Google ends search-result punishment for news behind paywalls

15 2017. REUTERS  Dado Ruvic  IllustrationMore

Up until now, Google has forced all publishers to provide access to one webpage free of charge in order to be ranked highly in search results.

Google has ended its controversial First-Click-Free policy that allowed readers to access some news content hidden behind a paywall.

Although Facebook, Google's main advertising rival is also now working on subscription services to enable publishers generate revenue from their publications, Apple already made this feature available in last year's Apple News revamp. Opting out of this policy meant publishers could not appear on top search results.

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Apart from dropping First Click Free, Google is also making it easier for users to subscribe to services.

"While research has shown that people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, the sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn off".

Shares of companies like New York Times Co., News Corp. With readers opening tablets and phones rather than picking up a newspaper from the stoop or lawn, Google has vexed publishers as it gobbles up advertising dollars for content produced by those publishers. Some of the biggest news agencies like News Corp applauded the decision by Google. "Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them", noted Richard Gingras, VP for News at Google, in a blog post. It's part of a Google move to offer better search and ad solutions for news sites with paywalls.

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The goal is to facilitate fast purchases that could take as little as a single click, Gingras said. Both platforms are still capable of delivering millions of readers to publishers, and the prospect of that power being used to drive subscriptions is undoubtedly tempting. The chairman of Axel Springer the publishing giant in Germany wrote in an open letter in 2014 that the company was afraid of Google. Facebook Inc., the primary driver of online news traffic, is taking similar steps.

Google and Facebook are expected to hoover up the majority of digital advertising spend in the United Kingdom for the first time this year as print advertising declines.

Google is exploring other changes to boost subscriptions, including enabling publishers to tap Google user data to more directly target users who are likely to subscribe. Thus, the publishers now have the bargaining power to decide the number of articles Google users can access for free.

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And Google said it aims to simplify the subscription process by enabling users to use login information and credit-card numbers already entered into their Google profiles.

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