Google is ending its first-click free (FCF) program that provides visitors to publisher sites with access to content behind subscription paywalls.
The FCF program only works when clicking through from Google results in the search engine. The move is intended to help boost subscription rates, according to one report.
Google will allow publishers to opt out of the program, but The Wall Street Journal reports that it did just that earlier this year and in August 2017 month saw its traffic from Google search fall 38% -- and 89% from Google News -- compared with a year earlier. Basically, its articles were demoted in search results.
Search rankings may have fallen as a result of opting out of the program, but Bloomberg reported in June that subscriptions soared. The WSJ's digital subscriber base grew about 30% in one of the quarters earlier this year compared with the prior year, partly driven by barring Google users from reading the articles and accessing the content for free.
FCF was introduced in 2007 to expose subscription content to search users allowing them to read content on the site before they subscribe.
"Up to now, subscription-based sites that didn’t participate in first click free have been disadvantaged in Google’s search results, because its algorithm only scanned the portions of articles outside the paywall," reports the WSJ.
The new process will scan the full article, despite any paywalls, per the WSJ, citing a knowledgeable source.
It's unclear when this change will go into effect.