You might think that popups are dead because everyone keeps saying they are. But the truth is, they’re not.

Studies show that despite what people think about popups (or anything for that matter) thoughts and actions are two very different things. And while many will have you believe that popups are annoying and ineffective, in reality, a high-performing popup form can average a 9.28% conversion rate.

That sure beats the average landing page conversion rate of 2.35%.

That said, there are some risks that come with using popups are on your website, no matter their purpose. With Google placing more focus than ever on the mobile user experience, and penalizing those who use interstitials such as popups on their site in a way that affects the user experience, website owners need to be careful. If not, you risk harming your search rankings, traffic numbers, and conversions.

If you know that popups are the way to go when it comes to building a bigger email list, guiding people down your sales funnel, and securing more sales, keep reading. We’re here to shed some light on how you can use popups on your website responsibly, so you aren’t punished by Google and your SERPs don’t suffer.

1. Understand What Google Doesn’t Like

google-interstial-example-1 Quick Guide to Using Popups

There’s no rule saying you can’t use interstitials such as popups, modals, or overlays on your website. In fact, Google doesn’t categorize all interstitials as intrusive to the user experience.

Google does however, target websites that use interstitials that are spammy, hard to close, or interrupt the user experience. This is especially true since their unveiling of mobile-first indexing.

Here are some of the interstitials that Google will target and penalize you for, especially if found on the mobile version of your site:

  • Content covering popups that people are forced to close to continue reading
  • Standalone popups that users must close before being able to access content
  • Interstitials that interrupt users as they navigate the website
  • Deceptive page layouts that mimic above the fold interstitials and confuse users
  • Welcome mats and new window popups
  • Overlay modals that are hard to close or easily redirect people who accidentally click on them
  • Intrusive lightbox ads and popups

Keep in mind that any interstitial that informs users about cookie usage, requires age verification, or uses a reasonable amount of space on the screen (whether on a desktop or mobile device) will not be penalized in terms of search rankings.

Knowing what will make your website a target with Google crawlers is a great place to start when you set out to use a popup on your website.

2. Use Popup Triggers

Some of the best popup form makers in the WordPress market have a built-in feature that lets you define when a popup, modal, or overlay will display for site visitors.

For example, OptinMonster comes with trigger options such as:

  • Exit intent that will display a popup as someone is about to leave your website
  • Scroll triggers that will show a campaign after a user has scroll down a percentage of the page
  • Inactivity popups that show up when a user has stopped interacting with your website
  • Timed displays that will reveal a popup or overlay after a defined amount of time
  • 2-step opt-ins that will display a popup when someone clicks a link or CTA button

**campaign triggers for popups (MP4)

Other reliable popup solutions include Bloom by Elegant Themes, and the free plugin Sumo.

By defining the exact moment your popups will appear for site visitors, you avoid disrupting the user experience, make Google happy, and reap the benefits popups offer those looking to grow their business.

3. Get Creative

slide-in-popup-example-2 Quick Guide to Using Popups

You don’t have to use a traditional popup to get people to convert once on your website.

Here are some of the less intrusive interstitials you can use on your site that Google will be okay with:

  • Banner Ads: thin banner ads or floating bars that lay across your site’s screen are perfect for drawing the attention of those that want to subscribe or take part in an exclusive deal you’ve got going on in your online shop.
  • Slide-Ins: rather than have a popup suddenly appear while people are navigating your site, let a small subscribe or message box appear out of the bottom corner of the screen instead. This is less intrusive and gives people a chance to convert or continue reading.
  • Inline Forms: if you have something important you want site visitors to do, especially if they’re showing interest in a specific piece of content on your website, embed a form that appears within your site’s content or create a link or CTA button that once clicked, displays the popup. Either option gives your site visitors all the control and none of the interruption that a traditional popup does.

If you want to be extra cautious about the types of popups you use, we suggest avoiding full screen overlays and welcome mats because they tend to interrupt the user experience the most, even when defined by timed triggers.

4. Trick the Algorithm

Google only devalues interstitials that appear for site visitors on SERP to site page interactions. In other words, if a site visitor clicks on your website in a Google search and experiences an interstitial Google believes hurts the user experience when they arrive, your search rankings will go down.

google-mobile-interstitial-example-1 Quick Guide to Using Popups

That said, there’s nothing saying you can’t use popups and other interstitial types on page to page interactions as people navigate your website. This way people continue to see your popups and convert, and you continue to rank well in search results.

Another possible way to outsmart the Google algorithm that says no to popups is to make sure your popups aren’t that big. 

Google marks interstitials that take up 15% or more of the screen (whether on a desktop screen or mobile phone) as intrusive. However, if you customize your popups to be relatively small no matter what type of device your site visitors are using, you might be able to “convince” the algorithm your interstitial is okay.

Though these are temporary solutions for the time being, and you can expect Google’s algorithms to continue updating, it’s a good start and will work until you find a more SEO friendly way of displaying the right messages to the right people at the right time – without being penalized.

And there you have it! 4 of the best ways to use popups (and other interstitials) on your WordPress website responsibly.

If you feel like you need some more SEO optimization for your growing online business, contact us out at Scale Dynamix

We understand that things like speed and performance make a huge difference when it comes to Google search rankings. And with powerful hosting solutions designed to help you with image optimization, intelligent caching, site security, and fast content delivery thanks to a CDN, we can ensure your WordPress website gives people the user experience they expect.