You know them, you love them, and yes, you hate them.
Pop-ups! They’re a content marketer’s best friend with an average conversion rate of 11.09%.
So, this article aims to clear up some of the uncertainty surrounding pop-ups and SEO.
Here are seven tips for using pop-ups without harming your SEO.
1. Understand Which Interstitials Are No-Goes
Note that “interstitial” is a broad term that can be widely applied to most pop-ups, overlays, and modals, but not all interstitials are considered equally intrusive.
As a general rule of thumb, if your interstitials are spammy, difficult to dismiss, or diminish your users’ experience, your mobile page may be devalued.
And, because Google’s indexing is now mobile-first, this may hurt your positions in the SERPs more than you realize.
The following are all examples of interstitials that make your content less accessible:
- Content-covering pop-ups that users are forced to close to continue reading.
- Standalone interstitials must be dismissed before users can access your content.
- Deceptive page layouts whose above-the-fold portion looks like an interstitial.
You should also avoid ads that Google’s known to dislike and has penalized in the past, including:
- Classic interstitial ads and splash ads that interrupt users as they navigate between pages and/or before they reach your homepage.
- New window pop-ups that open as soon as a user clicks on your page.
- Welcome mats, new window pop-ups, and other intrusive ads.
- Overlay modals that are difficult to close and/or easily redirect visitors who accidentally click on them.
- Intrusive lightbox ads and pop-ups.
Furthermore, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that interstitials triggered by exit intent are still allowed.
However, be careful about relying too heavily on these. Annoying your visitors is never a good idea.
2. Continue Using Non-Intrusive Interstitials
Google doesn’t penalize non-intrusive interstitials.
These include anything you’re legally required to display to restrict content or keep your users informed, such as age verification interstitials and cookie use notifications.
Other pop-ups, such as banner ads, slide-ins, inlines and tabs, that take up a reasonable portion of the screen (15% or less is recommended) are also OK, as long as they’re easy to dismiss.
If you aren’t sure whether your interstitials are considered intrusive, I recommend avoiding full-screen overlays, welcome mats, and ad modals.
Whenever possible, try to switch to top banners and slide-in boxes that allow users to continue viewing your content and don’t disrupt UX too much.
3. Switch To Timed Pop-ups
If you absolutely must continue to use pop-ups and overlays, you can try to redesign them to be as non-intrusive as possible.
One of the biggest things you can change is the timing of your interstitials.
For example, instead of displaying a pop-up as soon as a user lands on your page, time your pop-up for when users have finished your blog post.
You can also limit how long pop-ups are displayed – a pop-up that automatically closes after three seconds of user inaction is better than one that never closes on its own.
Of course, the challenge with this type of interstitial is that timed pop-ups are only as effective as your content.
If your content isn’t compelling enough to keep users on-site, clicking through your pages and reading your content, then consider investing in your content marketing before you start plugging it with ads.
4. Watch Out For “Gray Area” Interstitials
Some interstitials impacted by Google’s interstitial penalty might surprise you.
For example, Mueller confirmed that language selection pop-ups on international sites might be devalued, because “yes, those are popups/interstitials too.”
Carefully monitor your page performance if you’re using these or other “gray area” interstitials, such as sticky sidebars, related posts, share buttons, live chat boxes, and coupon pop-ups.
While I don’t expect these to negatively impact SEO, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
5. Use Permitted (But Intrusive) Pop-ups Cautiously
Some ads are definitely interruptive but aren’t penalized.
These “gray area” pop-ups are permitted, but be warned that Google could crackdown on them in the future (they’re certainly moving in that direction):
- Page-to-page interstitials: According to Mueller, Google’s interstitial penalty only devalues interstitials that pop up when moving from SERP to a site page, but interstitials between site pages are still fine. However, we know that Google values good UX, and page-to-page interstitials certainly are not good UX.
- Interstitials triggered by exit intent: Mueller also confirmed that pop-ups triggered by exit intent aren’t punished by the new update. Simply put a no-index tag in your code to avoid landing on the wrong side of the interstitial penalty.
Fair warning if you decide to use these interstitials: They may be penalized at some point in the (near) future, even though nothing in the new algorithm update targets these interstitials.
The only three constants in this world are death, taxes, and Google making changes for better UX.
6. You Can Still Use Intrusive Ads On Desktop
Some websites have found a band-aid solution to the interstitial penalty, which is to hide pop-ups on mobile devices and continue to use them exclusively for desktop visitors.
Many pop-up plugins include smart targeting options that allow you to only display your ads on specific platforms.
Some website platforms such as Wix also allow you to hide potentially intrusive pop-ups on all mobile devices.
Again, however, pop-ups that are intrusive and diminish your UX could be punished under a future update.
