A scenario we’re all familiar with is pulling up a website only to have a pop-up in your face, asking for your email before you’ve even managed to read a word of the web page. And if there isn’t a clear X button to close the box, you might very well just hit the “back” button to return to the search results rather than subscribe to their newsletter. Sometimes you manage to close the pop-up just for three more to appear as you scroll down, including videos that play automatically. We all know these types of features make for a poor user experience, and yet they’re still so commonly used.
Another common feature on websites nowadays is pop-up chat boxes, instructing you to ask any questions you might have. If you’re just starting to browse the website and don’t have any questions yet, this can be simply annoying, especially when it’s not easy to close. But worse is when you do type in a question, and the answer you get is clearly from an AI program, which gives you an automated answer, leaving you only more confused than you were before.
These illustrations make an important point about website features: Even though something may seem handy, it can sometimes harm your website. Not only does it create a less user-friendly experience, but it can actually impact your SEO as well. Google calls these features “intrusive interstitials,” and they can lower your search rankings.
Many businesses seem to think that adding new features to their website will boost their SEO and result in higher search rankings. And in some cases, that can be true. Features that improve user experience can be a great way to enhance SEO.
In the case of chat bots, which have become much more popular to add to websites, they can be beneficial to the user if they’re able to answer questions and provide useful information. But more often than not, that’s not the case. For example, if a user asks a question the artificial intelligence can’t answer, it might send an email to the business and tell the user to wait for a response. But there may not be someone constantly monitoring that email, causing the user to wait a long time, possibly days, for a response.
Sometimes these chat features come pre-loaded on website templates and have to be manually removed. If you don’t take the time to set them up properly and monitor them, this will only create more confusion for your users, and potentially cause you to lose prospective business..
If you choose to use a chat feature on your website, choose a reputable company. Since many chat companies get paid for every chat they deliver, they will use large and obtrusive pop-ups to get more users to use the chat feature. I’ve even seen some chat boxes cover up the part of the web page where the phone number is listed, forcing users to use the chat feature rather than calling—and you don’t want to do anything that makes it difficult for your leads to call you.
Ultimately, the problem is that large pop-ups of any kind can be annoying and intrusive. We’ve all had to scroll through a recipe webpage littered with pop-ups, making it difficult to read the instructions, or been blasted with auto-playing videos that always somehow seem louder than they should be. Nobody likes these features. They create a negative experience using the website.
This is important to understand in terms of SEO because Google prioritizes user experience. It knows that people don’t like intrusive features. Not only can you be ranked lower because of using intrusive interstitials, but they can also impact your bounce rate—how quickly people leave your website after visiting it. If a user is bombarded by pop-ups when they click on your site, many will simply leave rather than searching for the buttons to click to get them to go away.
Pop-up windows can be an effective way to gain leads and subscribers, but they must not be obtrusive. Why would someone who just clicked on your website for the first time give you their email right away? It’s often better to time a pop-up window asking for a subscription so it doesn’t appear until they’ve scrolled to the end of the page. If they liked the content of your page, then they can later choose to subscribe. Some websites even wait until a user has clicked through a page or two before asking for a subscription. On a psychological level, this often works better to gain contact information, as many users are protective of their information and need some level of trust to hand it over.
The bottom line is to be mindful of which features you add to your website. While a new feature may sound like a good idea, if not executed well, it can hurt rather than help your website. Do your homework to understand whether you’re using a reputable service, whether it will interfere with a positive user experience, and whether it will add something valuable to the site. There’s no point in adding new features just to add them. If you’re going to use them, do it well, and it will reflect positively on your website in both the eyes of Google’s algorithm and users.