Google Changes How it Handles Paid Content

    December 1, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google has made a change to the way it treats its "first click free" option for publishers. The option was designed for legitimate publishers to get around Google’s cloaking policies, which discourage the showing of one web page to a crawler while the user sees something different.

With the policy, Google users have been able to access one article from a publication that has a pay wall in place, but are then unable to access other content via links on the site without registering. However, users have been able to get around this in the past, simply by searching for the desired piece of content and starting over from Google.

Now Google has implemented a change that will only allow users to view five pages of content from such a source in a 24 hour period. In a post today on the Google News Blog, Senior Business Product Manager Josh Cohen explains, "If you’re a Google user, this means that you may start to see a registration page after you’ve clicked through to more than five articles on the website of a publisher using First Click Free in a day. We think this approach still protects the typical user from cloaking, while allowing publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis."

Wall Street Journal Paywall

"In addition to First Click Free, we offer another solution: We will crawl, index and treat as ‘free’ any preview pages – generally the headline and first few paragraphs of a story – that they make available to us," Cohen notes. "This means that our crawlers see the exact same content that will be shown for free to a user. Because the preview page is identical for both users and the crawlers, it’s not cloaking."

Google would label stories like this as "subscription" when indexed in Google News. According to Cohen, they would rank based on the same criteria as other sites (paid or free).

He points out that paid content may not rank as well, simply because of the popularity of the content. Less people are likely to link to content that requires a subscription to read, particularly if there is a similar piece of content that is available for free. Google has always favored links and it would be not different in this case.

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