Google to Penalize Pages with Intrusive Popup Ads Starting January 2017

photo credit: Wilfred Iven
photo credit: Wilfred Iven

Google announced today that it will begin penalizing pages with intrusive interstitials, commonly known as popup ads, beginning in 2017:

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.

The will be implemented as part of the search engine’s continual push for mobile accessibility. Two years ago, Google added a mobile-friendly label to search results where users didn’t have to zoom to read text. After finding that 85% of all pages in the mobile search results are now mobile friendly, the label will be removed. In April 2015 Google updated its algorithm to include mobile friendliness as a ranking signal, which may have helped spur website owners to meet the criteria.

Not all interstitials will be penalized. Google identified three types that it considers intrusive: popups that cover the main content after the user navigates to a page from the search results (either immediately or while the user is browsing the page), standalone popups that must be dismissed before accessing content, and the use of a layout where the popup mimics the above-the-fold content but original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Google's examples of intrusive interstitials
Google’s examples of intrusive interstitials

While those examples may seem to encompass nearly all interstitials, Google will make a few allowances for popups that manage legal obligations, such as cookie usage or age verification, login dialogs for pages that are not indexed, and “banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible.” Google did not specify a size that is acceptable for popups but identified the app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome as examples of interstitials that use a reasonable amount of space.

The WordPress plugin directory has more than 1,000 plugins that allow users to create and manage their own popups ads. Newsletter signups, a common use for interstitials, are not exempt from Google’s penalty. WordPress users who use plugins to display pop up messages, whether it’s for coupons, membership offers, promotions, or another form of advertising, will want to carefully review Google’s size guidelines or consider a different approach for reaching visitors.


74 responses to “Google to Penalize Pages with Intrusive Popup Ads Starting January 2017”

  1. So all those sites that show you Syed Balkhi’s optin monster newsletter sign up popup thing will be penalized?

    So all those sites that show you other optin monster newsletter sign up popup thing will be penalized?

    Thank the gods.

    I personally think that any owner/admin/webmster/etc… of any site should get their computers, laptops and so forth dumbed in acid so they don’t get access to their own site but that’s just me. Good thing I don’t work for Google.

  2. WOW!

    That’s going to change the online marketing world for the better.

    :::pats self on back for not using popups of any sort:::

    Heading over to Warrior Forum right now to see all the whining (haven’t popped in there for many months). :)

  3. The one popup that annoys me the most are newsletter (and promo) popups that show within seconds of being on a site. When I see that, I don’t close out the popup, I actually leave the site when that happens. Many often covers the full page as an overlay, but even the centered popups are getting pushy. I especially hate the ones where you try searching for the “X” to close it.

    The irony here is that I have a newsletter sign-up on my site, but I chose not to tick off people with popups :) I mean, why impose the annoying popups to my visitors when it annoys me as well.

    • Not sure how you concluded that from the Google announcement.

      Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.

      It’s a tough argument to go against Google Almighty with as it’s easy to set off an exit intent popup while still technically “looking through the page”.

      They may clarify but I’d guess this is one that they’re going to leave people guessing on.

      • In this case Exit Intent would not be penalized. Or at least not Popup Makers exit intent. We have a pretty decent false positive detection in place.

        To clarify, if they are leaving the page (not just accidentally moving mouse out of bounds), then they are no longer “looking through the page”.

        So by googles own words a not crappy exit intent trigger will suffice just fine in these circumstances.

        • @Ron – 100%. I have been fielding questions about it for 2 days now. Been through the google forums & reached out to some people I know on the inside. They are mainly looking to stomp out interstitials which by definition are content blocking. Exit Intent when done properly only hits people already leaving. Hence they already saw the content and either got what they needed or were going back to find the next result.

          I appreciate the confidence you have in me though… cough cough.. ;)

        • The exit intent WILL be penalized. I speak for myself, but I doubt I am alone when I say: I HATE THAT GARBAGE and I will X-off the site immediately even if I am not finished looking for what I am looking for. I dont care what the stats say, those exit intent overlays are horrid and they need to be banned. I dont care if I am in the process of actually leaving. Try to imagine leaving a shirt store and you touch the doorknob. Some rude person jumps in front of the exit and asks you for your phone number or email address or whatever it is they’re asking for. I’d walk right over them and that is what I am doing with these overlays… Most of them are happening WHILE I am “shopping”, ie: reading the content and its extremely annoying. People need to ban it or else start losing customers.

