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Google has always had a love-hate relationship with pop-ups or ‘interstitials’. 

Since 2016, the search engine has reportedly used a ranking penalty to punish sites using aggressive or intrusive pop-ups on their pages. Of course, if you’ve been to many sites recently, you know these disruptive pop-ups are still common across the web.

In a recent stream, Google’s John Mueller clarified exactly how the interstitial “penalty” works, and why so many sites get away with using disruptive pop-ups.

John Mueller on Website Pop-Ups

During a recent Google Search Central office hours stream, Mueller was asked about the possibility of using mobile pop-ups on their site for a short period of time.

Specifically, the individual wanted to know if they would be devalued for using interstitials to ask visitors to take a survey when visiting the site.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mueller didn’t see much issue with temporarily running pop ups on their mobile site. 

Going even further, he explained that even if the site was hit with a penalty for the pop-ups, it could potentially continue to rank well in search results. 

This is because the so-called “interstitials penalty” is quite a minor ranking factor in the grand scheme. While it can affect your rankings, it is unlikely to have a significant impact unless other issues are present.

Still, Mueller says if you are going to use pop-ups on your mobile sites, the best course is to only use them temporarily and not to show them to every visitor coming to your site.

Here’s his full response:

“I don’t think we would penalize a website for anything like this. The web spam team has other things to do than to penalize a website for having a pop-up.

There are two aspects that could come into play. On one hand we have, on mobile, the policy of the intrusive interstitials, so that might be something to watch out for that you don’t keep it too long or show it to everyone all the time.

With that policy it’s more of a subtle ranking factor that we use to adjust the ranking slightly if we see that there’s no useful content on the page when we load it. That’s something that could come into play, but it’s more something that would be a temporary thing.

If you have this survey on your site for a week or so, then during that time we might pick up on that signal, we might respond to that signal, and then if you have removed it we can essentially move on as well. So it’s not that there’s going to be a lasting effect there.

Another aspect that you want to watch out for is if you’re showing the pop-up instead of your normal content then we will index the content of the pop-up. If you’re showing the pop-up in addition to the existing content, which sounds like the case, then we would still have the existing content to index and that would kind of be okay.”

Ultimately, the take-away is to not overly fixate on being penalized specifically for using an interstitial pop-up on your site. Rather, put your attention on doing what is right for your website and what provides the best experience for visitors.

If you want to hear the question and full answer for yourself, check out the video below:

When Google releases a major algorithm update, it can take weeks or months to fully understand the effect. Google itself tends to be tight-lipped about the updates, preferring to point website owners and businesses to its general webmaster guidelines for advice on an update. 

Because of all this, we are just starting to grasp what Google’s recent algorithm updates did to search engines. One thing that has become quickly apparent, though, is that one of the biggest losers from Google’s 2020 algorithm updates has consistently been online piracy. 

This is most clear in a new end-of-year report from TorrentFreak and piracy tracking company MUSO

How Google’s Algorithm Updates Affected Digital Piracy

Overall, the analysis shows that site traffic to piracy sites from search engines has fallen by nearly a third from December 2019 to November 2020. Notably, the two big periods leading to this loss of traffic line up perfectly with Google’s algorithm updates earlier this year. 

In January 2020, piracy traffic began dwindling shortly after the January 13th core update. 

After experiencing a short uptick at the start of the COVID pandemic in March, the May 4th core update then hit online pirates even harder, sending piracy traffic plummeting. 

Early indications from the public and some analysts suggest the December 2020 core update continued this trend, though it is too early to know for sure. 

Interestingly, TorrentFreak and MUSO say they corroborated the findings of their report with operators of one of the largest torrent websites online:

“To confirm our findings we spoke to the operator of one of the largest torrent sites, who prefers to remain anonymous. Without sharing our findings, he reported a 35% decline in Google traffic over the past year, which is in line with MUSO’s data.”

Is Google Completely Responsible?

It should be noted that while Google’s algorithm updates likely played a large role in the decline of search traffic to piracy sites, other factors almost certainly contributed as well. 

TorrentFreak’s report shows that direct traffic to piracy-related sites experienced a gradual 10% decline over the course of the year. This may suggest overall interest in pirating content may have fallen somewhat on its own. 

Additionally, 2020 was a unique year with less content coming out than usual. The COVID pandemic disrupted pretty much every industry, including creative industries. Music releases were pushed back or cancelled as it became difficult to safely record in studios. The closing of theaters led to the delay of many major movies, and TV creators had to completely rework how they wrote and filmed their shows. 

