Source: Shawn Collins, Flikr

One of the most frustrating aspects of Google’s policies is called “first click free”. It was a terrible policy for publishers as it means they had to provide at least three free stories per day. Google has now announced it is killing off the controversial policy, that has been in operation for a decade.

Under the search engine’s previous policies, publishers would lose money on many posts as the first click free limitation stacked up over time. Under the new policy, publishers on Google Search can now choose how many free articles they want to post before charging.

So, it is clear Google still wants publishers to offer some free content, but is giving them more control over how much.

In a blog post, Richard Gingras, vice president of news for the company, called the new model Flexible Sampling. The important point is Google is now allowing flexibility. So, if a publisher does not want to offer free content, they are not forced to by the search giant.

Google’s decision to let publishers determine how much content readers can sample from search is a positive development,” says Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson. “We’re encouraged as well by Google’s willingness to consider other ways of supporting subscription business models and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them to craft smart solutions.”

Impact on Readers

While this is significant for publishers, it also has an impact on readers. It essentially means publishers can now put up a pay-wall without offering any free content.

While it is unlikely to be noticeable immediately, when publishers change their output to reflect the changes, readers may be locked out of website without a subscription.

Of course, most websites are not locked behind a pay-wall to start with, but many major newspapers do cut off readers behind a subscription. Google still says offering some free content is a good practice and recommends the following:

  • Monthly, rather than daily, metering allows publishers more flexibility to experiment with the number of free stories to offer people and to target those more likely to subscribe.
  • For most publishers, 10 articles per month is a good starting point.
  • Please see our Webmaster blog and our guide on Flexible Sampling for more detail on these approaches.