  4. Now if they would only penalize those “Twentyfive ways to improve…” Or “12 things you will not believe” That make you load a new page for each of the Twentyfive or however many things. Commonly known as click bait.

      • Totally agree with Dave and Daniel. The worst of the worst are those page by page websites where you can even hardly find the right arrow to go to the next page. And when you click on the wrong one you get taken to another page. Wasn’t that agains your TOS Mr. Big G? Anyway, the popup will disappear, but it will make us all more creative I guess in finding a solution!

    • I have thought about creating a site, scraping that information and putting it all in one page with minimal ads, then comment on every single one of them to send people to the “less frustrating version”. Problem is, that would be theft of content, even though I am sure they stole that content to begin with….hmm actually I guess this is exactly what BuzzFeed is now that I describe it lol

  5. I think all the commentors above that are jumping for joy missed the full scope of this change. This only effects mobile sites / devices.

    IE They make no mention of using full size popups on a desktop device. Simple solution, disable them on mobile only, which will likely be the go to solution for all relevant popup plugins. Most already offer this type of thing (Popup Maker, Optin Monster etc). So doubt it will truly reduce popup usage.

    From my own stats we will only be losing ~5-10% of our popup capabilities based on current mobile site usage via Google Analytics.

    Though I imagine that is not the same for content heavy sites like WP Tavern.

  6. What’s interesting here is that Google has drawn a line between “responsible” and “irresponsible” cookie and legal popups. In their recent consultation on the next iteration of the ePrivacy directive (in layman’s terms, Cookie Law II), the EU asked two specific questions about consent processes on smart devices such as mobiles. The outcome of that consultation, and any ensuing update to the Directive, may be years away. Google’s action here is a message that they’re not willing to wait that long for a committee to decide what’s “irresponsible”.

  7. Exit popovers don’t work on mobile anyway as the phone doesn’t know where your finger is hovering. Just program your super valuable and highly relevant popovers to appear after the user visits at least two pages. Pop overs have built me a nice little business and made me lots of friends in our online communities, so I’ll be using them in the future :)

    • Troy, popovers are for desperate, greedy people who want to make more money at the expense of annoying users. Not real friends. Subscribers you can make more money from. People like WPBeginner, Problogger and anyone else who uses them .

  8. What about those “surprise scroll-down” ads? The ones where you are reading a news article then after about 5 seconds all of a sudden a hidden DIV from position top/0 eases into the screen, covering the entire page. Then says “you can dismiss this ad in 10…9…8…7…”. I hope Google punishes them severely. Or rabid crows eat out their eyeballs while they are sleeping. Either one.

  9. I’m sorry for my english.
    The Italian law on the application of legislation on cookies is severe. Many bloggers (myself included) are “forced” to install the banner to inform the users on installing any cookies on their devices. I read that for this type of banner should be no problem, will it ?

  10. I hate pop-ups as much as anyone else but telling web site owners and admins what is and what is not allowed on their own sites is not what Google is supposed to do.

    Google must concentrate on matching search intent with appropriate page content, testing for content quality and for content originality (e.g. is this a copy of someone else’s work?). Google must not be allowed to get away with penalizing sites for advertisement practices, for UX/UI design, for site features, for content placement or for the beliefs expressed within the content etc…

    As Klaas says above — and I wrote this too in a Facebook post earlier — Google is looking after its own ad business interests: it wants more revenue and will issue diktats that aid in its efforts to raise revenue. Those diktats may be dressed up as though they favor search users and surfers but make no mistake that increasingly those diktats are all about Google’s revenue.

    Google can easily display icons next to search results that indicate features of a site. An icon that shows a page has entry pop-ups, one that indicates a page has exit pop-ups, one for the average time taken for the page to load, one to display the number of ads on a page, and one for the number of words on the page. An icon system would benefit users and not unfairly penalize web-masters or control ‘allowed’ content and design practices.

