SEO & the Risky Practice of Using Popups

Popups are an effective way to capture the attention of users but they often leave a great deal to be desired when it comes to user experience (UX).

UX, of course, isn't the only concern. 

It's common for popups to cause problems with search engine optimization campaigns as well (speaking from personal experience). If your enterprise relies on organic/natural traffic however, should you manage the risk and employ this practice anyway? 

It ultimately ends up being about "risk and reward" but it is not out of the question that Googlebot may give higher priority to content in pop-ups over the content behind/beneath it. 

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In a Google Hangouts several weeks ago, Google's John Mueller did reveal that it is possible that a pop up can be looked at by Google as the primary content on a page. That could result in a drop in traffic as Google may believe that the content of a page has changed and will then rank that page lower as a result as there is often less content and fewer links pointing inbound to that specific content. 

Below is a transcript snippet from the Hangouts: 

"I think, just from a usability point of view, if you put this in front of a user before they're even able to see what you offer, it's probably counterproductive, in that you're not really getting the most value out of that.

On the other hand, if you can tell that someone is already browsing your website, and they're looking at stuff, or maybe they're reading through a longer page, then maybe it makes sense to let them know, hey, if you really like this, is a great way to kind of keep in touch, stay up to date with the new changes. And maybe that makes sense to kind of, like you said, delay it into the session."

When asked whether Googlebot might give higher priority to the content on the pop-up instead of the content behind it, Mueller's straightforward response might frighten SEOs from every employing pop-ups again. 

"That can happen, yeah. That can definitely happen."

Have you ever experienced a drop in rankings or traffic that you suspect has been the result of using a popup? Share your experience with other Website Magazine readers below!