No, Pop-Ups Aren’t Dead: Google’s New Rules for Mobile (and How They Affect Lead Generation on Your Website)

by Jan 27, 2017Conversion Optimization, Blog, Website Design

Your Top Takeaways:

  • Google is updating their rules to help websites provide more mobile-friendly user experiences
  • There are new restrictions on mobile pop-ups, but you can use smart lead capture tools
  • Smart, targeted pop-ups give you a great opportunity to increase lead conversions from your site

A lot of what we do here at 30 Lines is focused on delivering results. And not just vanity metrics like impressions or likes. Real results that translate to real business – leads, appointments, sales.

Most of our clients make their sales offline, so the purpose of their digital marketing is largely to collect leads, and schedule sales appointments. Even for our apartment clients, almost all of them offer the ability to complete a lease application online … but the vast majority of sales don’t happen until after an in-person appointment.

So we are constantly looking at ways to deliver those online leads and appointments, without necessarily spending more on advertising. We want to give the salesperson or leasing professional as many opportunities as possible to make the sale. And when we look at the things you can do to your website to capture more leads from the same traffic, there’s no question that targeted, behavior-based pop-ups are at the top of the list.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. “I hate pop-ups.”

Me too. Well, I hate dumb, aggressive pop-ups that are pushing me to sign up for something the instant I hit a website for the first time. (And the ones that keep coming back are the WORST.)

But you know what? Pop-ups work. Like crazy. Our clients who run targeted lead capture pop-ups on their websites typically convert anywhere from 75-250% more leads from their sites than clients who don’t. No, that’s not a typo.

Clients who run targeted lead capture pop-ups typically convert anywhere from 75-250% more leads from their websites than clients who don’t.

So late last year, when we saw that Google announced changes that impacted pop-ups on mobile sites, we were initially concerned that we’d have to give up a major lead conversion tool on our sites.

Here’s an excerpt from Google’s announcement that focused on improving the mobile user experience:

Here are some examples of techniques that make content less accessible to a user:

  • Showing a pop-up 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.
  • 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.

This announcement has caused some panic in marketing circles. A lot of misinformation is being spread about the new mobile pop-up rule for interstitials, and we’ve received many questions from customers and prospects about what this change meant for their sites. Some people have taken this to mean that any sites running mobile pop-ups (sometimes called “nudge marketing”) would be penalized, with their pages pushed down the search results.

With over half of searches and web traffic coming from mobile devices, anything that can impact your rankings for mobile searches needs to be watched carefully, so it’s worth understanding how this affects your marketing going forward.

With all this in mind, I want to explain what Google’s announcement is all about, and how you can continue your lead generation efforts in ways that stay compliant with Google’s rules and objectives.

Should you avoid lead generation pop-ups now?


Let’s review the Google announcement one more time. It states that the use of “intrusive interstitials” will lead to a page losing its “mobile friendly” tag. I’ll dig deeper into how they qualify this in a minute.

Somehow, people have extended this to conclude that pop-ups (and all the benefits they provide to both visitors and marketers) can no longer be used. We’ve seen multiple other marketing companies advising their clients that “Google says no to pop-ups.”

The fact is, this simply isn’t the case.

In a world of sound bytes, this is one instance where it’s worth reading beyond the headline and take the time to understand what Google is actually telling us here.

To help you better understand the changes that have been made and how you should be using lead capture pop-ups today, let’s go through the details.

1. Yes, this is happening *now*.

The changes to mobile results have already started to take effect. Google started rolling out the changes back on January 10, 2017.

If you’re doing any kind of list building or lead generation on your site (and you should be), now is definitely the time to review your strategy and make sure you’re doing things by the book. And if you’re not running pop-ups on your site, now’s a perfect time to start off on the right foot.

2. This is only for mobile devices

This new rule applies to mobile search results only.

In other words, if you’re running any kind of lead capture pop-ups targeting visitors using desktop devices, you absolutely can continue running those pop-ups. (And again … yes, you should be running them!) These might come in the form of a lightbox, a slide-in from the bottom or side, a floating bar along the top or bottom of the page, or even a full-screen “welcome gate” — any of these are still ok for desktop visitors.