With less content from major studios and artists, it is highly likely users just had less available content that they were interested in pirating. 

Why This Matters

The good news is that the vast majority of business-related websites have absolutely nothing to do with online piracy and therefore should be safe from these effects of Google’s most recent algorithm updates. 

The less good news is that Google’s core algorithm updates are designed to impact a huge portion of websites around the globe, and certainly had impacts outside the realm of digital piracy. 

Still, we felt it important to highlight a real-world way a major Google algorithm update can impact an entire industry on a wide-scale within search results. 

Ultimately, the takeaway for most website owners is that keeping an eye on your analytics is essential.

If you are watching, you can respond to major shifts like this with new strategies, optimization, and even ask Google to recrawl your site. If you aren’t monitoring your analytics, however, you could lose a huge chunk of your traffic from potential customers with no idea why.

I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that 2020 changed everything for businesses around the world – no matter what industry you are in. The spread of COVID-19 accelerated the migration of small and local businesses to the internet, making having an online presence no longer an option but a necessity. 

In turn, these changes have had a massive impact on digital marketing, driving a wave of new competition and seismic shifts in how we connect with customers every day. 

For better or worse, many of these changes are bound to stick around well into 2021, influencing the ways we shop, advertise, and connect with customers for the foreseeable future. 

With this in mind, predicting next year’s search trends is a little easier than it has been in the past, with some clear indicators of what businesses need to do to stay relevant and efficient in a post-COVID world. 

The 5 Online Marketing Trends You Need To Know In 2021

The Effects of COVID Will Linger

The most obvious trend brands will need to be prepared for in 2021 will continue to be the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While vaccinations are finally rolling out and we can be optimistic to relatively soon be returning to something resembling normality, it is also clear that many shopping habits and consumer behaviors are permanently changed. 

For example, virtual events and trade shows are all but guaranteed to stick around. Now only do they provide an easier and more affordable way to bring together top members of your industry from around the country, they do it without massively interrupting your day-to-day operations. 

Likewise, many customers will continue to prefer using online ordering and curbside pickup from local businesses out of convenience well after social distancing is a thing of the past. 

Social Media Purchasing Goes Mainstream

For years, social media has been a major tool for consumers to find and learn about new products they otherwise would have never known about. Recently, though, they have been expanding to allow shoppers to not just find products, but to buy them right then and there. 

The ease of going from discovering something cool to making a purchase without ever having to leave your current app is fueling a rush to provide the best social shopping experience and this trend is only going to get bigger in 2021. 

We Are Past Peak Facebook

Facebook has been the undeniable king of social media for more than a decade now, but the platform has been facing increasing challenges that are getting hard to deny. 

In sheer numbers, the social network still far outranks any other platform out there, but a growing number of its users are aging, with younger demographics turning to hipper alternatives like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. 

Add in the continuous issues with the spread of fake news, concerns about echo chambers, a relatively recent data breach scandal, and recent calls for the breakup of Facebook’s extended network of services (including Instagram and WhatsApp) – it quickly becomes clear Facebook is past its prime and is no longer the single platform you should be focusing on. 

Video Content Is The Standard

For the past few years, my year-end lists have consistently included one thing – video content has been increasingly important for brands looking to maintain effective marketing and outreach. 

Well, call 2020 the tipping point, because video content is no longer “on the rise”. It is the standard and it is here to stay. 

While blog content remains important for technical SEO and connecting audiences with some specific types of information, the data makes it very clear that consumers prefer the quick, digestible, and entertaining nature of videos over long, often repetitive blog posts. 

At this point, rather than clicking to your blog page shoppers are more likely to check out your YouTube and Instagram page when trying to find out the details of what you offer and why they should choose you over the competition. 

Mobile SEO Is Now an Oxymoron

Since Google introduced its “Mobile-First Search Index” the writing has been on the wall. Having a mobile-friendly website was no longer an option or convenience. Mobile-optimized websites were quickly becoming the first thing anyone – including search engines – were likely to see when checking out your brand. 

With the recent announcement that Google would be dropping all desktop-only websites from its primary index starting in March 2021, the final nail is being pounded into the coffin. To be included on search results from the biggest search engine in the world, your website must be compatible with all the current mobile-friendly standards. 

With all this in mind, the age of considering separate SEO tactics and strategies for mobile users is long gone. There is just “SEO” and you must plan for mobile users if you want to have a chance of succeeding. 


