For basically twenty years, pop-up ads have been considered one of the biggest problems with online browsing - at least for the users. On the advertisers' side, they were seen as one of the safest and most reliable forms of online advertising. This has resulted in an escalating technology race, with user-side applications continually looking for ways to block pop-ups, and pop-up creators looking for ways to bypass those blocks.
Well, if you or any of your sales partners are heavily invested in pop-ups on your websites, the debate may have finally been settled - and not in your favor.
Google recently announced that it will soon start cracking down on websites utilizing certain forms of pop-up ads. While this is not yet a blanket attack on all pop-ups, it seems very likely Google will continue down this path. The pop-up ad may finally be doomed.
(And good riddance, as far as we're concerned.)
So, let's take a look at what's changing and how it may affect the online advertising you and your partners engage in.
The Death Knell For Pop-Ups: Google Gets Serious
The nitty-gritty is this: Beginning on January 10, 2017, Google will begin seriously downgrading the search engine ranking of websites using intrusive "interstitial" style pop-up ads.
You've undoubtedly seen interstitials in your own browsing. Those are ads which pop up over the full webpage, obscuring the underlying text and usually graying-out the page beneath. These interstitials have to be manually dismissed by the user before the underlying content can be seen. This includes both pop-ups which appear immediately upon loading a webpage, as well as those which occur once the visitor is partway down the page.
The blog post doesn't specify whether end-of-page interstitials are also included in the ban, but it seems likely.
There are very few exceptions. Pop-ups to allow access to password-restricted areas of a site, or those required for legal reasons (ie, adult content gating for minors) are unaffected. Otherwise, Google wants advertisements limited to a reasonably small amount of screen space that does not interfere with users viewing the page... or else.
Why Did Google Do This?
Unsurprisingly, this move has made some people angry - people who have invested heavily in pop-up ads. Further, it's probably the most extreme content-restriction Google has ever implemented. Most of their previous bans have been on blatantly unethical or illegal behavior.
First, there's their stated reason: Google's focus is, and has always been, on user experience. Their goal is for the highest-ranked pages on their site to be those which are most user-friendly, relevant to search queries, and easy to read. They've never shown too much consideration for marketers, assuming (correctly) that online marketing will adjust to suit their search engine.
And users undoubtedly find pop-ups incredibly distracting.
However, there's also a deeper problem Google is facing, along with anyone utilizing any form of traditional online advertising: Use of ad-blockers among everyday users is skyrocketing. Current estimates are that over one-fourth of ALL online users now deploy some form of ad-blocking software. And those numbers are going up rapidly.
Basically, traditional online advertising has become widely seen as so intrusive by visitors that user-side solutions are trying to block ads entirely. Unless something happens to drastically reduce that annoyance factor, the entire online ad industry could be facing huge disruption in just a couple years.
So to a certain extent, killing pop-ups could be compared to cutting off a gangrenous limb to save the body.
Alternatives For Helping Your Partners' Strategies
Since this doesn't go into effect until January, you've got a few months to prepare. However, we strongly advise you begin talking to your partners about this ASAP.
Here are some alternatives to pop-ups to consider instead:
- Traditional top-bar and side-bar advertisements. These are still quite visible, just not as intrusive.
- Stronger end-of-page calls to action. Why ask people to sign up for your newsletter before they've even seen your content? Push for it at the end of the article.
- Precisely-targeted advertisements through content networks like LinkedIn or Facebook ads.
- Retargeting strategies.
- Mid-page banners. As long as they aren't pop-ups, Google isn't targeting on-page advertisements placed midway down. They're also far less disruptive to reading than interstitials.
Finally, the bigger picture is this: Traditional ads may not be salvageable, if the push for ad-blockers continues. It may be time to have some serious discussions about making organic lead-building your primary marketing focus. That is, inbound content marketing, social media outreach, Reddit Q&A sessions, and similar efforts. Start talking to your partners about whether it's time to abandon last-century "push messaging" strategies altogether. Being ahead of the curve here could seriously pay off in a couple years.
Whatever path you choose, big changes are coming to online ads, and January 10 is the deadline. Be ready.
If your channel team is considering a new strategy for supporting sales partners, our Channel Program Blueprint may help.