Penalties for Popups

Google made good its threat to roll out Google penalties for intrusive popups this January (2017). The giant search engine is placing a premium on user experience as a metric on site rankings. This means Google expects a user clicking on a link from a search result should land on a page with informative content. When a user encounters interstitial ads and popups covering the information he expected to find, this makes searching for information frustrating. This is more so with mobile users who have limited navigation.


What kind of popups will attract Google penalties?


  1. A popup that covers the main content immediately after a user navigates from a search page, or one that comes up while the user is looking through the page
  2. A standalone interstitial that forces the user to dismiss it before accessing the main content
  3. Having a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial but the original content has been inlined below the fold.

Google makes exceptions. Some popups are required by law anyway. Some of these that will not attract negative rankings are:


  1. Interstitials with legal import, for example, those outlining a legal obligation for example cookie usage or age verification
  2. Login dialogs where there is private content behind a pay wall for example email or any other content that is publicly unindexable
  3. Banners that only use reasonable screen space and are easily dismissible. Examples include install banners by Chrome and Safari browsers.


These Google penalties are targeting mobile traffic so far leaving out desktop pages alone. As a reprieve for marketers, the penalties will only apply for entry pages. This is the first page that a user lands on coming from a search page. It does not have to be the homepage. Popups can come up along the user’s click path.

However, this is little leeway as any page is potentially an entry page unless it has not been indexed by Google. The search engine further exempts sites with highly ranked content or with high domain authority.

Google has said this is one of the hundreds of signals it will be using to rank sites with a heavy bias towards great content. This means that webmasters with high ranking pages still have a bit of leeway in using interstitial ads.

Webmasters have been put in a bit of a tricky situation as popups are crucial in collecting email lists and publisher advertising. As using intrusive ads will lead to less traffic, the question will be how to balance getting traffic and monetization of that traffic without ads.