I recommend you find more permanent solutions than temporarily hiding your mobile pop-ups.
7. Restrict Pop-ups To Sources Other Than Google Organic Search
Another “gray area” that you could exploit is to only put pop-ups in front of visitors moving between site pages or finding your website through sources other than Google organic search results.
According to Mueller, these won’t be impacted by the new algorithm update:
“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. So, that’s kind of the place we’re looking for those interstitials.
What you do afterward, like if someone clicks on stuff within your website or closes the tab or something like that, then that’s kind of between you and the user.”
Of course, if organic search drives a lot of your traffic and it’s working to generate leads, don’t feel too pressured to switch.
Remember that the new interstitial penalty is just one signal among hundreds, and an interstitial ad or two won’t sink a website that’s otherwise chock-full of useful content.
So, here we are, years later, websites are still using pop-ups on mobile and ranking well!
Even if this is news to you, you can breathe a sigh of relief – you probably haven’t been deeply affected by this update.
But if you think Google’s mobile interstitials penalty may have hit your site, check out this article on how to recover.
Featured Image: McLittle Stock/Shutterstock
A Complete Google Search Console Guide For SEO Pros
Google search console provides data necessary to monitor website performance in search and improve search rankings, information that is exclusively available through Search Console.
This makes it indispensable for online business and publishers that are keen to maximize success.
Taking control of your search presence is easier to do when using the free tools and reports.
What Is Google Search Console?
Google Search Console is a free web service hosted by Google that provides a way for publishers and search marketing professionals to monitor their overall site health and performance relative to Google search.
It offers an overview of metrics related to search performance and user experience to help publishers improve their sites and generate more traffic.
Search Console also provides a way for Google to communicate when it discovers security issues (like hacking vulnerabilities) and if the search quality team has imposed a manual action penalty.
- Monitor indexing and crawling.
- Identify and fix errors.
- Overview of search performance.
- Request indexing of updated pages.
- Review internal and external links.
It’s not necessary to use Search Console to rank better nor is it a ranking factor.
However, the usefulness of the Search Console makes it indispensable for helping improve search performance and bringing more traffic to a website.
How To Get Started
The first step to using Search Console is to verify site ownership.
Google provides several different ways to accomplish site verification, depending on if you’re verifying a website, a domain, a Google site, or a Blogger-hosted site.
Domains registered with Google domains are automatically verified by adding them to Search Console.
The majority of users will verify their sites using one of four methods:
- HTML file upload.
- Meta tag
- Google Analytics tracking code.
- Google Tag Manager.
Some site hosting platforms limit what can be uploaded and require a specific way to verify site owners.
But, that’s becoming less of an issue as many hosted site services have an easy-to-follow verification process, which will be covered below.
How To Verify Site Ownership
There are two standard ways to verify site ownership with a regular website, like a standard WordPress site.
- HTML file upload.
- Meta tag.
When verifying a site using either of these two methods, you’ll be choosing the URL-prefix properties process.
Let’s stop here and acknowledge that the phrase “URL-prefix properties” means absolutely nothing to anyone but the Googler who came up with that phrase.
Don’t let that make you feel like you’re about to enter a labyrinth blindfolded. Verifying a site with Google is easy.
HTML File Upload Method
Step 1: Go to the Search Console and open the Property Selector dropdown that’s visible in the top left-hand corner on any Search Console page.
Step 2: In the pop-up labeled Select Property Type, enter the URL of the site then click the Continue button.
Step 3: Select the HTML file upload method and download the HTML file.
Step 4: Upload the HTML file to the root of your website.
Root means https://example.com/. So, if the downloaded file is called verification.html, then the uploaded file should be located at https://example.com/verification.html.
Step 5: Finish the verification process by clicking Verify back in the Search Console.
Duda has a simple approach that uses a Search Console App that easily verifies the site and gets its users started.
Troubleshooting With GSC
Ranking in search results depends on Google’s ability to crawl and index webpages.
The Search Console URL Inspection Tool warns of any issues with crawling and indexing before it becomes a major problem and pages start dropping from the search results.
URL Inspection Tool
The URL inspection tool shows whether a URL is indexed and is eligible to be shown in a search result.
For each submitted URL a user can:
- Request indexing for a recently updated webpage.
- View how Google discovered the webpage (sitemaps and referring internal pages).
- View the last crawl date for a URL.
- Check if Google is using a declared canonical URL or is using another one.
- Check mobile usability status.
- Check enhancements like breadcrumbs.
The coverage section shows Discovery (how Google discovered the URL), Crawl (shows whether Google successfully crawled the URL and if not, provides a reason why), and Enhancements (provides the status of structured data).
The coverage section can be reached from the left-hand menu:
Coverage Error Reports
While these reports are labeled as errors, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. Sometimes it just means that indexing can be improved.
