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Google’s “First Click Free” Changeout Signals Possible Bigger SEO Evolution

Google recently announced that they will amend their “first click free” service for news publishing sites in favor of a “flexible sampling” model.

The change also accompanies a new program where Google will selectively optimize search results for users based on how likely they are to subscribe to a particular news site. By looking at audience profile data, the search engine can identify audiences with high conversion potential for specific sites and influence their search results accordingly.

These capabilities could signal a shift in the way Google provides lead generation options for businesses online. Although Google has not yet indicated whether they will bring their ““subscription optimization” experiment to other, non-publisher verticals, this could be the first step in a dramatic sea change for how businesses approach SEO.

 What Was “First Click Free,” and How Does “Flexible Sampling” Change It?

Previously, the “first click free” approach ensured that users could see the best possible results for a news-related search and actually be able to read the article without getting hit by a frustrating paywall. Search users could click on an article from SERPs and read it in full, but any subsequent site clicks would cause the paywall “Subscribe!” request to emerge.
However, Google found that search users were purposefully using “first click free” to circumvent paywalls by searching for headline-related terms. In response, they implemented a three-per-day cap on “first click free.”

Now, they have decided to put options like these into the hands of news publishers themselves. These publishers can indicate to Google the number of free articles they show to search users per month. They can also completely opt out — showing zero free articles — without a penalty to their search engine visibility. Publishers can also decide whether to display “lead-in” articles with a sample of the first few paragraphs to paywall-affected users.

These changes aim to improve Google’s relationship with publishers while still increasing the likelihood that someone using a news-related search query can find the information they want within a few clicks.

 Subscriber Optimization and Other Digital Marketing Changes That Accompany Flexible Sampling

The really interesting part of Google’s change to Flexible Sampling lies within their data collecting and audience targeting capabilities. Google says that they will soon start matching news-related search results to audiences based on their likelihood to click. Additionally, publishers can share their audience data profiles to enable Google to locate lookalike audiences and maximize subscription signups. This service is not active yet, and Google expects a rollout “sometime next year.”

Under the subscription optimization program, certain search users may see different content or even different offers displayed based on their “propensity to pay.” One might imagine that this capability could also benefit businesses looking to attract leads for specific services and products. Think AdWords but with a more native advertising slant and published directly in organic Google search results.

Note that Google has in no way promised they would bring “subscription optimization” to websites that do not publish news-related content, but the program does seem to fit within Google’s overall features. Additionally, getting publishers and other high-traffic websites to share audience data only serves to grow Google’s hoard of data held within their walled garden.

Another interesting side note is whether filtering news results to search users based on their “propensity to pay” on sites could create an intensifying echo chamber. For instance, someone who is prone to reading radical news sites with dubious sourcing would be less likely to encounter an article presenting an opposing or more-centrist view.

Regardless of the potential implications down the road, publisher sites looking to increase their volume of paid subscriptions now have more options than ever at their disposal.

If you are interested in improving your own lead generation capabilities through search, then you can work with EverSpark Interactive to start improving your search engine optimization today. Contact us now to get started!