The First Click Free program required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before displaying a paywall to readers. Many publishers considered FCF to be ‘toxic’ and resented having to give free access to their best content or face disappearing from Google Search.
While publishers depend on subscription fees for survival, they need to accommodate a ‘try before you buy’ approach to be effective in search. Users who don’t have a subscription won’t have access to the best content. Without being able to see the quality of content available, it’s hard to justify a subscription cost. This means publishers will often need to provide some of their good quality content for free, in order to demonstrate to readers the value of their work.
Google will stop making FCF a requirement for search from this week, freeing publishers up to experiment with their own sampling methods under Flexible Sampling.
Publishers will likely still need to provide some free content before requiring a subscription. This is commonly done via a sampling method known as metering, which gives a set number of free articles before further content access is blocked by a paywall. Google suggests 10 per month as a starting point, but will not enforce a minimum as it did with the unpopular FCF policy.
Google worked with publishers to determine how best to balance the high quality content ecosystem with publisher subscription-based revenue streams. It says it plans to collaborate further with publishers to refine the subscription signup model and is investigating how its own machine learning capabilities can be used to help publishers optimize their subscription marketing.
For more details, read Google’s full post on the future of publishing and subscriptions and what it means for webmasters.