Google Ends “First Click Free” Policy for Online Publishers

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

googlelogo_color_284x96dpFor a long time, a common paradigm for making money from a website was to create interesting content, post it for free on a website, then make money from the ads that ran on the site. While this model is still in use, it has become less lucrative over the years as competition among websites has increased and more online consumers use ad blocking extensions on their browser. To help online publishers, Google has announced several changes and new tools to boost revenue for websites that use subscriptions to fund their operations.

The biggest change comes to the idea of free news articles on the web. Bowing to pressure from content publishers facing declining revenue, Google has announced changes to their controversial “First Click Free” policy. In the past, Google required publishers to make some of the content free or allow visitors to click on several links for free before showing the user would see the pay wall.

The problem with “First Click Free” is that readers easily found ways around the restrictions. If the website only showed a few articles before putting up a paywall, many users would just move to a different website once that happened. Similarly, people who could only read the first part of an article would use the little bit of information they had seen to search for an article on another site about the same subject.

Google is replacing “First Click Free” with a policy called Flexible Sampling. Publishers have greater control over the content they show for free and they don’t actually have to show any at all without it negatively impacting their rankings. That said, Google is still recommending that publishers provide some free content to whet the appetite of potential subscribers.

“Based on our investigations, we have created detailed best practices for implementing flexible sampling,” the company explained in a recent blog post. “There are two types of sampling we advise: metering, which provides users with a quota of free articles to consume, after which paywalls will start appearing; and lead-in, which offers a portion of an article’s content without it being shown in full.”

Google is also making changes to help subscription-based websites to find more subscribers. According to media reports, Google is going to use ad-targeting tactics to identify which audiences are most likely to subscribe. Publishers would need to share their audience profiles, which Google would to create a lookalike audience designed to increase subscriber signups.

Google also plans to use its machine learning and other capabilities to find the right audiences, based on publisher data. According to Google spokesperson, different offers and content might be shown to different audiences based on a “propensity to pay” or subscribe. Publishers will then be able to adjust the presentation of content and offers according to different sub-segments or profiles.

Google has other plans in the works that may help subscription-based websites. For example, the company is exploring the idea of making it easier for people to see content from the publications they are subscribed to when in search. So if a person subscribed to the New York Times does a search on Brexit negotiations, links from the sites they are subscribed to will be shown first. If Google does implement this, it can be a large benefit for subscription-model website.

Google is also exploring ways to make it easier for people to start a subscription for a website. Mobile devices account for more than half of all traffic to websites, and getting people to enter subscription information via a smartphone can be a long and frustrating process. Google is testing some methods that can streamline the process or offer a hybrid login system so subscribing is more frictionless.

As internet trends shift, it’s good that Google is trying to adapt their services and procedures to help content creators who are hurt most by the change. For more news about changes at Google, read this article on a recent change to AdWords spending.

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