We are all hoping that 2021 is a little less chaotic and a bit smoother than the past year has been. Still, even if we have the most tranquil year in history, there are bound to be a number of surprising new twists and factors in how Google ranks websites and content for users. If you want to remain competitive in an increasingly digital world, it is important that you stay up to date with all the latest from Google and be prepared to respond. 

A lot has changed at Google over the past few years, but one thing remains the same – the majority of people will click the top link on any search result page. 

A new study of over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that an average of 28.5% of users will click the top organic result for a given search. 

From there, the average CTR for results sharply declines. Listings in the second place receive an average of 15% of clicks, while third place falls to 11%. 

By the time you get to the last listing of a results page, links receive only a 2.5% click-through rate. 

You can imagine what the CTRs for anything after the first page would be like. 

Other Factors Influencing Search CTRs

Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of variance in the actual click-through rates for some results pages. In the study, Sistrix found click-through rates for listings in the first position swung from 13.7% to almost 50%. 

While the relevance of the top listing has some effect on its CTR, the study suggests another major factor is the SERP layout. 

For example, search results including sitelinks extensions significantly outperformed those without. 

On the other hand, the study found that search results including featured snippets had a significant negative impact, dropping click-through rates by at least 5% on average. 

Similarly knowledge panels reduced the average CTR from 28% to 16%.

In these situations, the researchers believe users don’t feel the need to investigate further when provided with quick answers directly within the search results pages:

“The CTR in the first two organic positions drops significantly compared to the average. Many users appear to find the information they are looking for in the Knowledge Panel – especially on their smartphones, where each time a page is loaded it takes a lot of time.“

For more information, you can explore the full study report here.

Google is making a change to how featured some featured snippets function by taking users directly to the associated text when clicked. 

Featured snippets are the highlighted search results that appear at the top of some results pages, showing a specifically relevant bit of text.

The company announced the update through its Google SearchLiason Twitter account, which posted:

“As we have done with AMP pages since December 2018, clicking on a featured snippet now takes users to the exact text highlighted for HTML pages, when we can confidently determine where the text is.”

While it is a relatively small change, it makes featured snippets even more useful to searchers (and thus, more essential for businesses to put in place). 

Surprisingly, the company says there is no additional code or special markup needed to prepare your featured snippets for this change. 

Instead, the search engine is essentially using a trick that highlights specific text by tweaking the URL for each snippet.

As Roger Montti explained over at Search Engine Journal, this is a feature previously used for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which has the dual benefits of being easy to implement and trackable.

A new survey of over 900 Americans suggests many business owners may not understand the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), such as how Google ranks websites.

Compared to non-business owners, the 394 business owners surveyed were slightly more informed – though both groups showed a clear knowledge gap.

Based on the survey results, almost 1 in 4 business owners and more than 2 in 5 non-business owners said they were not at all or only vaguely familiar with SEO.

When asked specifically about how Google ranks pages, over 1 in 3 business owners and more than half of non-business owners said they had little to no understanding of the process.

As Fractl, the company behind the survey, explains:

“Not only does that mean they might not be implementing the most effective content strategies and optimizing their websites appropriately, but they’re also likely missing out on low-hanging fruit, like improving site speed and considering site structure.

The good news is that if they learn about SEO now, they can make leaps in the right direction that will help them against their competitors.”

How About an Actual SEO Quiz?

Rather than entirely relying on self-reporting, Fractl also gave survey participants a simple 8-question quiz on SEO. When the scores were averaged, business owners received a 48.7% on the quiz, while non-business owners scored a 38.7%.

Notably, the majority of the survey participants said they believed SEO is either “moderately” or “very” important to the health of their business, indicating a disconnect between the desire to learn and having the time or access to resources to do so.

As the study concludes, “With greater SEO knowledge, companies can see massive gains in their marketing and sales goals and establish a foundation for greater long-term growth.”

If you’ve ever doubted the power of search engine optimization, just look at the events playing out surrounding the recently released movie Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). 

After the film significantly under-performed on its opening weekend, Warner Bros. has decided to revise the name to the simpler Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey for better SEO.

As the company explained to The Verge this week, the new title places the popular character’s name at the front of the title instead of hiding it towards the end. The idea behind is a “search expansion for ticket sites” to make the title easier to find for movie-goers who may be less familiar with the Birds of Prey title.

Attentive watchers noticed the change occurring three days after the film’s release across numerous ticket sites.

