Wall Street Journal’s Google Traffic Drops 44% After Pulling Out of First Click Free

In February, the Wall Street Journal blocked Google users from reading free articles, resulting in a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. The tradeoff, as reported by Bloomberg, is a decrease in traffic from Google. Since the WSJ ended its support for Google’s “first click free” policy, traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent. From the report: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership. Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall. The Journal’s experience could have implications across the news industry, where publishers are relying more on convincing readers to pay for their articles because tech giants like Google and Facebook are vacuuming up the lion’s share of online advertising. Google says its “first click free” policy is good for both consumers and publishers. People want to get the news quickly and don’t want to immediately encounter a paywall. Plus, if publishers let Google users sample articles for free, there’s a better chance they’ll end up subscribing, Google says. The tech giant likens its policy to stores allowing people to flip through newspapers and magazines before choosing which one to buy.


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