For example, in the following screenshot, Google is showing a 403 Forbidden server response to nearly 6,000 URLs.
The 403 error response means that the server is telling Googlebot that it is forbidden from crawling these URLs.
The above errors are happening because Googlebot is blocked from crawling the member pages of a web forum.
Every member of the forum has a member page that has a list of their latest posts and other statistics.
The report provides a list of URLs that are generating the error.
Clicking on one of the listed URLs reveals a menu on the right that provides the option to inspect the affected URL.
There’s also a contextual menu to the right of the URL itself in the form of a magnifying glass icon that also provides the option to Inspect URL.
Clicking on the Inspect URL reveals how the page was discovered.
It also shows the following data points:
- Last crawl.
- Crawled as.
- Crawl allowed?
- Page fetch (if failed, provides the server error code).
- Indexing allowed?
There is also information about the canonical used by Google:
- User-declared canonical.
- Google-selected canonical.
For the forum website in the above example, the important diagnostic information is located in the Discovery section.
This section tells us which pages are the ones that are showing links to member profiles to Googlebot.
With this information, the publisher can now code a PHP statement that will make the links to the member pages disappear when a search engine bot comes crawling.
Another way to fix the problem is to write a new entry to the robots.txt to stop Google from attempting to crawl these pages.
By making this 403 error go away, we free up crawling resources for Googlebot to index the rest of the website.
Google Search Console’s coverage report makes it possible to diagnose Googlebot crawling issues and fix them.
Fixing 404 Errors
The coverage report can also alert a publisher to 404 and 500 series error responses, as well as communicate that everything is just fine.
A 404 server response is called an error only because the browser or crawler’s request for a webpage was made in error because the page does not exist.
It doesn’t mean that your site is in error.
If another site (or an internal link) links to a page that doesn’t exist, the coverage report will show a 404 response.
Clicking on one of the affected URLs and selecting the Inspect URL tool will reveal what pages (or sitemaps) are referring to the non-existent page.
From there you can decide if the link is broken and needs to be fixed (in the case of an internal link) or redirected to the correct page (in the case of an external link from another website).
Or, it could be that the webpage never existed and whoever is linking to that page made a mistake.
If the page doesn’t exist anymore or it never existed at all, then it’s fine to show a 404 response.
Taking Advantage Of GSC Features
The Performance Report
The top part of the Search Console Performance Report provides multiple insights on how a site performs in search, including in search features like featured snippets.
There are four search types that can be explored in the Performance Report:
Search Console shows the web search type by default.
Change which search type is displayed by clicking the Search Type button:
A menu pop-up will display allowing you to change which kind of search type to view:
A useful feature is the ability to compare the performance of two search types within the graph.
Four metrics are prominently displayed at the top of the Performance Report:
- Total Clicks.
- Total Impressions.
- Average CTR (click-through rate).
- Average position.
By default, the Total Clicks and Total Impressions metrics are selected.
By clicking within the tabs dedicated to each metric, one can choose to see those metrics displayed on the bar chart.
Impressions are the number of times a website appeared in the search results. As long as a user doesn’t have to click a link to see the URL, it counts as an impression.
Additionally, if a URL is ranked at the bottom of the page and the user doesn’t scroll to that section of the search results, it still counts as an impression.
High impressions are great because it means that Google is showing the site in the search results.
But, the meaning of the impressions metric is made meaningful by the Clicks and the Average Position metrics.
The clicks metric shows how often users clicked from the search results to the website. A high number of clicks in addition to a high number of impressions is good.
A low number of clicks and a high number of impressions is less good but not bad. It means that the site may need improvements to gain more traffic.
The clicks metric is more meaningful when considered with the Average CTR and Average Position metrics.
The average CTR is a percentage representing how often users clicked from the search results to the website.
A low CTR means that something needs improvement in order to increase visits from the search results.
A higher CTR means the site is performing well.
This metric gains more meaning when considered together with the Average Position metric.
Average Position shows the average position in search results the website tends to appear in.
An average in positions one to 10 is great.
An average position in the twenties (20 – 29) means that the site is appearing on page two or three of the search results. This isn’t too bad. It simply means that the site needs additional work to give it that extra boost into the top 10.
Average positions lower than 30 could (in general) mean that the site may benefit from significant improvements.
Or, it could be that the site ranks for a large number of keyword phrases that rank low and a few very good keywords that rank exceptionally high.
In either case, it may mean taking a closer look at the content. It may be an indication of a content gap on the website, where the content that ranks for certain keywords isn’t strong enough and may need a dedicated page devoted to that keyword phrase to rank better.
All four metrics (Impressions, Clicks, Average CTR, and Average Position), when viewed together, present a meaningful overview of how the website is performing.
