Google’s search algorithms remain a mystery, but they’re making it easier for publishers by removing its first-click free policy. Source: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Google plans to end first-click free policy in a clear victory for publishers

GOOGLE is taking one for Team Publishing with the company preparing to bring an end to its “first-click free” policy which could help resolve the publishing and news industry’s money woes by allowing outlets to finally capitalize on their audiences.

The policy, which has mixed reviews among most publishers, forced outlets to provide at least three free articles for readers if they wanted their sites to turn up in the search engine. Now, Google will put the power of free content into the hands of publishers who will dictate if readers get freebies at all before subscribing, according to reporting by DigiDay.

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The New York Times and The Financial Times were the first to trial a zero first-click free policy Pic: AP

The biggest issue plaguing publishers today is that their ability to make bank has largely been dictated by the policies put forth by platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and, yes, Google, where significant swathes of their traffic originates from. Before this latest development, publishers were losing out on audience attention and time, as well a potential digital ad revenues, and turned to consumer revenue to make up for the shortfall.

Google’s policy was that publishers should offer consumer some free content to get them to buy into their sites, which had many in the industry feeling disgruntled and labeled as “spammers”.

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That’s all changing when the search company announces that their policy is coming to an end.

Plans to get rid of the first-click free policy is at least a year old, got a major boost when the Wall Street Journal made the controversial move to complete opt out of the model. The outlet’s search traffic from Google News saw a sharp 94 percent fall, and though the paper’s success is still going strong it still remains to be seen if the plan will work.

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Google will work with publishers to help them reach new audiences in a post-first-click free era. Pic: Pixabay

Google isn’t leaving these publishers to languish though, as they’ve also announced plans to help them find new audiences and boost subscription programs. The company ran a series of tests with The New York Times and The Financial Times where they ended first-click free program, and both outlets seemed pleased with outcomes, with the NYT going as far as to say that tey were “happy with what it saw on the conversion side.”

“I think they realized in the testing is that this is very different from deceptive behavior and a business model and business need that news publishers have,” said Rebecca Grossman-Cohen, the paper’s VP of audience and platforms to DigiDay.

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“We want to be able to make decisions about our business terms. That policy was preventing us from doing that and surfacing the right experience for the right user at the right time.”

Whether or not a successful subscription mechanism will be launched from Google itself remains to be seen. The features of the platform that is being tested is still unclear, and there is little information about how revenue, consumer data and cost will be managed. However, it could be worthwhile considering how mysterious Google’s algorithms are, and publishers may finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief.