. In this post, we are going to talk exactly about that.

We will begin by discussing examples of intrusive pop-ups, which pop-ups you must avoid at all costs, and a few workarounds to use pop-ups without damaging your search engine rankings.

Interested? Let’s begin.

What are Intrusive Pop-Ups?

Google has openly declared that it does not like websites that ruin user experience with intrusive pop-ups and ads. This is especially true in the case of mobile interstitials. For the desktop versions, the situation is a lot more relaxed, at least for now.

Here is an example of mobile interstitials that you should avoid at all costs.

Here are some details of which pop-ups you should avoid in general:

  • Any pop-up that covers content and forces users to manually close the pop-up to continue reading.
  • Any form of standalone interstitials that users have to manually dismiss before they can access your content.
  • Page layouts that cleverly make the above-the-fold portion of the webpage look like an interstitial.

Other than that, we have seen Google penalizing certain pop-ups and interstitial elements in the past. You must avoid them as well. Here is a list:

  • Splash ads that interrupt users when they are navigating from page to page.
  • Class interstitial ads that interrupt users before they reach the homepage of your website.
  • New window pop-ups appear whenever a user clicks on a new page.
  • Overlay models that easily redirect users to a different page, or that are just hard to close and affect user experience.
  • Intrusive lightbox ads and pop-ups have also been penalized in the past by Google.

So here is a list of things that you should avoid. Otherwise, it may badly affect your website’s search engine rankings in the results pages.

On the other hand, there are a few ways you can still use pop-ups for generating leads. Following are the methods/tips/pop-ups that you can still use.

1. Non-Intrusive Interstitials

It is important to understand that Google doesn’t just hate pop-ups. It hates intrusive pop-ups. So for as long as your pops are non-intrusive, you can show them on your website, and it won’t damage your search engine rankings.

For instance, you can show non-intrusive interstitials that you are legally required to display, e.g., age verification interstitials or cookie usage notifications.

In addition to that, other pop-ups that take less than 15% of the screen are totally allowed. You should leverage these pop-ups as much as possible.

They can include banner ads, slide-ins, inlines, and tabs that take up less than 15% of the screen. For as long as they are easy to dismiss, these interstitials and completely non-intrusive and don’t affect the user experience in a bad way.

2. Timed Pop-Ups


If you say that you can’t live without overlay pop-ups (which are much more intrusive than slide-ins and banner ads that take less than 15% of the screen), resort to timed pop-ups. Although they are relatively riskier, timed pop-ups can be still considered a safer option.

The rookie mistake that most website owners make is that they show the pop-up as soon as a user lands on a webpage. That’s the wrong strategy.

Assume the following scenario.

Someone searches for a keyword, finds your webpage in the Google search engine results, clicks on it, lands on your website, and is immediately greeted with an intrusive pop-up. If they quit right away (in 2-3 seconds) and go back to Google’s search engine result page to find another website, Google notices that. In fact, it marks it as a bad user experience, or why else the user would have quit the webpage so soon.

All of this translates into the demotion of your website’s search engine rankings.

Therefore, instead of slapping an intrusive pop-up right away, wait for a while. Time your pop-ups strategically, so they appear when a few seconds have passed, and the user has engaged with your content.

For example, you can time your pop-up to appear after 5 seconds. It won’t look as intrusive as it would have otherwise. And it will also give Google little chance to count it as a “bad user experience” in case the visitor quits your website.

3. Exit-Intent Pop-Ups

Perhaps the safest way to make sure Google doesn’t penalize your website for showing pop-ups is to resort to exit-intent pop-ups.

It’s so logical, after all.

When a user is already quitting your website, it doesn’t do a lot of harm to do one last attempt to convert them into a lead with a catchy lead magnet, white paper, or case study.

Jon Mueller from Google has also confirmed that Google doesn’t penalize websites with exit-intent pop-ups. So there’s your chance.

OptinMonster and ThriveLeads are two plugins that have great exit-intent pop-ups. OptiMonk is another excellent option.

Moving to the “Grey Areas”

While the three techniques mentioned earlier would allow you to use pop-ups without hurting your search engine rankings, there are a couple more ideas that you can use.

1. For now, Google is specifically focusing on mobile websites that have intrusive pop-ups. They aren’t as strict with the desktop versions of websites. So one way to counter this is to stop showing intrusive pop-ups on the mobile version of your website while continuing showing pop-ups on the desktop version.

Please note, however, that intrusive pop-ups do lead to a bad user experience. And another Google update wouldn’t be too far away that would also penalize desktop websites. So there is some risk involved, but you can use it at least for the time being.

2. You can also use page-to-page interstitials. Jon Mueller from Google confirmed that Google pays attention only to pop-ups that appear in between the user’s journey from search engine results pages to the website.

So one solution would be to not show any pop-ups ads on the first page and start showing them when the user clicks on any subsequent page. In other words, interstitials between site pages are still fine. However, if they are leading to a very bad user experience, Google may still end up penalizing you.

Conclusion

So those were some actionable and practical tips for you regarding how to use pop-ups and still avoid Google’s search engine penalties.

Whenever in doubt, focus on the user experience. If it is not an annoyance, you should be fine. However, if it is, you should focus on making the user experience better. Google will reward you for this strategy and never penalize you.

We’d also like to know your thoughts on this. How do you use pop-ups? Have you ever been penalized for it? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

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