The big takeaway about the Performance Report is that it is a starting point for quickly understanding website performance in search.
It’s like a mirror that reflects back how well or poorly the site is doing.
Performance Report Dimensions
Scrolling down to the second part of the Performance page reveals several of what’s called Dimensions of a website’s performance data.
There are six dimensions:
1. Queries: Shows the top search queries and the number of clicks and impressions associated with each keyword phrase.
2. Pages: Shows the top-performing web pages (plus clicks and impressions).
3. Countries: Top countries (plus clicks and impressions).
4. Devices: Shows the top devices, segmented into mobile, desktop, and tablet.
5. Search Appearance: This shows the different kinds of rich results that the site was displayed in. It also tells if Google displayed the site using Web Light results and video results, plus the associated clicks and impressions data. Web Light results are results that are optimized for very slow devices.
6. Dates: The dates tab organizes the clicks and impressions by date. The clicks and impressions can be sorted in descending or ascending order.
The keywords are displayed in the Queries as one of the dimensions of the Performance Report (as noted above). The queries report shows the top 1,000 search queries that resulted in traffic.
Of particular interest are the low-performing queries.
Some of those queries display low quantities of traffic because they are rare, what is known as long-tail traffic.
But, others are search queries that result from webpages that could need improvement, perhaps it could be in need of more internal links, or it could be a sign that the keyword phrase deserves its own webpage.
It’s always a good idea to review the low-performing keywords because some of them may be quick wins that, when the issue is addressed, can result in significantly increased traffic.
Search Console offers a list of all links pointing to the website.
However, it’s important to point out that the links report does not represent links that are helping the site rank.
It simply reports all links pointing to the website.
This means that the list includes links that are not helping the site rank. That explains why the report may show links that have a nofollow link attribute on them.
The Links report is accessible from the bottom of the left-hand menu:
The Links report has two columns: External Links and Internal Links.
External Links are the links from outside the website that points to the website.
Internal Links are links that originate within the website and link to somewhere else within the website.
The External links column has three reports:
- Top linked pages.
- Top linking sites.
- Top linking text.
The Internal Links report lists the Top Linked Pages.
Each report (top linked pages, top linking sites, etc.) has a link to more results that can be clicked to view and expand the report for each type.
For example, the expanded report for Top Linked Pages shows Top Target pages, which are the pages from the site that are linked to the most.
Clicking a URL will change the report to display all the external domains that link to that one page.
The report shows the domain of the external site but not the exact page that links to the site.
A sitemap is generally an XML file that is a list of URLs that helps search engines discover the webpages and other forms of content on a website.
Sitemaps are especially helpful for large sites, sites that are difficult to crawl if the site has new content added on a frequent basis.
Crawling and indexing are not guaranteed. Things like page quality, overall site quality, and links can have an impact on whether a site is crawled and pages indexed.
Sitemaps simply make it easy for search engines to discover those pages and that’s all.
Creating a sitemap is easy because more are automatically generated by the CMS, plugins, or the website platform where the site is hosted.
Some hosted website platforms generate a sitemap for every site hosted on its service and automatically update the sitemap when the website changes.
Search Console offers a sitemap report and provides a way for publishers to upload a sitemap.
To access this function click on the link located on the left-side menu.
The sitemap section will report on any errors with the sitemap.
Search Console can be used to remove a sitemap from the reports. It’s important to actually remove the sitemap however from the website itself otherwise Google may remember it and visit it again.
Once submitted and processed, the Coverage report will populate a sitemap section that will help troubleshoot any problems associated with URLs submitted through the sitemaps.
Search Console Page Experience Report
The page experience report offers data related to the user experience on the website relative to site speed.
This is a good starting place for getting an overall summary of site speed performance.
Rich Result Status Reports
Search Console offers feedback on rich results through the Performance Report. It’s one of the six dimensions listed below the graph that’s displayed at the top of the page, listed as Search Appearance.
Selecting the Search Appearance tabs reveals clicks and impressions data for the different kinds of rich results shown in the search results.
This report communicates how important rich results traffic is to the website and can help pinpoint the reason for specific website traffic trends.
The Search Appearance report can help diagnose issues related to structured data.
For example, a downturn in rich results traffic could be a signal that Google changed structured data requirements and that the structured data needs to be updated.
It’s a starting point for diagnosing a change in rich results traffic patterns.
Search Console Is Good For SEO
In addition to the above benefits of Search Console, publishers and SEOs can also upload link disavow reports, resolve penalties (manual actions), and security events like site hackings, all of which contribute to a better search presence.
It is a valuable service that every web publisher concerned about search visibility should take advantage of.
Featured Image: bunny pixar/Shutterstock
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