Google has today unveiled an important decision affecting all online publishers providing premium content through digital subscription paywalls:
First Click Free for Publishers has ended
This policy prevented a visitor from Google’s search results pages from seeing a paywall. First Click Free meant that people could view your content for free if they came from Google Search or Google News pages.
First Click Free required premium publishers to allow visitors referred by Google Search and Google News to view three articles a day, even if they had hit a paywall on the site already, or risk being punished in search rankings.
This approach treated all publishers the same and has now, fortunately, been replaced by Flexible Sampling.
What is Flexible Sampling and how is it different to First Click Free?
Flexible Sampling empowers publishers to set the number of free views, per month, per day - whatever you like! Google says this is because “Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them”.
I think we knew that already, wouldn’t you say? Google came to this decision after working closely with the New York Times and the Financial Times.
How many free views should you let through with Flexible Sampling?
Google’s analysis shows that paywalls should not be shown more often than after the 10th premium article viewed per month, which would approximately affect 3% of the individuals visiting your site. This 3% is the rough proportion of your users who don't pay, but who would hit a 10 page per month meter, based on the New York Time and the FT's demographics.
Showing paywalls more often than that will alienate the users not yet won over by the value of your content. It could push them away. Giving people access to some content for free is the way to convince them buy your products, that is always going to be true.
3B has built ’10 free articles per month’ paywall systems for publishers in the past, while also taking into account that Google wanted searchers to see 3 free articles per day via First Click Free. We are happy to hear that we can now build custom paywalls for publishers with Google's Flexible Sampling meters built in!
Google suggests that a meter of 10 articles per month is a good start, which is fantastic as that’s what most of our clients already use.
Google say that most publishers find that a paywall after 10 articles a month will preserve a good user experience while still driving conversions from the most engaged users.
How do you start with Flexible Sampling then?
You should analyse the current percentage of visitors from search engines who hit your paywall, and select a monthly number which would achieve that same result with Flexible Sampling.
If you would like to experiment with different free sampling values to find out how referral traffic and conversions are affected, please contact us and we would be happy to help you.
We also recommend identifying users who frequently use up the monthly allotment of views, and cutting their allowance, in order to drive additional conversions.
What else should you do to drive paid subscriptions?
Show the first few sentences of an article even to a visitor who has hit the paywall. This gives more value and a better user experience than a completely blocked page. Plus, if the first few sentences spark curiosity about the rest of the article then they may decide to pay for the rest! This technique is called 'lead-in' and it's highly effective.
This has the benefit of not degrading the user experience for less engaged users at the same time.
Contact us today for a free friendly discussion about the work we do for publishers and what we could put in place for your website.