SEO experts weigh in on 'Popup Doomsday'

SEO experts weigh in on 'Popup Doomsday'

Doomsday is coming. 

Everyone is talking about the upcoming changes Google is making to mobile search results, especially leaders in SEO. We reached out to 7 SEO experts for their opinion on Google's decision to punish mobile rankings for sites that have intrusive popups that make accessing content difficult. 

We asked these experts what they believe will happen if sites don't change their strategy, and what a marketer's next move should be. The following give their expert opinions:

1. Kevin Eichelberger, Founder + CEO, Blue Acorn

"Google continues to roll out changes to its search algorithms in an effort to improve its user experience.You'd think we'd be accustomed to them by now, but whenever these changes are announced, they still drive people to panic. There have been several predictions of "doomsday" changes over the years: site speed, mobile accessibility, and SSL, to name a few. How many times have you heard "we have to ____ or we'll lose rank because of these upcoming changes"?  
In each case, these changes are intended by Google to incrementally improve rankings, not radically change them. There have been a few noted exceptions of major changes historically intended to weed out spam, penalize tactics intended to "game the system," and content ripping. However, major changes are intended to pare down the "bad guys," not penalize the "good guys" because of a specific site feature. There are hundreds of factors that influence rank, and the introduction of additional factors doesn't trump the others that already exist. Today, don't give in to the doomsday hype and change your site. When it comes to SEO, my general advice remains the same: follow best practices, but more importantly, focus on delivering the best possible content and experience to your users. If you create a site that everyone wants to use, you will see results."

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2. Brandon Howell, Team Lead for SEO, ROI Revolution

"The big G is giving us plenty of notice, so I expect most sites will get in line pretty quickly. (Although I’m sure ecommerce sites could have gone without an extra development task leading into Q4.) What will happen? Your guess is as good as mine. It will be interesting to see how long Google monitors/renders a page in order to determine whether an interstitial has been triggered. The “Fetch and Render” feature of Google Search Console has led us to believe it’s five seconds, but we won’t know for sure until this signal is live and we can test it. Also, this statement from Google has me a little worried – “… some examples of techniques that make content less accessible to a user: 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.” I’ve seen some perfectly usable mobile product page layouts that could meet a loose interpretation of “similar to a standalone interstitial”, so I’d like to see some more clarification of this."

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3. Robert Rand, Chief Technology Officer, Rand Marketing

"We're actually not surprised by this development. Google's algorithm updates are focused on bringing searchers to website that are relevant, and that they'll be pleased with. They already account for factors like loading speed, which are all about user experience. Since Google has enforced rules about popups and similar ads for Google Adwords advertising for some time, we've known that their data suggested that popups did more harm than good in the greater scheme of things. We're eager to see how organic rankings are affected, but this will only be one of many ranking factors. and should not affect rankings when used responsibly, such as for Age Verification, Acceptance of Privacy Terms, or even for small overlays that are not major obstructions. For those that do leave annoying popups, such as those that obstruct users on mobile phones, we anticipate that any loss of rankings will eventually return after they address their popup issues. Just as importantly, we hope that they'll see improved long-term conversion rates and brand loyalty once they make their websites less of a nuisance."

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4. Mitchell Abdullah, SEO Manager, Command Partners

"The most critical aspect of ‘mobile friendliness’ is having information easily available while on the go. Over time, the largest proponent of mobile-friendly web pages has been Google, as we’ve seen with their original mobile web standards, re-rankings, the AMP project and an endless amount of tools to help website developers discern what a good mobile site requires.It’s no surprise that they’re taking a stand against yet another ‘issue,’ causing websites to not meet the one core requirement of mobile friendliness: the ease and immediacy of information. I believe that rankings will change heavily to continue to push their agenda.

Come January 10, 2017, sites that aren’t meeting this new standard are going to get a swift kick onto the second page of mobile search results for many of the more competitive keywords. It is also highly likely that Adwords will be affected by this change as well. If a site/page is no longer marked as mobile-friendly, you won’t be able to rank for mobile Adwords placements either. As a result, the choice is simple- if you get a decent amount of mobile traffic from search, remove the popup from mobile before January 9th since Google updates can take a while. While Popup Doomsday seems like an overwhelming mess, there are a few positives. First, you are not the only one going through it, your competitors have to do it too. Second, although it seems daunting, it’s a very easy fix to execute. And lastly, it’s going to result in a better user experience both on your site and on mobile, because let’s be honest, even those of us that use popups hate getting them on mobile.

Once you’ve removed the mobile popup there are many options for you to maintain your prior level of lead collection. The first option is to refocus your energy on the offers and CTAs that are embedded in the website or the content. Spend time planning out ways to further personalize the experience for the viewer. A great first step is to take content or pages that are currently doing well and adding an updated or extended version and only making it available via a sign-up. A second option is to apply a reasonably-sized banner to the mobile site in lieu of the original popup. According to Google, this will be allowed since it doesn’t interfere with a visitor easily viewing the webpage’s content. Your last option is to segment the popup’s viewership away from those referred by organic search results. If you have a plugin that allows for referral-based segmentation you may be able to maintain ranking and your mobile- friendly status by only having your popup show to non-organic search traffic. However, in order to be safe, the first two options are my top recommendations."

LinkedIn | Twitter | Command Partners

5. Stephanie Nelson, Social Media Maven, SBN Marketing

"Personally, I've always HATED pop-ups of any kind, so I love this from a user standpoint. As a digital marketer, I feel like this is a good move, too. My gut says that sites that choose to follow Google's new rules are going to see an increase in users' time spent on site, a lower bounce rate, and potentially increased conversions (since users won't have to deal with the pop-ups any longer). I think that, if Google's past threats of punishment are any indication, site owners should heed the warning and make the changes. I've seen sites all but wiped off the map for not following Google's rule changes.
As for what a marketer's next move should be: I'm not sure I know where this is going to go. "Sponsored Links" are already a no-no per Google, so unless Google pulls back on that rule, I don't foresee that being an option. I suppose we could see a return of the sidebar PPC-type ads on websites. But from a web design and UX standpoint, that seems to have fallen out of favor a while back. It'll be interesting to see where it goes and what developers come up with to get around this new rule."

LinkedIn | Twitter | SBN Marketing

6. Jason Ehmke, Technology Lead,

"This is a game changer for sure. If sites don't change their strategy soon, they're going to see a steep decline in traffic, and revenue. With the growing popularity of ad blockers in the last few years, it was only a matter of time before Google or some other big player stepped in to punish sites who use intrusive ads that block content. We all hate large ads, but until now, there was nothing any of us could do about it besides install an ad blocker to hopefully block the ad, or not go back to the site at all. 
Ads on websites aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so website owners will have no choice but to use a more creative and personalized solution to show their ads. What I am afraid of though, is more sites going behind a paywall in an attempt to capture the lost revenue from the ads. We've already seen it with a few larger sites, but this change might push a lot more of them to put all of their content behind a paywall. I guess time will tell though." 

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7. Jake Finkelstein, CEO, Method Savvy

"Google is continuing its crusade to incentivize website owners to deliver users a great experience that quickly addresses their need - regardless of device. This change is driven by Google's perception (with the data to back it up) that mobile popups make a site suck."

LinkedIn | Twitter | Method Savvy