Of all the online trends that have appeared in the last couple of years, the one that is foremost on my most-hated list has easily been the new visitor pop-up.
You know the ones. You visit a new site to read an article or read product reviews, and just when your pointer begins traveling back to the top of the screen — or you spend more than a few seconds on the page — you get a giant box that covers the screen, asking you for your email address.
Of course, it promises wonderful things, like a free PDF on “industry trends” or to add you to the mailing list for “crazy awesome deals!” Perhaps it gives you a little discount on your purchase, or maybe just confirms what a swell person you are.
The downside: If you don’t want to participate in whatever the program entails, you have to go searching for the microscopic “X” button or click the line that says “No thanks, I hate freedom, puppies, and discount prices”, or something else equally clever.
Wreaking Havoc on Mobile Devices
To make matters even worse, these pop-ups, also called interstitials, can wreak havoc on mobile devices. In many cases, if the interstitial hasn’t been formatted correctly, there may be no way for a mobile user to close or remove the box, and their session on the site is now functionally over unless they surrender their personal information. Even then, if they can’t access the right button, they may not even be able to proceed to the rest of the site.
I don’t think I’m overstating: This is a plague upon our digital life and needs to go away immediately.
And I’m not the only one saying this. Google has had this practice in its crosshairs for some time and is now poised to take action. Earlier this year, the search engine announced that it will begin penalising mobile sites that continue to use these types of popups. The reason is that it feels that these interstitials negatively affect user experience, and as such, they should begin to appear lower in search results than those that don’t employ this technique.
“But,” I hear many of you saying, “pop-ups are a great technique to get people to sign up for our mailing lists! Our results from this outreach have been too strong for us to abandon them now!” I understand and sympathise; I know from experience that this is perhaps one of the best ways to help capture precious information about your users and help convert them into long-term customers.
It’s no secret that email marketing is a powerful tool that can sometimes generate more conversions than SEO, PPC and social media combined. But, at what cost? Mobile search is now one of the biggest sources of traffic to most sites, so if Google penalises your mobile-friendly site, you may have trouble even being discovered by interested parties.
Is There a Compromise to be Found in This Difficult Scenario?
Of course there is! Bear in mind that Google is cracking down on the mobile interstitials, not desktop. For now, the pop-ups can stay on desktop without penalty, and this is great news for us in the e-commerce business, since we still see a slight preference for customers using desktop to shop and complete their purchases. Your interstitial can still find its intended audience so long as you don’t use it on your site’s mobile version. Furthermore, the crackdown is on full-screen pop-ups, so any static-coded boxes or dedicated links built into the pages are perfectly fine.
If you offer a discount to email subscribers, make sure that mobile users can see this on relevant pages without using an interstitial. If you do that, you’ll be just fine. Additionally, you can always use paid ads and social media to help get the word out about your awesome free content or discounts. Use these channels to direct interested people to a beautifully optimised signup page, and you’re all set.
Whatever you do, just ditch the mobile pop-up ASAP. What you may lose in signups likely isn’t worth the downgrade you’ll get from Google. In removing that annoying pop-up, you’ll be doing yourself — and all of your site’s visitors — a huge favour.