Using Interstitials, Pop-Ups or Overlays On Your Website?

Using Interstitials, Pop-Ups or Overlays On Your Website?

Why you need to take care to avoid Google penalties

I’m prompted to write this short blog in response to the number of dentists adding intrusive interstitials, overlays and pop-ups to their websites. They often do this in response to their marketer’s advice that such tools will enhance patient enquiries, but unfortunately they go-ahead without realising the harmful effect that this can have on their Google ranking.

Let’s take a closer look at what these tools are and why Google can seriously penalise your website unless you take great care in how you implement them.

The Interstitial

You can think of this as a dummy page that is presented to the user before they reach the content they were actually looking for. This is very intrusive and often prompts the user to hit the browser back button or worse, skip away from your website completely. The dummy page simply blocks the desired content either for a period of time or until the user clicks to dismiss it.

Marketers will often use this technique to show an ad or perhaps a sign-up form; hoping to grab the user’s attention or grab their email address before they continue.

The Overlay

This is similar to the full-blown interstitial in that it typically appears as soon as the desired web page loads; however not all of the underlying content is obscured. The overlay normally advertises something or prompts for a user sign-up before needing to be clicked to remove it. So the overlay appears within the same browser window.

The Pop-Up

This is perhaps the worst-case scenario and tends to occur unexpectedly, typically opening a new window with some unwelcome content. This really is bad for user experience and is immediately on Google’s radar for penalisation.

The Modal

Models are often explained as “windows of interaction” and tend to present when a user has been on a page for a few seconds. So they don’t completely obscure the content below them but do obscure some of it until some action is taken e.g. a contact form is submitted or the modal is dismissed by clicking.

This implementation can be OK but how you implement it is still extremely important. Get it wrong and you can still be penalised as we will see in a moment.

Why does Google often penalise these features?

When evaluating this it is worthwhile remembering that Google is really keen on promoting websites which offer the best user experience and conversely penalises websites which implement features which compromise that experience.

Looking at how the various types of interstitials, pop-ups, modals etc typically operate, it’s simple enough to see that they work by interrupting a user when they are trying to view content. In the worst case this is actually when a user is blocked from getting to where they want to be on a website before they interact with the pop-up etc.

Where the feature is particularly intrusive, you can fully expect Google to penalise it, sometimes even relegating the complete website in the search results. Indeed it is widely accepted that any feature of this nature will have at least some adverse effect; albeit some implementations will be much worse than others. Here you would need to be sure that for example, a drop of a few places in Google due to implementing pop-ups, is actually worth any additional conversions that arise.

What I would argue is that accepting any drop in Google rankings to implement pop-ups or similar features is not worthwhile. This is simply because a website where the navigation and content is structured properly should not need pop-ups or other intrusive features to secure enquiries. However, some website owners still opt to use them, but I would suggest few of them actually understand the implications and pay-offs.

Best practice if you must use pop-ups, modals etc

Firstly it should be reiterated that some features of this nature, e.g. the traditional pop-up in a blocking new window, should not be used at all as they will attract the harshest of Google penalties. Similarly, any feature which is presented immediately and overlays even some of the main page content, is also likely to be classed as intrusive and be penalised to some degree.

So if you wish to deploy a feature of this type, something like a modal, where the page content appears in full first with the “pop up” sliding into view some seconds later, is less risky. However, the size of the feature, how much content it obscures, when it is presented and hence how little impact it has on the user experience, all play a significant part.

A word on mobile view

Of course all of the above is exacerbated on mobile view where it is very easy to introduce a very invasive pop-up even where you didn’t really mean to. So be ultra-cautious here as you may get a very nasty surprise when Google penalises your website!

New Google algorithm update in 2021 – additional implications

Whilst Google first started to look at controlling intrusive pop-ups and modals etc 3 years ago, there are new search algorithm updates planned for May 2021 which will likely be even more punitive. These updates cover page experience and “core performance vitals” in even closer detail and will reward websites which really present the slickest user experience.

Any feature, including the best implemented modal, could easily cause more problems than they’re worth and hence I would strongly urge caution before you decide to use them. The golden rule here will be that unless it’s absolutely essential, then get rid – remember that an expertly constructed web page will achieve the same effect and probably rank much better too!


Pop-ups are quite a popular tool used by some dental marketers, for example to gather email address or to try to stimulate enquiries. However, even the best implementation relies on a degree of intrusion and interrupting the user’s flow through your website. Google has recognised this and there is a risk that your web page will receive a ranking demotion, even in the best case. So please be extremely cautious, particularly in light of even tougher algorithm updates being introduced by Google in May 2021.

As a minimum you need to evaluate your website performance in the search results before and after implementing features like this and be prepared to remove them if required. Best case is to avoid if you can and revisit how the web page is built to optimise user interaction that way.

Need help? Please call the web team at Dental Media on 01332 672548 for guidance.