Did SEO Tank Birds of Prey?

It is too early to really tell how big of an impact the change will really have to the movie’s success. There is some evidence that Google and other major search engines were already surfacing information about the movie and ticket availability when just searching “Harley Quinn” before the change took effect.

Image Source: George Nguyen/Search Engine Land

The revision could actually cause more confusion, as many details about the movie – such as its YouTube trailer – still show the original movie title.

However, the power of SEO and branding can’t be ignored. Studies have shown that more than half of consumers only click on brands they are familiar with within search results. It is also hard to gauge exactly how many potential film goers were turned away or frustrated by irrelevant search results before the change took place.

Either way, the events following the release of Birds of Prey provide a real-world example of how SEO and branding affect the viability of even the biggest products.

A surprising competitor has entered the arena of search engines, as Verizon Media has announced the launch of its privacy-focused search engine called OneSearch.

The search engine says it will not track, store, or share any data from users including personal and search-related information, aligning itself more with search engines like DuckDuckGo than Google.

The search engine is available now at OneSearch.com.

While DuckDuckGo may be more established, OneSearch hopes to make it easier for businesses committed to privacy by integrating the search engine with existing products.

As the company explains in the announcement:

“OneSearch doesn’t track, store, or share personal or search data with advertisers, giving users greater control of their personal information in a search context. Businesses with an interest in security can partner with Verizon Media to integrate OneSearch into their privacy and security products, giving their customers another measure of control.”

The search engine is also taking privacy a step further by adding an “advanced privacy mode” which delivers search results via encrypted links which will expire within an hour.

In the announcement, OneSearch highlights their full suite of privacy-centric features, including:

  • No cookie tracking, retargeting, or personal profiling
  • No sharing of personal data with advertisers
  • No storing of user search history
  • Unbiased, unfiltered search results
  • Encrypted search terms

As OneSearch promises not to sell users’ data, it will instead rely on advertising to provide its search engine for free. Rather than using users’ browsing data, the search engine says it will show ads based on contextual data such as the current keyword being queried.

Currently, the search engine is only available in North America on desktop or mobile browsers. The company says it plans to expand the search engine to other countries soon and will be launching mobile apps for Android and iOS later this month.

Are you an SEO beginner or a business owner trying to get a grasp on the basics of online optimization? Google is launching an animated YouTube video series called “Search for Beginners” aimed at you, with the goal of explaining the concepts and techniques behind beginner-level SEO.

Google described the series, saying it is:

“… a new fully animated series for anyone who is interested in learning the basics of creating an online presence and the right Google Search tools to help customers find their website.”

The “Search for Beginners” videos will be released every two weeks and cover a wide range of topics including:

  • How Google Search works
  • Frequently asked questions about search and discoverability
  • How to change what’s showing up in snippets in Google Search
  • How to correct inaccurate information about a business
  • How to set goals for a website
  • Tips for hiring a web developer
  • Tips for hiring an SEO specialist
  • Top 5 things to consider for a website

Best of all, the videos are designed to be able to stand on their own, meaning you can check in on particular topics of interest or watch every installment.

You can watch the first episode above or subscribe to the Google Webmasters channel to be notified as each new episode is released.

Google has announced they will be rolling out a broad update to their core search algorithm starting later today. 

While the updates are a regular part of maintaining and improving the company’s search engine, Google has typically been reluctant to give advance notice before the update has rolled out. In some cases, they have even been unwilling to address algorithm updates in-depth after their implementation. 

This is only the second time the search engine has announced a broad core algorithm update ahead of time, suggesting they are being more proactive in communicating with webmasters. 

Google’s Danny Sullivan says the update should start very soon and will take up to a few days to complete. 

The company’s announcement didn’t add any new guidance or recommendations for managing your site during and after the rollout of this update, but Google did recommend reviewing the existing guidelines for core updates:

  • Widely notable effects are to be expected, which can include drops or gains in search rankings.
  • Core updates are “broad” in the sense that they don’t target anything specific. Rather, they’re designed to improve Google’s systems overall.
  • Pages that drop in rankings aren’t being penalized; they’re being reassessed against other web content that has been published since the last update.
  • Focusing on providing the best possible content is the top recommended way to deal with the impact of a core algorithm update.
  • Broad core updates happen every few months. Sites might not recover from one update until the next one rolls out.
  • Improvements do not guarantee recovery. However, choosing not to implement any improvements will virtually guarantee no recovery.