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Google To Crack Down On Popups And Interstitials On Mobile

PopupsAs I’m sure you’re already aware, mobile is fast becoming the platform of choice for content consumption and search. Publishers have received the message loud and clear. In a recent blog post, Google announced that the majority of mobile searches return results that it considers mobile-friendly.

However, the news isn’t all good. The search giant is concerned that many sites are using interstitial advertising and modal popups to hijack users’ attention as soon as they land on a page.

In response, Google is once again pulling out its search-ranking stick to punish sites that provide a poor experience on mobile. From next January, sites that immediately obscure content with interstitials and popups will do worse in the SERPs than sites that don’t.

“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”

Those who argue that popups and interstitials don’t degrade user experience are unlikely to find many who agree with them. Users who click on a link in the SERPs are almost certainly not interested in a full-page advert or an email signup form. They want the content and they want it immediately. Presumably, Google has metrics that indicate users who find that content is blocked when they arrive at a site don’t stick around for long.

Popups are especially annoying on mobile, where it’s often difficult to find or activate the link to close the popup or move to the content page.

However, popups and interstitials have proven an effective technique for publishers. Content-obscuring elements generate higher conversion rates than subtle advertising that is easily ignored — although some would argue that such conversions are of a low value.

There are some exceptions to Google’s disapproval of popups and interstitials: cookie permission popups, legal age warnings, and other legally required messages will not attract punishment.

It’s also worth mentioning that Google is fine with app install ads and banners that don’t obscure content or consume the entirety of the above-the-fold area of a page.

Furthermore, Google stresses that the signal will apply to pages “where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results”. Many sites track mouse movement to show popups when it appears a user is about to navigate away from the page, or use scroll tracking to display popups when a user has scrolled to the end of a page. It seems Google doesn’t have a problem with these techniques, just those that immediately obscure content when the user clicks from the SERPs.

Ultimately, whether to follow Google’s “advice” remains the decision of site owners. The new negative ranking signal will be one signal among hundreds. A site with great content that would otherwise rank high for a query isn’t likely to be substantially impacted, all else being equal.

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Facebook Brings The Buy Now Button To Messenger

Buy NowWith the release of Messenger Platform v1.2, including a new “Buy Button” for Messenger, and the improvement of its enhanced CTAs, Facebook continues to build out the eCommerce capabilities of Pages, the Newsfeed, and now, Facebook Messenger.

Not long ago, the social media giant introduced enhanced call-to-action buttons for Facebook Pages and the Newsfeed, which eCommerce merchants could use to send Facebook’s users to their eCommerce store. But it’s in Facebook’s best interest to keep users within the Facebook ecosystem as long as possible, and that means letting them buy without clicking away to an external retailer’s site.

Facebook recently augmented its platform’s eCommerce capabilities so they integrate smoothly with the company’s other big push: mobile messaging.

Messenger Native Payments from Facebook on Vimeo.

When I’ve written about social media eCommerce in the past, I’ve expressed mixed feelings. On the one hand, eCommerce merchants benefit from Facebook’s massive user base, advertising clout, and a simple conversion process. On the other hand, as publishers have discovered, being overly reliant on a single platform has risks.

Until a couple of years ago, Facebook’s Pages were largely inert — they were great for directing social media users to a store’s web presence and for building an audience, but if users wanted to make a purchase, they had to leave Facebook and visit the merchant’s store.

With the introduction of the “Buy Now” button and other calls-to-action on Pages and in the Newsfeed, the potential of Facebook Pages changed enormously. Merchants can sell direct from Facebook with the minimum of clicks. Those capabilities have now been extended with the addition of a call-to-action that opens a conversation in Messenger.

Once in the Messenger app, customers can interact with a retailer’s bot and make a purchase with the “Buy Now” button. Facebook now offers eCommerce customers a seamless journey from a merchant’s Page to the Messenger app, and from there to a purchase with a couple of clicks.

With over a billion users, it’s exciting to see that Facebook’s ambitions for Messenger go well beyond the chat apps of old. It’s now a powerful eCommerce platform that allows merchants to sell direct to customers using an application that’s already a major part of their daily lives.

Nevertheless, I’d caution eCommerce retailers before they put too many eggs in Facebook’s basket. Facebook is becoming ever more impressive as a sales platform, but it’s a platform that will never be entirely under the control of retailers, unlike an owned asset such as a Magento store. Social eCommerce should be one part of a broad eCommerce strategy that leverages multiple sales channels, including a wholly-owned online storefront.

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Browser Push Notifications For Your WordPress Site

Push NotificationsI’m a heavy user of RSS. Every day, I peruse dozens of websites in my feed reader, searching for content by writers and publishers that have, over many years, created content that appeals to me both professionally and personally. I know this is an unusual habit these days. RSS use has declined, and many sites no longer offer an RSS feed at all. Instead, they rely on Twitter and other social networks. But Twitter isn’t a replacement for RSS — Twitter feeds are too hectic and crowded.

There is no direct replacement for RSS, but push notifications provide some of the immediacy and reliability of RSS for a site’s most committed users — those who want to know as soon as a new piece of content is published.

Typically, this will be a small proportion of the site’s users — those who are happy be interrupted every time an article is published — but the most engaged and loyal users are often happy to opt-in to push notifications.

Web Push Notifications

To be clear, in this article I’m talking about browser push notifications, not the mobile push notifications managed by iOS and Android. It is possible to create WordPress mobile push notifications, but it usually requires users to install an app, either a third-party notification app or an app created for the publisher.

Browser push notifications let users receive notifications while their web browsers are open. Safari, Firefox, and Google Chrome support push notifications on the desktop, and Chrome supports them on Android.

When a user visits a WordPress site that offers push notifications, it will present them with a dialogue asking if they’d like to opt-in to browser notifications. If they choose, they’ll receive notifications whenever an article is published.

There are several web push notification solutions for WordPress, but the one I’ve had most success with is OneSignal, which provides a WordPress plugin. OneSignal offers a custom opt-in message and automatic notifications. It also has a number of useful extras, including the ability to target notifications to segments of your audience, A/B testing, and scheduled notifications.

Don’t Go Nuts With Notifications

Publishers should remember that being allowed to send push notifications is a privilege, and it shouldn’t be abused. I’ve opted-out of many website’s push notifications because the volume of notifications became onerous.

Notifications are great for informing the most engaged readers about your content; they shouldn’t be used to broadcast daily “We miss you!” messages or other promotional messages that are unlikely to have broad appeal. If you overuse push notifications, there’s a good chance of alienating the users who would otherwise be the most engaged and loyal.

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