    Google already displays a notice to show a site contains malware so why not extend the system? I can see no reason other than it does not benefit Google’s revenue.

    If Google carries on the way it is, we site owners, web developers and content creators will need to encourage people to use an alternative search provider, one that concentrates on search not UX/UI design or site functionality. Google must not be allowed to become a web design standards authority.

    • Site functionality *should* be a factor, though: If two sites provide comparable content related to a search, but one functions better than the other — let’s say one of them loads quickly and scrolls smoothly, while the other uses a slideshow that runs painfully slowly on most phones, and the search is being done on a phone — which site is going to better satisfy the person doing the search?

      • A set of icons that express details of a page’s functionality would work well to help Google search users decide whether or not they want to click-through.

        I consider mobile sites a hindrance to my peace of mind. I’m talking of sites like the next-to-useless mobile version of YouTube. I prefer the full functionality of the desktop site. Others prefer cut-down mobile versions of sites. It is not for me to decide what is right or wrong for other users; nor is it for Google to decide that.

        To drift a little..

        Some sites use geolocation to target content to users. When I search with I want to stay on and receive English language results from around the globe. I don’t want results tailored to my location. If I wanted UK specific results I would go to Why else would I type in

        When I go to Gmail I want to go directly to the login page. I do not want to see an interstitial landing page that advertises the benefits of Gmail. I already know about the service; why else would I click the link that says ‘Gmail’?

        Why does Google constantly display a popup to ask me to bookmark Google? I already know about Google. Why else would I be there?

        What about the huge above the fold images with sparse content that Google displays on some of its sites?

        Back on track..

        Google needs to get its own house in order before it dictates best practices to other web developers, designers, admins and content creators.

        Google does one thing then tells other website owners they are not allowed to follow Google’s example. We get penalized by Google for breaching Google’s book on good design policies, a book that Google doesn’t always follow itself.

        At what point did Google become the Web Design Police? It is a notion that needs to be killed off.

        What I like is what I like. I build my own sites the way I like them. I build sites for clients the way my clients want them (always after explaining Google’s design preferences and SEO policies to my clients). Big brand websites ignore Google’s design guidelines altogether. It is unfair that those without money to spend thousands or millions on advertisement are again to be forced to behave according to Google’s will.

    • Google isn’t telling anyone how to do anything.

      *If* you continue to use popups on mobile your site *will* be penalized. They’re not saying your site will no longer exist in Google.

      You’re talking like Google is common property – by the people, for the people.

      Reality check – Google is a BUSINESS. Period. Their #1 priority is to their shareholders. Full stop.

      As far as an alternative – that war was fought and won by Google a long time ago (Bing really is a sorry ass #2). Just ask Excite, WebCrawler, Northern Light, Lycos, Infoseek/,, Hotbot, altavista, Yahoo, Webcrawler, LookSmart, Ask Jeeves/, Snap, and more…..

      Wow – that was one helluva trip down memory lane….makes me want to build a GeoCities site and join a webring all over again. If anyone else wants to join just send me a page on my beeper and I’ll swing by a payphone and call ya. :)

      • If I said to you “If you don’t give me £1000 today I will tell all your neighbours many stories about you that will stop them talking with you and make your family think twice before visiting you.”, would I not be holding you to ransom? That would be classed as me ‘telling’ you to behave a particular way or else… The same argument applies to Google when it sets new rules that dictate the design and feature preferences permitted to be used by the websites Google displays in search results.

        I’ve already clearly stated that Google is in business to make money. I’d be silly not recognize that, wouldn’t I?

        The battle for search engine service dominance was won in the past. That is self evident. I was around in those days too. Not quite sure your point but your statement does show a defeatist attitude and betrays your feelings of hopelessness at anyone else ever overtaking Google. Running forward with your statement, as Google is the dominant search engine and as Google does control the tap (faucet) that opens or closes the flow of traffic to most websites then Google could, in many ways, be considered a monopoly or a public service and must be regulated as such.

        Google has the power to wipe businesses off the ‘Google’ internet. Google Search needs to limit itself to matching search intent to page content, leave web masters to decide how they deliver & frame their content, and leave search users to decide whether or not they want to visit a page (as indicated by little icons next to result links that suggest what will be found at the link target).