You should already be targeting your pop-up offers by device to provide the best, most relevant user experience for each user. So go ahead, keep those desktop-specific opt-ins in place. Here’s an example of what a targeted desktop pop-up might look like:

Example "Extra Help" pop-up for apartment websites

There are a few reasons why a pop-up like this works:

  1. It’s visually eye-catching.
  2. It’s legitimately serving the visitor in a helpful way.
  3. The ask is clear and simple.
  4. The benefit is clearly defined.
  5. We’re capturing the lead directly from the pop-up, rather than directing the visitor off to another sales page.

(Interesting note: The conversion rate on this particular pop-up more than doubled when we added the “Desired Bedrooms” question. You want to keep things as simple as possible for the visitor, but also challenge the idea that collecting less info upfront is always the best course of action.)

3. It’s all about the real estate

What’s clear across everything Google does is that they understand the importance of lead generation and conversion optimization. They have to, because that’s how they prove the value of any AdWords campaigns you’re running.

Said another way, Google *wants* your site to generate leads for you … they’re not trying to prevent that from happening here.

That’s why they’ve provided examples of “reasonable” use of screen space for lead generation pop-ups on mobile. Here’s one that passes the test:

Yes, that’s right — Google is saying it’s perfectly fine to run a mobile pop-up. And they even give us an example of what that can look like.

Just remember to make your content and the user experience the #1 priority.

Here are other examples of things that are still acceptable:

  • Push notifications
  • Cookie usage and age verification. Anything legally required should and still can be used.
  • Small app banners
  • On-page banners and ads (similar to the new Entrata banner ads for our apartment friends)
  • Exit popups

Generally, it’s going to be best practice to ensure that not more than 1/4th of the mobile screen is taken up by anything that might cover the main content.

There are still plenty of ways to use this space effectively to help you capture more leads. So do you really want to say no to pop-ups? Only if you want to do more work to collect the same number of leads.

Say no to pop-ups? Only if you want to do more work to collect the same number of leads.

Whenever we implement a pop-up for a client’s site, we always create at least two different versions — one for desktop and one for mobile. Mobile is a different experience … different intent, way different screen real estate, fat fingers that can too easily click the wrong thing. (Admit it, you’ve been there, too.) Mobile needs to be treated differently. Which is exactly what Google is training us to do, for the sake of your visitors.

Instead of a large pop-up, consider using a slim “Hello Bar”-style floating bar to drive conversions on mobile. Again, if you’re targeting your pop-ups by device, you can have a compelling lightbox pop-up for desktop users, then a mobile-optimized floating bar for smartphone visitors.

Let’s go back to the specifics of Google’s announcement. It mentions that banners that “use a reasonable amount of screen space” and are “easily dismissible” will not be affected by the new signal. Here’s one pop-up we’re running on the mobile version of our site right now, which takes up less than 25% of the screen space:

30 Lines Mobile Pop-Up Example

Ultimately, I like what Google is doing here — they’re focused on giving the visitor the content they’re looking for … but they’re also guiding marketers toward delivering better user experiences, particularly on mobile, where both time and screen real estate are at a premium. Put more bluntly, if you want to successfully increase conversions on your website, you have to deliver a great user experience.

4. One of many, many ranking factors

Google uses hundreds of signals to determine the ranking of a page — device type, previous browsing history, your current physical location, and so on. This is just one of the many factors, and it is not a strong one.

Here’s what Google ended their announcement with:

Remember, this new signal is just one of hundreds of signals that are used in ranking. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.

Google’s goal here is to get users answers, and fast — they want to ensure that visitors get to the content they wanted to see as quickly as possible, without distractions. As digital marketers, our first goal is still to create the content that best answers the visitor’s search query right away, without excessive scrolling or anything blocking their view.

Our view on this new rule

I have had many recent conversations with customers about their pop-ups, and it’s disappointing to hear that there’s a lot of misinformation and bad advice floating around on this topic right now.

As I’ve said, I’m in favor of what Google is doing here. In our client work, we always focus our efforts on aligning our marketing with how people want to shop. This rule is a “pro-consumer” move to help improve the website experience on mobile devices, so it aligns well with our goal of giving the shopper the information or products they want more efficiently.

Google is doing this to regulate and punish “spammers” who use aggressive ads, interstitials, and overlays that typically serve more to annoy the reader and get in the way of the user experience.

But then again, we know pop-ups and CTAs work. They work really well. As long as you’re careful about how those pop-ups get implemented. We want to improve the visitor’s experience, not interrupt it.

