For years, Google has provided a nifty trick to get around subscriptions for newspapers and magazines: If you Googled an article and clicked through to it from the search results, you’d be able to read the whole thing even if it was behind a paywall. This month, though, you should save your free articles wisely, because Google is letting publishers choose whether or not readers will be able to access content for free by searching for it.
Starting on Sunday, Google announced that it’s formally doing away with its “First Click Free” policy, which powered the search to get out of paying hack for so long. Under First Click Free, paywalled sites had to make all of their content available on Google search. At its inception back in 2007, people could read an unlimited number of articles using FCF. In 2009, it moved to a limit of five articles. By 2015, that number had been capped at three. Publishers could opt out of FCF, but it would be at the expense of their business. Google would only index a limited number of words from paywalled stories — meaning those stories would be less likely to surface via search — and the Google News algorithm reportedly dinged sites that didn’t participate. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal opted out of FCF, which translated to an increase in subscriptions, but an overall, and unsurprising, decrease in search traffic.
Google’s new policy is called Flexible Sampling. Publishers will be able to choose how many free articles a reader can search per month and those that choose to not allow any will no longer be penalized in Google search results. “We recommend that publishers start by providing 10 free clicks per month to Google search users in order to preserve a good user experience for new potential subscribers,” Google explained on its blog. Which means it might be time for you to finally start forking over some cash and paying for your content. It’s worth the time you save Googling.