Google Says “No” to Pop-Ups

Based on an announcement Google made a couple of months back, starting now (January 2017), website rankings will be negatively affected if you are using pop ups on your website.  The use of pop ups will now negatively affect site rankings.

The premise is that pop ups result in a poor user experience because they interfere with what the user has come to your site to do.

It can’t be argued that this is sometimes the case, but I’m just not sure that this should really be a ranking factor.  After all, users always have the option of using pop up blockers, just as they can use ad blockers, so I’m not really persuaded that this isn’t an example of Google going just a little too far in terms of what they consider a ranking factor, and in terms of controlling what a website owner can do on their site.

Whether or not pop ups truly interfere with user experience all depends how intrusive the pop up is. Does it offer a value-add to the user, or does it just get in the way?

I use pop ups on my e-commerce sites, on site for a course I offer (entirely unrelated to internet marketing), and on the new niche content blog I’ve been working at building out over the last little while (also completely unrelated to the internet marketing genre).

Across all my sites, I  have a pretty consistent optin rate of about 6%, which is pretty darn good.  People obviously are very interested in what my pop ups have to offer them.

Now to be clear and completely accurate the new no pop-up rule applies to landing pages. If a user clicks through to a second page on your site, you can have a pop up there (for now, anyway).

The trouble is, a lot of time users will find a site in search. The site does a great job of answering their question on the page they land on, and then, being very focused on whatever they are trying to accomplish at the moment, they leave the site to continue on with what they are doing.  They may be interested in taking a closer look at the site, but don’t have time right there and then to take a look around. A pop up is basically an invitation to come back; it says we know you’re in a rush right now, but if you’d like to get to know us better just let us know and we’ll send you a good reason to come back. I like one analogy I’ve heard – that a pop up on a website is like a welcome mat at a house.

I personally don’t object at all to pop ups on the sites I go to – and I’ll often optin if the site seems interesting to me.  In fact, I appreciate those little pop ups that give me the opportunity to quickly enter my email address to be reminded to come back to a valuable site. And sometimes those pop ups offer some really valuable resources that I might not have otherwise noticed as I rush through the page just getting what I came there for.   The only time I have an issue with a pop up on a site I visit is if it is difficult to close or get rid of quickly, or if one pop up leads to another and another. Or if it pops right back up at me seconds after I’ve closed it.

I’ve heard the argument made that when a visitor arrives at your site for the first time, they don’t even know you, so why would they give you their email address on the first page. Well, its an interesting argument, but I know my visitors do, and I do as well. I guess the answer to the question is, because if the site clearly offers value you can often get an impression of that in the first few seconds, and so you want to get to know the site better and you don’t have a problem giving your email address to hear more from them.

However you look at it, this new ranking factor once again makes it a little more difficult for website owners to do what it is they need to do to keep visitors coming back and build their website traffic.  There are certainly other ways of embedding lead capture forms into website, and we’ll all have to focus a little more on those methods now, but are they as effective. I do currently use other lead capture methods on my site (and have for a while). I have tested different ones, and gotten rid of the ones that really didn’t perform well, and kept the ones that do.  However, my landing page pop ups are without a doubt the top performers in terms of capturing email addresses – simply because they are immediately noticeable.

Not long ago I removed the sidebar optin form from my sites because it was the poorest performer by a long shot, bringing only a dribble of subscribers as compared to my other optin locations – scroll bar, popup, and top bar.  I was pretty surprised by the poor performance of the side bar form, since it was in a pretty visible location, not too far down the page, but I think this shows that people are largely ignoring what is contained in the side bar these days. They’ve sort of got “side bar blindness”. That’s why Google Adsense ads no longer perform particularly well in the side bar on many sites.

So after removing the side bar optin form, that left me with the pop up, scroll bar form, and top bar – in that exact order of performance.  The pop up is my number one lead capture tool, followed by the scroll bar which I also consider to be valuable. And then there’s the top bar email capture. I’ve been on the fence about that one, and had been considering taking it down. It brings in leads but not at the rate of the other two, and I also dont like the way it displays on some of my websites, covering up stuff I would rather it didnt cover up. So I had been contemplating taking it down, on the basis that if someone is willing to enter their email address into the top bar email capture field, they’ll most likely enter it into either the popup or the scroll box if the top bar wasn’t there. So again, I’m quite bummed that Google is saying no to pop ups on the landing page, and leaving me with less effective options, and I’ll have to revisit my plan for whether to keep or drop the top bar.

That leaves one more email capture option I haven’t talked about yet, and that’s the embedded option form (embedded right into the content).  I had used that for a while on my content site, and my course site. It didn’t do too badly pulling in email addresses, but still came in third behind the pop up and the scroll box.

Even though it performed decently I made the decision to remove it quite some time back because I didn’t like the way it would break up my content on some pages or articles.  In some cases, it made it appear that the article had ended and I was concerned readers might not realize that the information continued below the scroll box. When I break up content in that way, I usually like to indicate “Continues Below” so visitors know to keep reading.  But with the auto-injected optin form plug in I use, there is no way to do that, so I simply turfed the embedded form. Again, I reasoned that anyone who would use the embedded form would most likely see either the pop up or the scroll box, and if they were willing to enter their email address on the embedded form, they’ most likely enter their email address into one of the other two options.

But with this recent change by Google I may have to revisit that, and in general, start getting more creative with ways to capture email addresses. Just another challenge to work on.  All in the day of the life of an online marketer 🙂

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