How to Use Interstitials on Mobile without Hurting your SEO Rankings

Interstitials on mobile devices will hurt your rankings, right? That was after all what Google’s latest updates were all about. But is that really the case? Did Google really make it impossible for us to grow our email lists on mobile devices?

No, not really! Google knows more about online business than any other company on the planet, and that includes our needs as bloggers. And they also know they need us to build a better web.

Which in turn means that they thought this step out more cleverly than you probably realize.

Interstitials on Mobile? What am I talking about?

Here is what I’m talking about in a nutshell: Interstitials are popups, Page Takeovers, Scroll Boxes, … In short, the term interstitials on webpages describes everything that pops up above your content and tries to convince visitors to subscribe to your email list or buy your products.

Now, interstitials have been used on websites for a long time. And they are always a compromise – they force visitors to stop consuming your content for a second to close the interstitial and be able to continue to read your awesome blog post.

And Google, in their sheer wisdom, have realized that this hurts the user experience – especially if you overdo it. This holds especially true for mobile devices.

So when Google announced their first mobile search index (which means that their index is different and leads to different rankings on mobile devices) at the beginning of this year, they announced that they would downrank sites that used interstitials on mobile devices.

Sucks, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to!

What did Google really announce?

Google won’t just downrank your site because you try to acquire some email addresses of your visitors – they know you have to do that.

Instead, they downrank you if you don’t do everything you can to not do this without hurting the user experience too much. And they are right about this: Have you ever tried to close a badly sized popup on a mobile screen that opened as soon as you opened the page? Yeah, that really sucked.

So, here is what they really said they would do:

“Although the majority of pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

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.

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

– 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.
– 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.”

The following image came with the announcement:

Interstitials on Mobile Google

I know what you are thinking: Let’s take everything down.

The thing is: You don’t have to!

Simple interstitials you can still use on mobile

Let’s start with a list of simple things you can still obviously do:

Popups and forms that don’t “popup.”

Instead of using a popup that really pops up, you can use an “embedded popup.” What this means is that you create a break in your content in which you put what would normally be your popup.

Embedded Popups - Interstitials on Mobile

There are a few things to talk about here:

  1. This should not be placed above the fold to not break Google’s new rules.
  2. You need to to make sure that it stands out – as users will be scrolling through your content and don’t need to close it manually, this won’t be truly visible to them otherwise.

There are more ways of integrating interstitials like this in your site: You can place a newsletter subscription form below every blog post, you can place content upgrades in your blog posts, or you can add signup forms for your lead magnet after a couple of paragraphs of text in your blog post.

Embedded Page Takeovers

Page Takeovers are full-screen popups. They take up the complete screen and force users to close them before they can read your content.

They are by far the best converting form of interstitials – but on mobile, in their most basic form, they are now forbidden if you don’t want to hurt your ratings.

However – just like popups, these can be embedded.

What this means is that after a few paragraphs, the visitor will scroll into your full page takeover. Granted, this won’t convert as well as if a visitor would have to close the page takeover manually instead of just scrolling out of it. But this is a lot more than nothing!

You can even go as far as having your page takeover in a parallax scrolling background to generate extra attention to it!

Page Takeover with HelloBar

This is our Page Takeover we use at the time of writing. It uses HelloBar and it performs like crazy for Lead Generation.
For mobile, this would scroll with the page and only start “below the fold”.

User triggered popups

Ok, so popups are forbidden, right?

But what about popups a user triggers by himself? Right – that isn’t forbidden.

What I’m talking about here are popups that open once a user clicks on a specific link or button within your content. These won’t hurt your rankings and are totally legitimate.

But what can you do with them? Well, easy, you can use them to offer content upgrades to your subscribers for instance. Or you can have a huge subscribe button that will open a popup.

Yep, totally legitimate!

User triggered popup - Interstitials on Mobile

An example of a user triggered popup – the lead box was triggered by clicking on the yellow box.

Scroll Boxes

Scroll Boxes are popups – but they aren’t your average popup.

Scroll Boxes are popups that only open once a user has scrolled down a greater portion of the current page he is on. Let’s say 40%.

So what happens is that a user loads your page, then starts reading and at a certain point, a popup will appear that will cover for instance the lower right (or on mobile devices, the lower half) of the screen.

These convert well – even on desktop devices. And, since they are not loaded instantly when a page is loaded, they are compliant with Google’s current rules.

Scroll Box - Interstitials on Mobile

 

HelloBars/Smartbars

These became popular through Neil Patel’s tool HelloBar. HelloBars are small bars that occupy a small portion of the top or the bottom of the screen.

You can use these to generate new subscribers through an email signup, advertise products, sales, …

Usually, the portion of the screen they occupy is small enough to not get you in trouble with Google – but to be sure, there are versions of these bars that are 100% compliant with Google’s rules.

  1. The first option would be to make it part of the page so that when a user scrolls the bar will disappear.
  2. The second option is to simply not show the bar as long as a user scrolls downwards – but show it instantly once a user scrolls upwards.

The second option is the best option for mobile sites.

How to implement all of these (without coding!)

There are quite a lot of tools and WordPress plugins that allow you to integrate interstitials into your site.

But there are very few tools that really allow you to implement all of these and even be ready to implement different versions.

However, there is one tool that simply does it all – and that tool is Sumo.

We’ve tried different tools – for instance, HelloBar and various popup plugins for WordPress, but most of them really fall short. Either they only allow you to have one kind of interstitial – meaning you have to combine various plugins and tools. Or you have one tool, that does a lot – but not all you need. HelloBar, for instance, allows you to set up quite a bit of the above – but getting mobile ready with HelloBar really is a nightmare.

Also, in my experience, HelloBars integrations with email providers are lacking. We tried to use it with Drip – and simply couldn’t get it to work as intended.

Sumo is different. Everything is simple and… just works. They integrate with about any email tool out there, and the integrations work exactly as you want them to.

Sumo does have a free version, however, to get integrations with email providers working, you have to pay.

Sumo provides a ton of tools – not just interstitials. You can analyze the content on your pages and how users interact with them through heatmaps. This can, for instance, help you figure out the best percentage to open a scroll bar at.

Sumo - Interstitials on Mobile

Sumo allows itself to be integrated into most websites – WordPress integration is achieved through a plugin.

So how do you start using Sumo?

Simple: You register an account on their site and install a WordPress plugin. Enter your credentials into the plugin and start using it.

How to Use Interstitials on Mobile Devices without Hurting Your SEO Rankings.Sumo will then show a small toolbar in the top right of your screen – which will allow you to open their tool window where you can start setting everything up.

From there you can set up your interstitials, content analytics, email integrations, …

One hint on the side – one tool Sumo provides are the best share buttons you can find in any plugin for WordPress!

Lifesaving features of Sumo

Sumo comes with a lot of lifesaving features. Here is what you can do.

  • Set up unlimited interstitials.
  • Define rules for any interstitial for when and where to show up. Want a scroll box only to appear on mobile devices and visitors from Twitter? Here you go!
  • Content analytics: Which links on a specific page get the most clicks?
  • Google analytics integration.
  • Heatmaps: How far does a user scroll?
  • WelcomeMats (their version of page takeovers), popups, Smartbars, Scrollboxes, … every popular form of interstitial is possible with Sumo – and all come in versions usable on mobile devices without hurting your rankings!
  • Many more!