Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on December 2nd, 2009

Google Limits Free Access to Paid Content

The online publishing industry has been immigrating to the digital world as quickly as they can, and many giants have fallen in the process. Most in the industry feel there is a fundamental problem facing online publishing, but no current solution. Technology renders news and information cheap and easy to distribute to Internet readers, while the journalism is expensive to produce. It’s been a rough battle these last few years, but Google just called for more troops to aid the wounded industry. The search giant is now allowing publishers of paid content to limit the number of free news articles people can access via its search engine.

There had been mounting criticism from online media publishers over Google’s practices with their First Click Free program, which was the main recipient of concession in this move. Now online readers are limited to viewing no more than five articles a day without being registered or subscribed to the site.

What This Means For The Reader

You will now be landing on a registration page once you have exceeded your daily limit from a publisher that is using the First Click Free. This allows the publisher to limit free access to paid content and to focus on people who are regular readers and potential subscribers.

What This Means For The Publisher

More money for your blood, sweat, and tears! This move also allows subscription-based websites and Google to work towards a more lucrative balance. Publishing sites can charge for their content and still have it ranked and clicked via Google. Whether you offer free or paid content, it will still be found.

What This Means For SEO

Google will begin crawling, indexing and ranking news “preview” pages – consisting of headlines and the first few paragraphs of the story – from subscription-based websites. The same content will appear in the SERPs for free but labeled as “subscription” in Google News and allow limited access.

We will see if the paid content ranks as well as the free content, but Google states that ranking criteria for paid content will not change. Rankings will still be based on popularity of content with users as well as link building and other optimization techniques. If Google users don’t keep paid content popular, online visibility, and possibly a few more giants, will diminish into obscurity.
This is a pretty heated topic, so I can understand that opinions will be broad and brandished. Leave your comments, opinions, and additional information below. Happy Hump Day!