Earlier this week we mentioned Google’s plans  for penalising sites that show popups to mobile users. Google says the update will roll out January 10, 2017, and will only affect results for mobile searches. And, even then, not all popups will be hit by the update.

So today we want to look at how you can use popups on your site without getting hit by a search penalty.


Some popups will escape penalties

In our last article we mentioned a few types of popup that will escape Google penalties, even after the update. This info came straight from Google so we have to assume it’s reliable as a guideline.

Based on this, popups that only take up a small section of the screen will be fine. As will popups warning users about cookies, legal notices or login forms and other UI interfaces.


The thing is, popups have changed a lot over the years and we know have less intrusive ways to show them. We can set times on popups, only show them when a user is about to leave or after they reach a certain point of the page. So how will Google deal with popups from the likes of OptinMonster and other third party platforms?


How will Google handle scroll and timed popups?

Some popup delivery methods don’t really apply to mobile – for example, exit popups that rely on mouse movements. However, timed and scroll popups are two alternatives that do work on mobile and it will be interesting to see how Google treats these after Jan 10 next year.


Could timed popups escape penalties?

Timed popups are pretty self explanatory: they trigger after a certain number of seconds once the page has finished loading. This gives users a certain amount of time (which you set) to go through your content before you send them a targeted message.

The problem is they still tend to interrupt the user experience, which theoretically puts them on Google’s naughty list:


“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.” – Doantam Phan, Google Blog


So, at this stage we have to assume timed popups will be in line for a penalty following the update. However, we’ll be keen to test this after the update rolls out.


Could scroll popups escape penalties?

Scroll popups are similar to their timed cousins, except users need to reach a certain point of the page to be triggered. If users never reach that point, they never see the popup and there’s no negative impact on their experience.

Some scroll popups also only trigger when a user scrolls up – an action that sometimes means a user is done with the content on that page or could be about to leave. So, at this point we need to ask how Google is reading and detecting these popups.

We know JavaScript can be tricky for those bots to digest and Google has already said it isn’t treating all popups the same.


Banners are okay (within reason)

One popup alternative we’re assured will be safe from the update is banner ads or prompts. This is provided they only take up a reasonable amount of the screen and don’t make the content inaccessible in any way. However, Google also says they should be easily dismissible, too.


Exit popups should be okay, too

Again, this is a theoretical assumption based on what Google has already told us. Exit popups only show on desktop because mouse movements trigger them. So this approach should be a fairly happy compromise between using popups on your site, without getting hit by a search penalty. However, this also depends on how Google reads and detects popups – something we’ll be looking to establish in the near future.


If in doubt, block popups for mobile devices

If you’re not willing to kiss goodbye to popups and you want guaranteed safety, you can always block them for mobile users. We tend to recommend this approach anyway, purely based on how much of a pain popups are on mobile.

All it takes is a single line of JavaScript to rule out mobile users. Just be sure to collect data form any changes you make so you have a clear idea of what’s going on. It will be interesting to see what happens to mobile bounce rates and conversions when more sites ditch the popups.