The Impact of Website Pop Ups

a wooden jack in the box and text reads: Surprise! Pop ups!

Website pop-ups are a common tool in digital marketing, known for their effectiveness in capturing user attention. However, they often come at the cost of user experience and can negatively impact search engine optimization (SEO), particularly with metrics like Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS). An often-overlooked aspect of pop-ups is their potential to create accessibility issues, which is crucial for ensuring that all users, regardless of ability, can access and use websites effectively.

Pop-Ups and User Experience

Pop-ups can be disruptive, akin to a pushy car salesman, interrupting the user’s browsing flow and potentially causing frustration. This interruption not only harms the user experience but can also lead to higher Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) scores, a factor that Google uses to assess the visual stability of a webpage. A high CLS score, often exacerbated by pop-ups, can signal a poor user experience, negatively impacting SEO.

I really hate when I am browsing a website on my phone and the split second before I tap a button on the screen, the content changes (layout shift) and I click on something unintentionally. While there are different causes for this, pop ups are a common culprit.

When that happens I often leave the page and search for whatever I was searching for somewhere else. I assume that is what other people do also since this bounce or engagement rate is measured by Google and likely used to determine page quality.

Are pop ups necessary?

In some cases, pop ups are the most practical way of achieving a specific outcome. For example, if you need to comply with privacy laws through a privacy policy and a cookie notice, the most practical way of getting consent is through a privacy policy/cookie notice pop up. Since many websites have them, people have become accustomed to them and they are not so much of a nuisance anymore. 

Are pop ups effective?

While I personally despise pop ups (the kind not used for compliance purposes), they exist for a reason. They can help increase the rate at which people take action on your website especially if done correctly. I would avoid pop ups that jump onto the screen over all of the other content, as soon as a website loads. These are the kinds that Google is penalizing for CLS.

If you do decide to use a pop up, make sure it is compelling and valuable. If all your pop up says is “Join our Newsletter”, then your pop up is likely very ineffective. But if you add some value to it such as “Get 50% off your first purchase when you join our mailing list”, then you are likely to do much better. 

You can also time your pop ups to happen after a certain amount of time – they’ve shown some interest, so they are more likely to take action. Or you can show a pop up when they appear to be ready to leave your site (exit-intent).

SEO and Accessibility Considerations

While pop-ups can serve important roles in lead generation and announcements, their impact on SEO through CLS and user experience is a significant concern. Additionally, pop-ups can pose serious accessibility challenges. Users with disabilities, particularly those using screen readers or keyboard navigation, might find pop-ups disorienting or difficult to close. This not only hampers accessibility but can also lead to legal ramifications, considering the growing emphasis on digital accessibility standards.

Ensuring Accessible Pop-Ups

If you choose to implement pop-ups, ensuring they are accessible is important. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Keyboard Navigation – Ensure that pop-ups can be easily navigated and closed using a keyboard. This is essential for users who cannot use a mouse.
  2. Pop up content is also accessible – Make sure that your pop-up content is properly structured so that screen readers can interpret and convey the information accurately to users with disabilities. Adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure your pop-ups are accessible to all users.
  3. Easy to close – Ensure the close button is easily found and that it works.

For more information on pop up accessibility, please read UsableNet’s article on Pop up accessibility.

Recommendations and Best Practices

Still thinking of using pop ups? Here are some best practices we recommend.

  • Limit the use of pop-ups to essential communications to minimize disruption and negative impact on user experience and CLS.
  • Ensure pop-ups are optimized for mobile devices and adhere to accessibility standards.
  • Keep track of your website’s CLS score and regularly test for accessibility to ensure compliance with standards.
  • Analyze your data with and without the marketing pop ups. I believe that on a website, anything that doesn’t add value, takes away value. 

Pop-ups, while effective for certain marketing objectives, need to be balanced with considerations for user experience, SEO, and accessibility. Ensuring that pop-ups are non-intrusive, accessible, and compliant with web standards is crucial for a holistic and inclusive digital marketing strategy.

We’d love to have a discussion with you on how to optimize your website for a better user experience and showing up in the search results.