      • Are they always bad quality? What if the ad is in place to notify users of changes to the site? What if the ad displays when a user has scrolled to the bottom of the post and only asks for feedback about a post?

        I don’t like pop-ups and do not use obtrusive pop-ups on my own sites but I do see how they can be useful and do not try to impose my preferences onto other website owners (except Google, in this case, because it provides a service that can destroy site traffic).

        The owner of the site is the person who decides what to or what not to display on the site. Google should have no say in that. Let users demonstrate their preference for or not for pop-ups by choosing to or not to visit a site or by choosing to leave the site as soon as a pop-up displays.

        If I entered your house — your physical home — I would not begin rearranging the furniture or taking pictures off the walls because I dislike your taste in design or decor. A website belongs to its owner, not the visitor and certainly not to Google.

        Google collects data about websites. It has enough data to display a set of icons next to links that indicate to a potential visitor the type of content and experience to expect. Google should do that instead of trying to tell site owners how to run their sites.

        • you can rearrange my furniture all you want, I suck at it. I am being very serious.

          I am talking about INTRUSIVE ADS….

          Are they always bad quality?

          Yes, hence INTRUSIVE ADS

          What if the ad is in place to notify users of changes to the site?

          That would be called a notification, not an ad (advertisement).

          What if the ad displays when a user has scrolled to the bottom of the post and only asks for feedback about a post?

          Again, that would be a feedback request/form not an ad (advertisement).

          Intrusive popup ads are like optinmonster that a few seconds after you start reading an article that it asks you to subscribe to a newsletter or log in or whatever commercial advertising.

          Google has every right to tell people what sites to visit and what not, hence why a site will be shown first over another site for the same keyword(s).

        • Who decides what is an ad and what is a useful notification?

          Sign-up forms are notifications too. I don’t class email sign-up forms (even as pop-ups) as ads. I don’t like them (don’t know anyone who does) but I appreciate a site owner may want to display them.

          Already we have two opposing definitions of what an ad is.

          I would rather Google let me decide for myself what I want to see when I visit a site (within reason, e.g. provided the content suits my search).

          you can rearrange my furniture all you want, I suck at it. I am being very serious.

          Too lazy to do my own. Someone else can put in a bid to do that for you.

          Google has every right to tell people what sites to visit and what not, hence why a site will be shown first over another site for the same keyword(s).

          Not really. Keywords (less important now than overall concept theme of the content) enable Google to match search keywords with page keywords and thereby ‘hopefully’ list pages relevant to someone’s search. Some filtering is required but Google does not tell people which sites to visit. Google presents a list of sites to visit and tells web-masters their sites may not show in the list if they do not follow Google’s rules.

          Some of those rules I won’t argue with. No spam sites. Good. No plagiarized content. Good. No artificial backlinks. Good. No hidden text. Good. Quick load times. Good. No malware. Good. Telling people how many ads they can place, where they can place them, what features are allowed on a site and how to design their sites. Questionable.

        • At the end of the day Lee you (or I) have zero input on this decision nor will we ever. Google is in no way “telling” anyone anything. They’re only “telling” us how our decisions are going to affect our rankings.

          Google does what Google does and you’d be a lot happier if you learned to deal with it.

          They could remove every site that has the word “poop” or “bubble” on any page of the site from their index and there’s nothing anyone could do about it (which would really screw up the site – no idea if it exists – if it does, I don’t want to know).

          Again, Google is a business that doesn’t *have* to do anything (except for the obvious fiduciary duty to its shareholders).

          I, for one, fully support this decision.

          Icons, BTW, is just a crazy idea. Google is about simplification. The last thing they’ll do is put a bunch of icons next to each link with a legend at the bottom of the page so we’ll all remember what they mean. I seem to remember an old search engine that did something goofy like that years ago – just don’t remember who or what exactly they did. It’ll come to me…..eventually…..

        • @Miroslav Glavic – From a popup plugin creators perspective @Lee Hodson is 100% right. Google isn’t going to make the effort to decide if it’s truly an Intrusive Ad or a notification. They simply are going to say oops you showed a popup on page load.

          Its that impartial decision that is going to be the issue. They will penalize both types just the same.

