Jan 05 2017
popup doomsday

How Google’s Upcoming Algorithm Change Will Affect Almost Every Online Retailer

In the 90s, you could navigate to almost any site and there would be some sort of popup that would open up an entirely new window, often an advertisement. Eventually, consumers became overburdened with these popups, and browsers shifted to include tabbed pages and anti-popup measures.

However, once again we have found ourselves in the same shoes as in the past, except popups appear on the screen you’re on or more specifically as interstitials. Google, being the user-focused company that it is, has decided to curb this measure with an algorithm update on January 10, 2017, which will effectively ding or hurt a retailer’s site if they continue to use popups that affect user experience.

Though the details are still minimal, our partner AddShoppers has been investigating what this will mean for all of us using interstitials, and how brands can still acquire users within the same scope. To get a better understanding of what this means for retailers, we spoke with AddShoppers Co-founder Chad Ledford on how to prepare for “popup doomsday.”

What is “Popup Doomsday,” or rather, changes coming to Google’s algorithm?

Chad: The only thing Google specified is that this will affect the mobile surge index. If you have an intrusive interstitial, it will affect your mobile index ranking. The primary index was desktop, but will now be moving toward mobile (due to more traffic).

Having an interstitial (popup) over the next 12+ months will likely impact rankings. If it requires engagement from a customer prior to getting to content, that appears to play a role. The size of the popup itself also appears to be a contributing factor, as Google’s examples show a popup that took over 50% of the screen as something retailers should not do.

BA: In short, if a consumer has to close out of something or it takes away from the experience, Google will likely ding your site.

How many sites and retailers are using popups for user acquisition?

Chad: Pretty much everyone, except luxury brands (Nike and lifestyle brands) that are not on brand to use them. For mass-merchant and direct-to-consumer, probably 80-90% may be using them.

How are some brands currently coping with or adjusting to the impending changes?

Chad: The way most brands are combating the change is by not showing popups on mobile. Or, they can trigger them after engagement (two or more pageviews). That’s a bandaid. Our [AddShoppers] solution is to completely get away from them. People really don’t like popups. Our goal is to completely get away from it as a marketing strategy and give people alternatives.

There is still an awareness issue. How are people and your clients reacting when they find out how this could affect them and their consumers?

Chad: After learning about the changes, they quickly agree that they need to turn popups off on mobile, and as soon as you make them aware, they turn it off. Then, when presented with an alternative, they get excited about it and want to get on board. Right now, we’re seeing the basic adoption curve model. The people looking beyond popups will be the early adopters, but once we start getting more data in, we will see a larger audience jump in.

How do you think Google will monitor this policy change?

Chad: Google will police this based on how long it takes the customer to interact with the popup (based on when they start to scroll). They also have the ability to read javascript that lives on the page. Google will be looking for things like a close button or other signals that there are interstitials in place. Google isn’t the only one making this change. Microsoft will be dinging sites for this, and it’s also against Facebook’s advertising terms to use them on a site connected to an ad.

What are some alternative solutions to popups?

Chad: One solution that we have found to receive both higher conversion rates and positive feedback is a persistent top bar or bottom bar that would live on the page. Persistent bars are also more ingrained in the site and still get the message across. Our platform, our portal, is a messaging tool for the brand, too. By having a notification appear on their site that goes away automatically or can be swiped away, it improves the interaction. That’s where we are headed. We’re created a mobile-first notification, but brought to desktop and the mobile web.

We’ve seen an 8-9% increase in emails due to the notification style option versus a popup. We A/B tested a lot of versions of this, and are getting higher capture/engagement rates by going to a softer approach. But, it’s also new, so the customer hasn’t seen it before and they want to engage with it. Most marketing tactics probably get a bit stale after 6-7 months, too. It’s the nature of the field that we’re in.

Some browsers like Google Chrome allow for site notifications, would those work?

Chad: There are more in play, but consumers have to opt-in. It’s also an indicator that Google is ok with notifications. Our system does something similar, but you do not have to opt-in first. For the Chrome version of that, from what we’re seeing, works well for those that opt-in. Not many use it and it doesn’t really scale.

Stay tuned to our blog as we’ll soon be announcing the date of a webinar with AddShoppers. Once the algorithm change has taken hold, we’ll be able to better assess what effect it has on retailers through a data-driven approach. Until then, you can learn more about AddShoppers’ popup alternatives on their site.

Elliot Volkman

Digital Marketing Manager

Elliot is Blue Acorn's Digital Marketing Manager. He hold a master's degree in communication from Gonzaga, and has several awards for journalism and digital marketing. In his spare time he is a long-distance runner and triathlete.


Jan 05 2017

So will google ding sites using double click aka google surveys blocking your reading experience until you answer? And if not, could that be considered an anti-competitive move?

Elliot Volkman
Jan 12 2017

Hey there Doug – Google was vague in how they will be deciding what gets dinged and how they track the popups. If it’s on desktop, in theory it should be safe for now, but it’s hard to say until our data comes in. If you have a website where that is being used, feel free to send it our way and we can track to see if the ranking gets a hit over the next 30 days or so.


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