Google Search To Stop Penalizing Websites With Hard Paywalls

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Alphabet’s subsidiary Google on Monday unveiled a new program for news publishers that will replace its “First Click Free” policy. The new program targeted at subscription-based websites is called Flexible Sampling and will allow media outlets to select the amount of content the user will be able to browse for free after landing on their websites from the Google’s search results page. There will be no set minimum of articles that the website will have to give its visitors for free before the paywall is enforced and, in case of publishers not offering any free content, enlisting into this program will not affect the website’s ranking on the search engine.

The California-based tech giant has been getting a lot of flak in recent months from outlets like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times for having strict rules related to its previous policy. A growing number of news publishers have been putting their content behind subscriptions and paywalls, which Google’s users could circumvent by accessing the websites via search results. The websites that played by Google’s rules therefore had to let the visitors read up to three articles for free. In case a publisher denied any free content, Google’s bots wouldn’t crawl through the whole contents of the website, therefore lowering the search rank of that company. Contrary to the firm’s previous belief, free samples also didn’t lead to a substantial subscriber increase for publishers. Therefore, media giants like News Corp decided to approach Google and have been discussing possible changes to the program so that both sides could benefit, thus creating Flexible Sampling and relevant search engine policy tweaks.

Flexible Sampling is coming into effect this week along with the discontinuation of the previous policy. Google is also working closely with several major publishers on creating a long-term strategy and a more user-friendly experience of subscribing to news websites. The company says it’s looking into simplifying the process of purchasing subscriptions with tools that should benefit both publishers and readers, along with employing machine learning to drive more customers to the right places. Google claims it’s seeking to treat all news networks equally and help them lead sustainable businesses in in the long term.