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5 tips to build your email list amid Google’s mobile interstitial crackdown

By Reading Time: 6 minutes

In an effort to make web browsing more mobile friendly, and to reflect the increase of mobile usage, Google has started penalizing mobile pages with intrusive popups, or as they call them, “interstitials.” Starting January 10th, 2017, Google has begun to roll out the update.

The update is good news for web surfers, since they no longer have to deal with intrusive popups, but it leaves web entrepreneurs grieving, as popups were the main source of email list growth. Whether by offering to sign up for a newsletter, or by using the more advanced method of offering free bait to their emails.

Though the age of easy popups-for-emails has ended, that doesn’t mean that your email list growth has to stop. It just means that you have to get more creative about how to build that list. Here are a few ideas how you can build your email list, without pissing Google off.

Everything you need to know about Google’s interstitial penalty

To understand the update’s impact on your store, first we have to understand what we’re dealing with.

What are interstitials?

Google has cracked down on intrusive mobile “interstitials,” which is a fancy word that describes anything that stands between a website visitor and the main content of a site. That varies from popups to overlays to welcome mats.

What Google considers intrusive:


This means that if you have any of these kinds of interstitials on your site, you’re at risk for being penalized in Google’s search engine.

Why should you care about Google’s interstitial penalty?

You should care about the interstitial penalty, because it can severely limit your traffic from Google. This is a problem because traffic, in turn, can turn into sales. If you take a look at your Google Analytics data, then it’s quite possible that the #1 or #2 traffic source is Google. In an analysis of 18,000 online stores, 30.5% of all traffic was coming from search engines. Therefore Google plays a significant role in ecommerce, and this is a statistic worth keeping in mind and cultivating.


How is the penalty implemented?

The penalty is rolled out based on a recrawl basis. What is crawling? “Crawling” is Google’s software that sends out “spiders” to collect information for the search engine, from keywords to, you guessed it, interstitials (aka popups). It takes time, and the update algorithm will only be applied to your page once it’s been recrawled.

How much will the Google interstitial penalty impact your online store?

One month into the update, the results are mixed, and it’s currently unclear how much the update will affect your site. In some instances, publishing sites have experienced a mobile ranking drop of 10 or more places such as PCMag, a popular electronics review site, that was in 3rd place and dropped to 13 after the update. However SEO specialist Glen Gabe has reported “weak effects” after having surveyed 60 sites after being recrawled, and has stated that the algorithm update “has no teeth.”


It’s important to note that even if the update at first isn’t as effective as expected, that’s not to say that Google won’t tweak it. For that reason, we suggest being fully ready for the changes and implementing the tips we’ve laid out ahead.

Tip #1: Set your popup software to “desktop only”

Since the interstitial penalty is only applied to mobile popups, the logical first step is to turn off all interstitials for visitors who are visiting from their mobile devices.

Many popup software providers like MaxTraffic and Nosto offer the option to select if your popup will be shown on mobile devices, desktops, or both.

How to disable mobile popups for Nosto

Go to your Nosto account, choose “On-site” in the menu, and then select “Popups.” Scroll down to the mobile view and check “off” for mobile. Make sure to hit the save button afterward!


Nosto’s minus is that they don’t allow you to disable tablets, though the penalty is expected to affect all mobile devices.

How to disable mobile popups for MaxTraffic

Go to your account, select the campaign you want to edit, go to “Target visitors” and select “Desktop.”


Once you’ve disabled mobile popups, you’ll be sure that the mobile interstitial penalty won’t be applied to your online store.

Tip #2: Exchange your offer popups for a landing page

Once you’ve disabled your mobile popups, you’ll be safe from the Google penalty, but you’ll also be missing the function that the popup filled. For many store owners, that means that you’ve lost the ability to inform visitors about a special deal, a coupon code, a seasonal product line, as well as the ability to collect visitors’ email addresses, which are critical in developing a relationship to eventually guide them to a purchase down the line (also known as a sales funnel).

To maintain the ability to show your visitors a specific message, rather than directing your visitors to your homepage with a popup, direct them to a landing page that serves the same purpose.

Here are a few great landing page products:

How to use them?

  • Targeted ads that point to landing pages – not only will you be avoiding the popup dilemma, this is also a good case practice – to have your landing page content match the content of the ad
  • Social media posts that link to landing pages
  • Any online referrals that lead to the landing pages
  • Click triggered offers on your site – it’s essentially a popup that occurs only when someone clicks on it. That way you know they’re interested in the offer, and it won’t count as intrusive.

Here are some ideas of what you can put on your landing pages:

  • Free digital content in return for an email address: like an ebook, whitepaper, desktop wallpaper, and more.
  • A coupon code in return for an email address: just like you’d have on a popup, offer a coupon code on your landing page. Afterward, direct the visitors to your shop.

Tip #3: Built-in email field

If you can’t collect email subscribers through mobile popups, why not have the function built right into your site? Most Shopify templates offer this built-in feature, so all that’s left is to activate it. If you have the opportunity to get a bit more technical, you can play around with the location of the email field, so that it’s in more of a visible spot.

Pro tip: Try adding an incentive, like “Sign up for 10% off your next purchase”

Tip #4: Less intrusive interstitials


Email bar – an email bar takes up a minimal amount of space on your phone, and therefore not enough for Google to consider it “intrusive.” Test the bar out on your mobile device to make sure it’s responsive. Some services that offer this are the SumoMe Smart Bar and the Hextom email bar for Shopify.

Scroll popup – some popup services let you control when your popup will be visible. If you set the scroll popup to show up below the fold, then it will be compliant with Google’s mobile requirements.

Tip #5: Embedded welcome mats


Though regular welcome mats/landing mats are on the black list for Google’s interstitial penalty, embedded mats are not, because they technically don’t count as a popup. A regular welcome mat is a popup message that takes up your entire screen and is overlaid over the site you’re visiting. Once you dismiss the welcome mat, you access the site underneath. However the embedded welcome mat is technically inside your page, not over it. For that reason it functions as a workaround to the popup penalty.

Some products that offer embedded welcome mats:

Lesson learned – Google’s popup penalty doesn’t have to kill your email list

What it does mean, however, is that you have to put a little bit more thought into it. As with anything related to growing your online store, it comes down to the time and effort you’re willing to put into growing, developing, and getting better day by day.

Just because you’ve lost your go-to list building device, doesn’t mean that you have to stop building that list. Give these tips a try and let us know in the comments how it worked, and other ideas we missed!

Bonus: download our free ebook for more tips to get your store up, running, and profitable!

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  1. Kevin

    What’s pretty funny is as I was reading this article on my iPhone I got a pop up to sign up for your blog. Uhmmmm ya might want to follow your own advice:)

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