Introduced a decade ago by Google, First Click Free (FCF) required publishers to allow Google Search access to news articles hidden behind a paywall. Failure to do so would deem that article unavailable on Google Search and hurt publishers' ranking on Google News. The FCF policy was intended to provide a free sampling of publisher content so that users could judge the value of said content.
Google drives 10 billion clicks to publisher sites every month.
This week Google is replacing FCF with Flexible Sampling, which will allow publishers to better determine which sampling strategy works best for them. The two strategies suggested by Google are metering and lead-in.
Publishers such as The Information and Harvard Business Review adhere to the first suggestion from Google, wherein users and first-time site visitors can access a fixed number of articles for free before being prompted to partake in a paid subscription plan. Publishers such as Campaign Asia-Pacific and MIT Management Review offer site visitors a lead-in, which offers a portion of an article’s content without it being shown in full. [In addition to subscription content, Campaign Asia-Pacific also offers a large amount of content that is free after a quick registration.]
In a statement, Google added that it is working on a range of new tools to help publishers reach new audiences and generate revenue. The first rollout will enable single-click signups for publishers for users of Android devices and Google services. The second rollout will see Google offering publishers access to its user data in order to reach potential paid subscribers.
In a post, Cody Kwok, the principal engineer at Google, propounds that publishers with paywalls "are strongly encouraged to apply the new structured data to their pages, because without it, the paywall may be interpreted as a form of cloaking, and the pages would then be removed from search results."
The changes will go into effect this week.