Will a pop-up on my website impact Google rankings?

Google’s latest push towards an optimum mobile search experience actively penalises mobile sites with intrusive or obstructive pop-ups.

Announced in August last year and live as of January 10th 2017, the move has prompted understandable concern from companies whose business relies on an attractive - and highly visible - web presence. Mobile visibility is more important than ever - in 2016, we finally saw the long-predicted shift from majority desktop web usage to majority mobile. More people than ever are using their phones and tablets to engage and spend online. For hoteliers, a seamless mobile experience is increasingly important as a means of ensuring those all-important direct bookings. The draw of even the best prices and perks can be undone by a frustrating or convoluted mobile site. And now, those frustrating sites face more than a disgruntled customer as retribution for poor user experience.

The update to Google’s algorithm means that mobile sites featuring overly obstructive pop-ups - technically, ‘interstitial advertisements’ - now feature lower down in search results than those without. This crackdown on pop-ups, whilst nerve-wracking to some businesses facing the prospect of losing the revenue generated by their interstitials, can be seen as a positive part of the general movement towards websites that are more than just ‘mobile-friendly’. The best websites are capitalising on the latest advances in technology and data analysis to provide a tailored and cohesive customer experience. For a customer visiting a hotel, the experience no longer starts when they walk through the door of the lobby. The physical stay is part of bigger picture, from the moment they start their search to the reviews and recommendations they post online afterwards. The mobile site is no longer just a compromise - it’s an integral part of the hotel experience.

With that in mind, it’s pretty important that you choose the right tools to add value to your site. We’ve put together a handy ‘where/what/when’ of interstitial ads to help you make the best choices when it comes to your site’s mobile experience - and avoid any unwanted impact on those all-important SERP (search engine results page) rankings:

WHERE

Where does a pop-up have to appear for Google to penalise a site for it?
Only interstitial ads on mobile sites will affect Google ranking. While we wouldn’t recommend cramming your desktop site full of pop-ups, you’re free to do so without being affected by these changes.

WHAT

What are the criteria for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pop-ups?
Google’s initiative deliberately targets overly intrusive or obstructive ads, and behaviours penalised by the algorithm include:

Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Google’s guide to inappropriate interstitials:

Google guide

Cookie agreements and age restriction warnings are still fine - the algorithm won’t punish you for those.

If you still need some form of pop-up on your landing page - for instance, a prompt for the user to download your app - Search Engine Journal recommends ads that take up a maximum 15% of screen space, such as a streamlined banner at the top of the page. Ultimately, there shouldn’t be any kind of barrier between the user and the content they’re trying to read.

WHEN

When does the interstitial need to appear for it to affect a site’s ranking?
During a Google+ hangout around the time the changes were brought in, Google’s John Mueller clarified the new rules:

“What we’re looking for is really interstitials that show up on the interaction between the search click and going through the page and seeing the content [...] What you do afterwards, like if someone clicks on stuff within your website or closes the tab, then that’s kind of between you and the user.”

Basically, anything that interferes with a user’s experience of clicking through from a search engine to your content is a no-go.

Google’s latest announcement is leading companies to think much more carefully about their mobile strategy. The trend could (and perhaps should) encourage the hotel industry to consider a customer’s online experience - whether desktop or mobile - as an integral part of the hotel experience proper.

Triptease believes Direct is Best. Our Direct Booking Platform helps to enhance your website, increase parity with OTAs and drive direct bookings - with not an irritating interstitial in sight. For more information, take a look around www.triptease.com.

About The Author

Lily is Head of Content at Triptease. When she's not investigating the industry or spreading the word that #DirectIsBest, she enjoys music, cycling, and obscure radio quiz shows.