Google has decided to limit sampling of paid content on publishers' sites -- to five free clicks daily per user. Well, actually, it's given publishers the option to do so.
Publishers who charge for content will find that Google has changed the parameters of its First Click Free program. The changes, published on Google's blog Tuesday, come after News Corp's Rupert Murdoch threatened to remove content from Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and other sites in Google search results. Reports also floated around online that he would pay Microsoft to exclusively index content. The issues are related to the fact that Google makes money from other publisher's content.
In the previous incarnation of First Click Free, users who accessed a particular article from a publisher's paid content through Google had to be allowed to read the entire piece. Non-subscribers would therefore use Google to get around pay walls. Now publishers can choose to limit that access further, to only five free clicks a day.
Google suggests the update protects the typical person from cloaking -- "the practice of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines," according to its definition -- while allowing publishers to focus on potential subscribers who are accessing a lot of their content on a regular basis.
It's too early to tell how the five-click cap will affect paid search campaigns or search engine optimization strategies. And then there's the display ads and rich banner ads that won't get seen because people might not register or pay for the content on the publisher's site.
Reliable SEO Founder David Harry says a year ago Google told Web sites like wsj.com that a subscription model would limit the way search-engine spiders crawled the site, and it would certainly mean a loss in traffic for publishers. "Now Google is getting into that very business," he says. "They told sites that allowing the Google bot to index content behind pay-walls was cloaking and a no-no. If we care to don some tin-foil accessories, seems they could look to limit the competition and then launch their own."
Harry says users once got content in the SERPs, and then when they went to the publisher's site it required a subscription. But Google decided that allowing the bot to index paid content was cloaking -- -- and nixed that idea.
Chris Paradysz, CEO of marketing agency PM Digital, sees walling off content and Google's update to its policy as "a disruption in the evolution of the Internet. There's a natural progression in the way the Internet evolves," he adds. "This time, rather than the consumer driving the relationship, the publishers are attempting to take control and make moves to put value on the content."
Similar to the music industry's attempt to put a lock on digital music, Paradysz doesn't think the paid wall trend will fundamentally change the way consumers get news from publisher's sites. For publishers, it draws a line in the sand that will force them to make choices.
Is it good for your average Joe looking for content? Here, Paradysz gives thumbs up to anything that disaggregates power from Google and allows publishers to help users "to understand the value of paying for quality journalism and investigative reporting, rather than someone's passing opinion on a blog," Paradysz says.
Is it good for publishers? "As for Google, the more competitors, the better," Paradysz says.
Post a comment if you have an idea on how Google's five-click cap will change advertising.