A recent announcement by Google revealed that the use of overlays (including opt-in forms) will no longer be deemed "mobile friendly". This, in turn, can affect your website's search rankings.
Following the announcement, some panic and a lot of misinformation spread through the marketing circles and we received many questions about what this change meant for our list building plugin, Thrive Leads.
In this post, you'll discover what Google's announcement is really about and you'll see the update we've already released for Thrive Leads, to help you stay compliant.
The End of Opt-In Popups?
In the announcement, Google states that the use of "intrusive interstitials" will lead to a page losing it's mobile friendly rating.
An "intrusive interstitial" would be anything that gets between the reader and the content they intended to see. Typically, this applies to overlays that display advertising or opt-in forms and cover most or all of the screen.
Reading some of the reactions to this announcement, you'd be excused to think Google actually declared the end of "opt-in popups" and perhaps the end of list building altogether.
To clear things up, let's look at how exactly this change affects your site and the use of opt-in forms:
1) The Change is Mobile Only
Google's announcement is only about search results for people on mobile devices. That means that you can continue using any kind of opt-in form you want, including Scroll Mats and full screen overlays, for visitors on desktop devices.
The changes affect only a page's ranking in mobile search results, based on what visitors on mobile devices will see on the page.
2) Popups Have Nothing to Do With It
What's commonly referred to as an "opt-in popup" is actually not a popup at all. Instead, these opt-in forms are technically modals, also known as lightboxes or overlays.
Or, in Google's own words "interstitials".
The reason this is worth noting is this part of the announcement, stating that we should also avoid:
“…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.”
What does this mean?
It means the change isn't about technicalities. Whether the "interstitial" you're showing is an opt-in form, a banner ad or something else doesn't matter. Whether it's an overlay or inline with your content doesn't matter either.
What really counts is this: is the visitor shown the content they were promised on the search page right away, or is something else in the way?
3) Screen Space Matters
You can still show opt-in forms to your mobile visitors. And you can also still use overlays. What's important is that you don't use up a large part of the available screen space.
Google provide this image as an example of a "reasonable" use of screen space:
The interstitial, in this case, would be the banner ad at the top of the screen. This could still be shown as an overlay, just not one that covers the whole screen.
Another factor mentioned is that it should be easy for the user to close the interstitial. In other words: have a clearly visible close icon on your overlay.
4) The Change is Neither Immediate Nor Apocalyptic
The announced change will take effect on January 10, 2017.
For now, nothing has changed.
Once the change does come into effect, you may still find that a page using an obtrusive, screen-filling overlay ends up ranking highly in mobile search results, though. The "mobile friendly" factor is still just one of many ranking factors.
So, even if you don't change a single thing about the opt-in forms you're using, your site won't get banned or deindexed.
5) ThriveBoxes Are Not Affected
In Thrive Leads, you can create ThriveBoxes, which are opt-in forms that appear on click. You can add these anywhere in your content and they will show up when a visitor clicks on a text link, a button or an image that you determine.
This type of opt-in form (also known as a 2-step opt-in), is not affected by the upcoming Google change in any way. If a visitor action initiates an overlay, that means it's no longer "intrusive" as Google call it.
6) You'll Lose the "Mobile Friendly" Label Anyway
The little "mobile friendly" tag will no longer be shown next to any results in mobile search, simply because the majority of pages are rated mobile friendly at this point.
To find out whether a page of yours is deemed mobile friendly or not, you won't be able to rely on the search tag anymore - you'll have to use the testing tool here, instead.
The Thrive Leads Update
If you're using Thrive Leads, we want to continue making it as easy as possible for you to maximize lead generation on your site.
To this end, we released a new version of the plugin today, which comes with a change that allows you to show a different form to your mobile visitors than to your desktop visitors.
In your Lead Groups, you can now determine whether a form should be shown on desktop devices, on mobile devices, on both or on neither and you can set this for each individual form type.
The image above shows a setup that will display a (large) lightbox overlay to desktop visitors and show a (much smaller) bottom ribbon overlay to mobile visitors.
If you have the same targeting for your desktop form and your mobile form, make sure to add them in the same lead group. Creating a "desktop lead group" and a "mobile lead group" will not work. One of both lead groups will never show. This is due to the lead groups display rules.
Eg. If you want to show a screenfiller to all of your desktop visitors and a ribbon to all of your mobile visitors you would do the following:
- Create 1 lead group (you can call this group "site wide")
- Add your first opt-in form type (eg. a screenfiller)
- Create one or more opt-in forms and add A/B tests if you want
- Set the lead group targeting to all pages and posts
- Put the "Show on desktop" toggle to "on" and the "Show on mobile" toggle to "off"
- Now, add a second opt-in form type (eg. a ribbon) in the same lead group
- Create your opt-in form(s)
- Put the "Show on desktop" toggle to "off" and the "Show on mobile" toggle to "on"
What About Desktop Search Rankings?
In the official update, no mention was made about anything other than the "mobile friendly" ranking factor.
Could Google be looking towards implementing a check that impacts a page's ranking if there's an annoying, full screen overlay shown to desktop visitors?
Perhaps, but at this point, that would be pure speculation.
Generally, the more annoying opt-in forms tend to perform better (see here and here). Because of that, my recommendation is to keep using large overlays until there's official word or strong evidence that it could impact your search rankings.
And even if that should happen, you might still be better off using opt-in form overlays, because what do you really want: more traffic or more leads?
More Thrive Leads Mobile Friendliness
To add even more of a convenience factor, we're planning to add new form templates to Thrive Leads, which are made specifically for mobile devices, along with a few more usability improvements.
For the time being these ribbon templates are the most suitable options for mobile devices.
What are your thoughts about this Thrive Leads update? Do you have any questions or thoughts about the announcement Google made? Let us know by leaving a comment!