Google is Throwing Us a Bone (and Niche Publishers Benefit!)

Usually when I start a sentence with “Google has changed their rules,” I hear a lot of moans and groans. That’s because rule changes often mean loss of traffic and the need to correct course.

Not in this case.

The tech giant is making two moves to be more publisher-friendly.

Google Eliminates the “First Click Free” Policy

In October, Google ended its decade-old “first click free” policy. Previously, Google did not index any content behind your paywall – which means it didn’t show up in search results. The only way for Google to push traffic to articles behind your paywall was to allow visitors from Google to get to see (at least) one page for free. You know how this turned out: sly but savvy readers learned they could circumvent your paywall by Googling the headline, thus getting free access to your content.  

This was so frustrating to publishers, that companies like the Wall Street Journal said “no mas” and scrapped first click free. They took a massive hit to search traffic, but actually did fine economically because more readers paid up once they learned that they could no longer game the system.

Now, if your developer places the proper code on your site, Google will crawl your gated content and feature it in search results. You can now have your cake and eat it too: drive search traffic while charging for access to your best material.

Google May Actually Drive Subscriptions to You

Google is in the process of developing an audience tool that will increase digital content subscription sales for niche publishers. This solution would not only reduce friction in the checkout process (i.e., through one-click checkout functionality), but it would also help find new audiences. Google plans to use their algorithms to predict who would be interested in your content based on a web user’s prior online behavior. Revenue would be split between Google and the publisher.

This solution is in its early stages, so stay tuned!

What If I Don’t Have A Paywall?

Given all the challenges with the digital ad model, I highly advise all publishers diversify their revenue streams. Part of the diversification must include a “reader revenue” component, in which part of your income comes directly from the visitors to your site.

Not sure what part of your archive is worth paying for? The key is you need to have results-driven content. How can your material solve a problem for an engaged segment of your audience? Through talking with your best customers (who I call your “whales”), you can learn about ways to meet unmet needs so you stand apart from all the free YouTube videos, click bait, and fake news.

Check our this article about paywall strategy to learn more.


Rob Ristagno is the CEO and Founder of The Sterling Woods Group, a firm that builds new revenue streams for media companies and publishers. He is an expert in direct monetization of content. Prior to creating The Sterling Woods Group, Rob served as a senior executive for several niche media and e-commerce companies. He most recently was the Chief Operating Officer of America’s Test Kitchen, considered to be the gold standard in the niche media world for building diversified – and often digital – revenue streams.


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