October 17, 2017 | Google | by Christopher Hendrickson

What the Removal of “First Click Free” Means for Publishers

The “First Click Free” policy proved to be controversial among publishers. Because the policy demanded that publishers offer three free articles per day to users in exchange for visibility, some publishers felt that their revenue options were being unfairly limited. So why was the policy removed, what has it been replaced with, and what does this mean for publishers?

What was “First Click Free”?
In Google’s own words, “our First Click Free (FCF) policy provided a way for subscription sites to be included in search in spite of their content not generally being available to users. FCF required publishers to provide a limited amount of free content to Google Search users on a daily basis.”

Why was “First Click Free” removed?
Google argues that it launched FCF to help drive subscriptions from organic search results, which was typically very difficult. However, as Google worked alongside publishers to learn about their preferences and better incorporate their feedback, it became clear that FCF was an unpopular policy among publishers that had decided to put their content behind a paywall. This was because those publications felt that they were giving away too much ungated content to audiences without subscriptions.

What has the policy been replaced with?
Now, publishers are able to choose how much content they would like readers to be able to read without a subscription (metering), or even how much of a piece readers can see without a subscription (lead-in).

What does this mean for publishers?
Many publishers will be delighted to have more flexibility when it comes to deciding how to share their gated content with audiences that do not have a subscription to their publication. If the new tools are used appropriately, this could drive additional subscriptions and therefore revenue, but this remains to be seen and only time will tell.

This change also represents another step that Google have taken to appease publishers and grow a strong relationship where publisher feedback is listened to and genuinely considered. You can find the Google Webmasters blog post about the FCF change here.