How do Pop-up Overlays & Modals Interact with SEO?
We already know that as a general rule, search engines despite general pop-up windows and browsers such as Firefox automatically block them. There are, however, some types of helpful pop-ups that do add to user experience in which search engines are more forgiving of. First, let’s take a peek at what modals and overlay elements are and what they do.
Modals tend to be windows of interaction that pop up over currently displayed content but only allow interaction with the new element being displayed and not what is underneath. Think of a login to a website where you need to submit to continue using the site.
These are essentially visual elements that pop-up within the same browser window. For example, a window that displays a box asking to sign up for a trial subscription or newsletter.
How to Use
If you do feel that your Website can benefit from having an overlay or modal, there are several best practices to keep in mind. First and foremost, never sacrifice user experience for the sake of an element trying to capture email addresses or displaying a call to action. If you are unsure of whether or not your pop-up is negatively impacting your visitor’s experience, make sure to monitor these metrics:
- Return Visitor Rate
- Bounce Rate
- Browse Rate
- Time on Site (after element is displayed)
If you notice any significant unfavorable changes to these metrics, chances are your pop-up element needs to be reconsidered or tweaked. From an SEO standpoint, there are several factors that will impact your results:
This is a big factor for Google. If your element distracts or interferes with your site’s content or readability, especially on mobile, Google may remove their mobile friendly tags for your site and penalize you. If this happens, all the hard work put in for mobile optimization is essentially being thrown out the window and is terrible for SEO.
The proper timing is also a key consideration for search engines. If your element pops-up the second a user clicks on your site, it is evaluated differently than if it was displayed after someone scrolled through most of your pages content. Even if Google doesn’t notice or change how the element interacts with your SEO, how your users feel will have the biggest impact. An annoying window that cannot be closed or a pushy advertisement will skyrocket your bounce rate.
Google does have exceptions for how they treat pop-up elements based on what their content is. For example, an element that is requesting legal consent or one that requests a user to provide their age to continue, such as a gambling or tobacco website will not necessarily be penalized. Modals that add to the user experience such as enlarging a version of an image at a user’s request are also generally not an issue. The ones that are? Those obnoxious advertisements. Be cautious with how you choose to display a call to action, as these can be negatively penalized if considered pushy or spammy.
If you are stuck and unsure whether or not to use a pop-up element or concerned it will impact your SEO, there is a rule of thumb to follow. It’s two words: Engagement Impact. Will your pop-up add value to the user experience or will it send people clicking the back button as fast as they can? Would you find this overlay or modal helpful if you were visiting a brand’s website? If you feel that yes, it is value added, go ahead and implement. Just make sure to monitor your metrics and adjust if the numbers show that searchers feel otherwise.
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