Google has released a new update that could hurt how digital publishers are using mobile to acquire new customers. 

In a nutshell, the search giant is going to put companies that use lightboxes (aka pop-ups and interstitials) on their mobile websites lower in the search rankings. It kind of makes sense. Lightboxes on mobile are usually a bad experience for the user. They are often not optimised for the mobile device and can take over the whole screen, blocking out the content that the user wants to see. By tweaking their search algorithm, Google is looking to create a better experience for users.

The challenge is that many digital publishers are using lightboxes. Some publishers use them to collect email addresses to help build loyal audiences. Other publishers use lightboxes as a way to get users to turn off ad blockers. Forbes, for instance, uses them to tell readers that if they want to access the site’s free content, they have to turn off their ad blockers.

In fact, the IAB has been advising publishers to remind consumers that ads equal free content. The trade group suggests a number of ways to do this, but many publishers have adopted the lightbox as the device of choice because it is easy to implement and highly visible. Lightboxes are also a great way to get consumers to sign up via email to receive more content. The bottom line is that lightboxes have become ubiquitous among digital publishers, and Google’s move will require some fancy footwork to get around it.

Google’s threats of downgrading are making digital publishers think twice about how to fight ad blockers and collect email addresses. Thankfully, there are other ways to do this than using lightboxes specifically on mobile. Here are four tips to help your publishing company avoid the pitfalls of Google’s new downgrade.

1. Assess your company’s needs 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. First, you must assess your business and determine your needs. Does your site generate a large amount of traffic from mobile? If not, maybe you should simply remove your lightboxes on mobile and keep them on desktop. If mobile traffic isn’t a big deal for your company, then maybe you don’t need to worry about collecting email addresses via mobile or communicating with users about ad blockers.

2. Consider the user experience

Think about what message your lightboxes convey and then what the consumer experience is like. Exit lightboxes, for instance, aren’t a great user experience since they come up when a person is trying to leave your site. Do you really even need one? Having the same lightboxes on a desktop versus on a mobile device isn’t the same experience since they are often optimized for desktop and are hard to close on a mobile device. Consider what the lightbox is trying to do and how it would be best to deliver that message on a mobile device.

3. Employ mobile-friendly tactics

There are ways of getting around lightboxes you just need to tweak the technique for mobile. Perhaps you should use a sticky footer to tell consumers to turn off their ad blockers or inline forms to collect email addresses. These techniques are more mobile-friendly and are more natural for consumers to engage with.

4. Focus on your KPIs 

Don’t get caught up in the hype of Google’s latest move; keep your eye on your own company’s internal goals and plan accordingly. What works well for one publisher might not work so well for a different one, and the important thing is to ensure that do what works best for your company. Whether it is building in a link to download your app, or building a landing page that instructs readers to turn off ad blockers, ensure that the strategy you adopt makes the most sense for your business.

Google’s new move isn’t going to kill digital publishing, but it will require a little maneuvering on your part to ensure that your search rankings don’t drop. Digital publishers that are using lightboxes should heed this advice in order to avoid getting sidelined by Google. It may require a little bit of work but optimization for Google is important. Remember that if your content isn’t easy to find, then you’ll have more to worry about than ad blockers and list growth.