Google’s new pop-up regulations – what do you need to know?

In 1999 I was 12.

Which means my primary concerns were whether I was allowed out on my bike and getting my football back from next door’s garden. But even I remember the mass panic that the looming millennium brought to the media, and to the technology world in particular.

The “millennium bug” sat heavy on the virtual landscape. And it wasn’t just a catchy name for the post-celebration hangovers. It was, as far as the techies were concerned, the possible end- inevitable chaos, with computer systems all over the world bound to fall into disarray when the clock struck 12.

But the clocks did strike. And nothing happened. Except for fireworks and a lot of drinking. In terms of a digital doomsday, it was a bit of an anti-climax.  

Now, I would be exaggerating a little if I said we were facing something of a similar magnitude. But there are definitely parallels to be drawn following one of Google’s latest announcements, with people across the web claiming that pop-ups, as a result of changes to their ranking criteria, face an early demise.

This, however, like the Y2K meltdown, is not true.

What’s going on then? Let’s check it out…

On January 10th 2017, Google will roll out an update concerning onsite marketing. Mobile websites displaying what Google’s new policy refers to as “intrusive interstitials” (i.e. pop-ups) will be penalized. In other words, their Google ranking will suffer.

This, as I’m sure you know, is a BIG DEAL. Companies spend a lot of time, effort and money pushing their way up the Google search results in order to deliver more organic traffic to their website. This, of course (if they are doing all the right things to convert them) helps them to secure more customers.

In other words, traffic is important and Google can often hold the key- we know this.

Which I guess makes the reaction of the tech world a little more understandable –  “the pop-up is dead!” they cried, “forsake the pop-up or your site shall be damned by the Google God’s.” Ok, maybe I’m over-dramatizing a little but you get the idea…

But before you go running to your development team, telling them to flip the switch – it is important to dig a little deeper.



We must remember and reiterate that this is an update that affects only mobile sites. So any strategic change you are considering should be towards this end only. Turning off pop-ups on your desktop site, a tool that is consistently shown to aid conversion and data capture, would be cutting off your nose to spite your face.  



Google will only penalize those mobile sites with pop-ups that stop content from being “easily accessible.” Which means the main challenge is to understand what is considered “intrusive” and what is not. At this stage, this isn’t easy, admittedly – Google haven’t yet given specific details as to what is and isn’t acceptable, but the fact that this caveat even exists, shows it is how you use pop-ups, not just the fact that you use them, that matters.

While some people are generally freaking out, I think this is a good thing. And that is coming from someone who works for a company that offers pop-ups as a key part of our offering.

Why? Because when you create a pop-up the user experience should always be first and foremost in your mind. Actually, scrap that… WHATEVER YOU DO, the user experience should always be first and foremost in your mind. That is just general good practice – if something annoys people browsing on your site, they will leave. And even worse, they won’t come back.

In fact, only this morning I was trying to read an article on my phone and the offending media site (who shall remain nameless) launched a pop-up that took up, I would say, 98% of my screen. On which I could not, for the life of me, find a way to exit. I closed down the site and didn’t try again. They lost a reader and I lost a newsource.

This is exactly what Google’s engineers want to change about how the game is played. To help me, the user. E-marketers habits will just have to adapt.

If in doubt…

Use the one guide they have provided thus far- that is the app install banners used by Safari and Chrome. These are being held up as examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space. In terms of style, they are vertically slim and sit at the top of the mobile page, away from the content the reader is trying to consume – this means that they don’t prevent you, the user, from completing whatever task it is you wish to do on the page (be that reading a blog or buying clothes).


We could summarize this with the following imagery:

For our part, we here at Nosto are working on developing additional features to make sure our behavioral pop-ups will comply with the new Google policy at the time of the update – the 10th of January. For example, we have released an option to disable pop-ups on mobile devices. 

So, sounds like we can all party like it’s 1999 and once again there will be no negative repercussions (although we still can’t help you with the hangovers…).

If you want to dig deeper, find Google’s full statement here.


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