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Google’s Mobile Popup Penalty: Here’s Everything You Need to Know (2019)

  • Conversion Rate Optimization

On August 23rd, 2016, Google announced they were making two changes to how users access content on mobile.

One was simplifying mobile search results. The other, which panicked marketers, was their crackdown on “intrusive interstitials.”

Or, as they’re commonly known, “popups”.

Doantam Phan, Google’s product manager, wrote:

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.

On January 10, 2017, the change went into full effect. Yet, despite much panic and misinformation reported in the marketing community, few sites were actually affected.

To avoid any chance of the change affecting our customers, we went to work immediately and completely redesigned our mobile editor from the ground up.

Today, one year after Google’s announcement, I want to show you how Sleeknote adapted its software to comply with Google’s interstitial guidelines. Plus, you’ll learn how you can use Sleeknote to create mobile-friendly messages—without hurting the reader experience.

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Mobile-Friendly Popups: What You Need to Know

To help you better understand how Sleeknote helps you stay compliant with Google’s interstitial policy, I’ve broken down every misconception about Google’s update, one-by-one.

Note. This is not to be confused with the Coalition for Better Ads Experience Program which began to roll out in January 2018. To learn more about least preferred ad experiences for desktop web and mobile web, read this article.

1. This Is NOT for Desktop

Google’s mobile-friendly rule applies to mobile search results.

In other words, you can create a SleekBox to engage desktop visitors only, if you prefer.

We have device specific-targeting rules to help you deliver the best user experience for all users (regardless of device).

SleekBoxes are desktop- and mobile-only by default, To make a change, go to the Sleeknote Dashboard and enable/disable the device of your choosing.

Enable Sleeknote on Mobile

2. This is Not Just For Popups

Google defines an interstitial as “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.”

In other words, this isn’t specific to on-page messaging or choice of software; it’s about your website’s entire user experience (UX).

Google is as likely to penalize someone using an oversized ad or hero image as they are using an on-page message.

Their goal, remember, is to help users quickly find the best answers to their questions, without having to scroll or have anything blocking their view.

3. Screen Space Matters

Google gets the importance of conversion optimization and lead generation. (Heck, they’re in the business themselves). That’s why they gave an example of a “reasonable” use of screen space for mobile lead generation:

Reasonable Use of Screen Space

Our SleekBoxes are conversion-ready for all mobile devices. In fact, you can even use our device-specific rule to create targeted on-page messages for mobile users only (more on that later).

How Sleeknote Helps You Stay Compliant with Mobile-Friendly Popups

Our goal, at Sleeknote, is to help you engage your website visitors and generate more revenue—without hurting the user experience.

Below are five ways Sleeknote helps you stay compliant with Google’s mobile-friendly rule.

1. Device-Specific Display Rules

Did you know our mobile SleekBoxes are more than responsive versions of your desktop SleekBoxes?

With our signature mobile editor, you can create and customize individual SleekBoxes that are mobile-specific.

It’s never been easier to create a better, more personalized experience for mobile visitors.

Take a look at the GIF below to see it in action:

Device-Specific Rules

2. Non-Obtrusive SleekBoxes

We’ve all seen obnoxious optin forms. The ones where you have to click a box that says something like “No, I don’t want to generate more leads for my business.”

(I’ll exclude examples to protect the not so innocent.)

Well, we had enough of abusive message like that, so we made it easy for visitors to close any SleekBox, at any time, with the click of a button.

With our SleekLinks SleekBox, all visitors need to do is click anywhere but the form.

Here it is in action:

SleekLinks Example

3. Exclude Return Visitors

No one wants an invitation to join a free newsletter—especially when they’ve already subscribed.

With our advanced cookie technology, you can hide SleekBoxes from existing subscribers to ensure return visitors aren’t reminded with reasons to unsubscribe.

Simply choose a condition and add “Newsletter subscriber”:

Newsletter Subscriber

This is actually a technique that we use at Sleeknote.

4. Screen Space Compliant Teasers

As mentioned above, Google allows for “reasonable” use of screen space, provided it’s used responsibly.

On mobile, you have the option to show visitors a “Teaser” beforehand, which previews the message of your SleekBox. If they feel it’s interesting and relevant, they can click to learn more.

Sleeknote Teaser on Horze

To ensure all mobile SleekBoxes qualify under the “reasonable” screen space rule, we restrict the height size of all mobile teasers.

With each new SleekBox you create, you can rest in the knowledge it’s mobile-optimized and user-friendly.

5. Use Our Smart Triggers Rule Engine

If you’ve ever walked into a store only to be asked immediately upon entering if you’re looking for something, then you’ll know how annoying unrequested help is.

Similarly, visiting a site and seeing a zero-second interstitial asking you to optin is equally annoying.

To make life easier for your visitors, we’ve created a few triggers to help engage them in a way that serves them.

Here’s a quick overview:

i. Scroll-Based Trigger

If you have content on your site and what to offer a lead magnet when a visitor has read a certain amount of a blog post, the scroll-based trigger is for you.

For example, if you know the average scroll for a popular blog post is 70%, you can create a scroll-based SleekBox to trigger just before they exit.

ii. Referrer Detection

Imagine you’re running a promotion on another site. You’re expecting a ton of referral traffic and want to maximize conversion opportunities. You know personalization is key, so you plan to address the referring site in the copy, but you don’t want to show the message to visitors arriving from Google.

So, what do you do?

With referral detection, you can create Sleekboxes that trigger by a referral URL or UTM parameter.

Pretty cool, right?

iii. Use SleekLinks

You already know the power of content upgrades. In fact, content upgrades have been known to increase conversions by as much as 785% in one day.

But did you know they’re applicable to e-commerce, too?

With SleekLinks, you can trigger a SleekBox when a visitor clicks an image or button.

Here’s an example on mobile:

SleekLinks on Lene Bjerre

The best part is a SleekLinks SleekBox is not affected by Google’s rule because they are 2-step optins (which requires users to click).

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Want More Conversion Rate Optimization Strategies?

We’ve put together an exhaustive list of 100+ conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies our fastest-growing e-commerce customers are using to turn more website visitors into buyers (organized for your convenience.)


Google’s interstitials policy concerned many marketers when it began rolling out in 2017.

But one year on, few sites have been penalized. Those who befell Google’s wrath chose to ignore Google’s recommended best practices … and paid dearly. Meanwhile, those who adapted to the change and improved their user experience—like ourselves and our customers—went from strength to strength.

Now, I want to turn it over to you.

How did you respond to Google’s interstitials update? Was your site affected? Leave a comment below.

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