Certain content exclusively accessible via Google's “First Click Free” program on the the Wall Street Journal's website is being pulled behind the paywall, a practice that some suspect other newspapers might emulate. And the WSJ has been blocking certain stories from the program since last summer.
In a statement from Ashley S. Huston, Vice President, Corporate Communications, for the Wall Street Journal, she explains that "Google First Click Free is a way to introduce our content to new readers and broaden our audience. As a strategy, we hold back a few of our top stories by not having the full story crawled, which limits select articles from being available via First Click Free. We have been doing this since last summer as a strategy to encourage subscriptions.”
Google's First Click Free program allows users to see full-text content that is typically hidden behind a subscription barrier. With certain articles remaining "unlocked," Google can understand them better as it runs a query, which in turn affords more visibility to the website of the publication. Also, Google doesn't have to worry about users getting mad that they can't fully read articles that show up in a search. Basically, if a user searches for something in Google, the full article comes up, though subsequent clicks within the site are blocked per subscription status, as detailed at the bottom let of the image below:
Google allows 5 First Clicks per day, to limit the amount of free content one can access, but publishers are still pulling back on this. So far, news outlets have been all or nothing on the matter, with the New York Times offering all of their content available to be first-clicked. Some outlets allow none. The Wall Street Journal has been implementing a sort of hybrid model where only some content is available. Google wants to be able to search and index all of the content of an entire website, which can make subscription news sites tricky, as an outlet might mistakenly (or purposely) cloak some of their content, to maintain site traffic, while still locking their stories. The WSJ's hybrid system looks to be mutually beneficial to its website and Google.