          And from your own words

          That would be called a notification, not an ad (advertisement).

          Again, that would be a feedback request/form not an ad (advertisement).

          You completely condone the usage in those cases, but a site owner will now not be able to use either based on the wording of googles post.

          That all said, the point is mute. On one hand its google and they could care less about any of our opinions, on the other this only affects mobile sites. Disable the popup on mobile & viola you can still show them to everyone else. At least that is how google put it.

          Now every sites breakdown of mobile / desktop traffic is different, so the effects on any given site will vary, but many of my sites have less than 5% of all traffic using mobile so what do I care ;).

          But sites with >50% mobile traffic are going to see huge drops in sub / feedback rates. Meaning huge drops across the board in potential revenue, which google isn’t going to help recover. Yet they don’t seem to be following the rule themselves since their adwords popup ads don’t seem to have been targeted.

          That is in itself a major issue for me. They are willing to convert other peoples income into more profits for themselves. Yippeee for them.

        • @daniel, as others have said, if you think that this kind of ads are important to you site so just keep using them. The problem here is not what google exactly does, it is that every little fart they release is being amplified by all the SEO “experts” that just can not help site owners to build a better site that will not need email registration popups and the like at all.

          Ads are just being blocked more and more on more devices so for people that have a business that depend on them SEO is not the biggest worry they should have.

          And if you personally don’t like google as a big corp, then hurt their profits by using different search, I am sure that you can find something in which having more ads and them being more obtrusive is a good SEO….

  11. Lee Hodson makes very good points. I dislike pop ups as much as the next guy, don’t use them on my sites, for example have refused unsolicited offers to add popup ads. But google is dictating too much, this is not solely about pop ups or user experience either. Like a user will not use Google search but go to Bing to search for pop up less sites if Google doesn’t do this? Anybody actually believes this is a likely scenario?

    • I do like to use alternative searches. I’m still an editor at dmoz too.

      Your point about Google dictating too much is interesting. But, overall, they get to choose what and how they list. Just as site owners can choose what and how they manage their site. No one has to change anything for Google. But Google should continue updating, changing and evolving rather than becoming stagnant.

  12. I tweeted at the author earlier today but for everyone reading this post, this is NOT a penalty. It’s a new ranking signal.

    Google clearly states at the end of their blog post on this announcement that a page with these interstitials will still rank if their content is relevant to the search query.

  13. @DanielIser

    The “we are using cookies” thing is not a pop up, it’s a required notification.

    A “subscribe to my newsletter” thing IS a popup. With plugins like optinmonster, I haven’t even finished reading the FIRST paragraph of an article and it pop ups.

    Most people including most commenters here find those intrusive and annoying.

    Look at how many popup blockers there are around. People find INTRUSIVE popups

    If you want people to subscribe to your newsletter, put a form on the sidebar.

    If you want people to get the pro version of your plugin/theme then put a regular banner on the header or sidebar

    and so forth, no need to use popups

  14. I wish they had more details. Obviously pop up ads are annoying (especially on mobile) but I wonder if this will extend to optin forms or possibly just ones with a certain footprint. If so, a lot of people are going to have to make some changes fast!

  15. Intrusive popups always remind me of Kenye West sayin’,
    “Yo, Viewer, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but I got this message I want to force in front of you right now.”

  16. I will be glad to see pop ups die off (again). They bothered me less the first time around when sites were less commercially focused. Now, I do all I can to block all the ads, mainly to avoid videos, scripts and pop ups.

    Will commercial sites learn from this? Not likely. Greed over common sense.

  17. I’m not a Google fan, but this makes me very happy. What will make me ecstatic is when they do this with desktop views as well. I hate popups like these with a passion. They steal focus, and, depending on how long the article is, I end up having to remember a key phrase, bring up the screen reader’s find command, type that in, and, if I’m lucky, I’m right the first time and it’s not a phrase that’s used multiple times in whatever I’m reading. If it is used multiple times, it’s time to either cycle through every occurrence, or think of another phrase that might have been used, and try again. And all of this assumes that the page doesn’t refresh again and throw the whole thing off. So yeah, if there’s a way to kill off all the damn popups, and even if that way is Google putting its foot down and saying no, I’ll take it.


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