You know you’ve been there. Aggressive “subscribe for updates” pop-ups that load right away are annoying for visitors. As a visitor to a new site, I have no idea if I want to subscribe or sign up for your coupon when I haven’t even had the chance to read the thing I came to your site for in the first place. But pop-ups that are well-timed and contextually helpful — based on how the visitor is using your site — improve the experience (and your conversions) by helping people contact you faster. In the words of the CVS marketing campaign, “Get in. Get out. Get on with your day.”

So before you accept some misinformed guidance that “pop-ups are dead”, take a look at what Google is trying to do here.

Google *wants* you to convert more online leads (preferably coming from AdWords clicks, if they had their way). Much of what they’re doing with this rule and other recent changes is guiding online marketers toward the tactics and design that best help you succeed.

How can you capture more leads while staying mobile friendly?

Conversions are a big deal here at 30 Lines — your marketing ultimately has to lead to more people contacting you, signing up for offers, and making purchases.

Here are some actionable tips and insights you can use to convert more visitors, deliver a better user experience, and stay compliant with Google’s new rules:

1. Create pop-ups that are desktop only

If you’re really not sure what to do, just create lead capture pop-ups that are only displayed to visitors using desktop devices.

2. Make your pop-ups useful

You may have noticed that I’ve referred to them as “lead capture” pop-ups. That’s because pop-ups should serve a purpose — to help interested customers contact you faster. You want to collect an email and/or phone number directly from the pop-up. (Secondary actions could be things like social follows, newsletter sign-ups, surveys, or embedded videos … but let’s face it, you ultimately want more leads.)

If you’re just displaying a “splash” image, with no immediate way for the customer to leave their contact info, then you’re just getting in the way. Enhance the visitor’s experience, don’t interrupt it.

3. Use mobile-optimized “floating bars”

Have you ever seen a floating bar (like a Hello Bar) at the top or bottom of the page? These bars are optimized for mobile and qualify under the “reasonable” screen space rule.

So rather than using a lightbox that covers the rest of your content, use a floating bar instead, like the example I shared from our own site above.

Tip: You may want to try creating a custom offer for mobile users only. Mobile users want to get in and out of websites faster — give them a stronger incentive to give you their info now and come back later when they might have more time. Again, provide a better experience based on your customer browses and shops.

4. Be smart about when you trigger your pop-ups

Nobody likes a pushy salesman who’s on top of you the minute you walk into a store. The same goes for aggressive “display immediately” pop-ups. Here are some ways to display a strong CTA to your visitor, without being so pushy:

  • Display on second page view — Only show your offer to visitors who have viewed more than one page on your site. They already saw the content they were searching for, and now they’re exploring more of what you have to offer. This method is a great way to boost conversion rates, because a person who views more content on your site is typically much more interested. Don’t let them get away!
  • Create CTA buttons or links that trigger your pop-ups — Any pop-up that requires the visitor to click a link first is not affected by Google’s rule. Plus, we tend to see that this technique leads to significantly higher conversion rates [ ] , because the visitor is already committed to filling out the form when they click the link.
  • Display based on referring source — You can set your mobile offers to only show to visitors who come from any source besides Google, or only from specific marketing campaigns you’re running.
  • Display after your content — Remember, Google’s goal is to make sure the visitor sees the content they were promised in search results, as quickly as possible, without scrolling or a huge banner blocking their view. Set your pop-ups to display after the visitor has scrolled past your content. They see all the content they wanted to see before you show them any kind of offer.

There are dozens of potential behavior-based trigger possibilities for your targeted CTAs. Your goal should be to convert the most interested visitors into leads, while offering a great user experience that matches how the customer shops.

What to do now?

If you’re using any kind of “aggressive” pop-ups on mobile, stop now. If you’re running useless “splash” images that don’t create an opportunity for the visitor to contact you, stop now. Turn these off immediately.

But if you’re not running any lead capture pop-ups on your site, now is the perfect time to evaluate the smartest way to implement them in ways that help you convert visitors into leads while delivering the best user experience.

Our team is monitoring this closely across our client sites, and we’d love the opportunity to help you add lead capture tools to your site to help you further boost your conversions. Reach out anytime if you have any questions or if we can help you increase lead conversions from your website or other online marketing channels. More leads from the same traffic sounds like a winning result to us.