Growth October 18, 2016 Last updated October 18th, 2016 1,713 Reads share

Google’s Upcoming “Popup Penalty” – Should You Be Worried?

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Does your blog or small business website greet mobile users with a popup that tries to entice the visitor to sign up for an email newsletter or redeeming an offer or reward?

Well, according to an

Google’s Popup Penalty Defined

In the announcement published by Google, they covered three main types of popups, or welcome mats, which would be affected by the new penalty:

  1. Popups that take up your full screen and push the content down, so visitors have to scroll below the fold to see the content.
  2. Popups that take up your whole screen and have to be closed to get to the content.
  3. Smaller popups that do not cover the entire screen, but they make it difficult or impossible to read the content.

The take home message here is that you do not want your popups to get in the way of users on their mobile device enjoying your content.

So, under these new rules from Google, if you have a timed popup or an exit intent popup that is one of these three, it will hurt your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

Will Google Allow Any Popups?

Not all popups are the same under the popup penalty. For example, Google will still allow popups for legal purposes, such as legal disclaimers and users having to accept the use of cookies.

You can also have non-intrusive, small app banners as well as popups for users to log in.

The best way to determine whether you need to get rid of a popup is to put yourself in the shoes of the user and ask yourself; when I am using my mobile phone, will this popup annoy me? Is your popup intrusive enough that it might anger the user because they cannot get to the content? If so, Google will probably penalize you.

Does This Only Affect Mobile Searches?

Currently, Google is only talking about assessing the popup penalty for mobile searches. But, if history is any indicator, the popup penalty will make its way over to desktop searches as well.

Though there are clearly different criteria used for ranking mobile searches, over the years, the two types of searches have only become more similar. In fact, sites that do well on desktop rankings but not on mobile tend to drop down in the desktop rankings as well over time.

The best way to prepare for the upcoming change is, of course, to remove popups from your website entirely.

So What Should You Use Instead of Popups?

Even if you use popups on your website, you probably hate them when visiting other sites. Everyone does. That’s why Google is doing this.

However, they tend to be a successful tool for getting people to sign up for your newsletter, email list, or just about anything else. So, we need to find another way to build our email lists without popups. One way is to add an email signup footer at the bottom of your website featuring a strong call to action. Another option is to put a non-intrusive banner at the top or bottom that does not interfere with site usage.

Lastly, you might consider embedding eye-catching signup forms in your content and integrate it into your post, so it is obvious how it connects to the reason people came to your site.

What If You Still Want to Keep Using Popups?

You can keep showing popups to your users, as you do right now, but to avoid the upcoming penalty from Google you must ensure that the popup is only displayed on desktop computers.

Your Site is Powered by WordPress

If your website is powered by WordPress, or if you are thinking of using WordPress then there are a huge range of popup plugins to use. The key is to use a popup plugin that lets you hide popups on mobile devices.

You will need to try the plugin out and see if there is an option in the settings for hiding popups on mobile devices; or you can reach out to the plugin developer and ask how you can use the plugin to only show popups on desktop computers.

Your Site is Not Using WordPress (or You Don’t Want to Use Plugins)

If your website is not powered by WordPress, or if you don’t want to use a popup plugin there are ways to manually tweak your CSS code to hide popups from displaying on mobile devices. It’s fairly straight forward to do but if you are not familiar with CSS then you probably need to speak with a web developer to do this for you.

The very generalized and shortcut explanation of how to do this is by tweaking your CSS code, is to use the CSS selector for the div class the popup HTML code is using, and hide the HTML code using CSS media-queries. Something like this:


<div class=”popup”>Here goes the popup HTML code</div>


@media only screen and (max-width : 768px) {

.popup { display: none ; }


Bottom Line

The bottom line is that when you give visitors value, they will want more information. You can offer them an opportunity to get engaged without showing them annoying popup ads and welcome mats, and Google will not penalize you. Good luck in your preparations for January 10, 2017!

Image: Illustration depicting a computer dialogue box with an annoying pop up concept.

Matt Smith

Matt Smith

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