On January 10th, 2017, Google updated its mobile-friendly search algorithm to add smartphone content visibility as a ranking signal.
Websites that use pop-up boxes (called Modal Forms in ConvertKit) may find that their website does not perform as strongly as it used to in mobile search.
Note: Google uses the term "interstitial" instead of pop-up or modal. For ConvertKit's purposes, you'll want to use the word "modal" or "slide in".
What's the point of changing things?
Well, Google’s intent is to ensure that mobile searchers can easily access the content they expect to see when they land on a page from Google’s search results. As announced in the Google Webmaster Central Blog:
“While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by [a pop-up Form]. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.”
What qualifies as an intrusive pop-up by Google’s definition?
Here are some examples straight from Google:
It's not black and white, but the following criteria may impact the mobile rankings for a page, according to Google’s Webmaster Central Blog:
Showing a pop-up that covers the main content, either immediately after users navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.
Keep in mind that your personal opinions of what is and is not intrusive don’t apply here. Google owns the definition and the enforcement of that definition in the search rankings.
The Webmaster Central Blog also shows examples of pop-ups that are acceptable and don't affect mobile rankings:
Now for the good news:
There are a few ways around these changes that are already built into ConvertKit:
Set the modal or slide-in Form to desktop only
Set the modal to trigger based on a user engagement that indicates intent (For example, add a button to the homepage)
A modal or slide in that occupies the entire screen that is based on an intentional user action and has a way to exit should be fine under these new guidelines.
Things like a welcome mat from AppSumo, a modal, or a slide in that comes up after 5 seconds or 50% scroll (all turned on for mobile) could all impact your mobile search rankings and should be avoided moving forward.
Google offers a mobile friendly test tool to see how your website stacks up to the new rules. Check it out!