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Google is rewiring its search engine by ending 'first click free'

03 October 2017

Digital media strategist Nic Newman said Google and Facebook were under pressure to help publishers, who provide content but do not get adequately rewarded by search engines or social media.

With a large number of news sites locking content away behind a paywall, Google had required publishers to provide people with access to three free articles per day or face demotion in search results. "We're taking advantage of our existing identity and payment technologies to help people subscribe on a publication's website with a single click, and then seamlessly access that content anywhere- whether it's on that publisher site or mobile app, or on Google Newsstand, Google Search or Google News".

Publishers have often been at odds with the internet search giant, claiming they've lost revenue because of its policies.

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"Flexible Sampling", which will replace the old policy, allows site owners to decide on the number of free clicks themselves. Search giant Google has made a decision to discontinue its trick that granted freeloading site visitors access to articles that are meant to be behind paywalls. Shares in Gannett ( GCI ) climbed 2.2% to 9.20, Tronc ( TRNC ) gained 1.6% to 14.76 and the New York Times ( NYT ) added 1.5% to 19.90. 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.

News of this received praise amongst unusual places such as News Corp, one of the frequent critics of Google.

However, the aforementioned news outlet's parent company News Corp has complained that the policy introduced by Google's parent company Alphabet Inc. has not paid off as intended, and sales of said subscriptions have suffered, due to what News Corp calls "freeloaders" leeching off what should be paid content. Any publisher opting not to take part will not have their search rankings penalised, though Google suggests publishers offer 10 free articles a month "as a good starting point".

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The relationship between Google and many publishers has often been characterised by conflicts in past.

The move was welcomed by major publishers with subscription models. Google and Facebook combined will account for 60 percent of the U.S. digital advertising market this year, according to the research firm eMarketer.

Publishers can now determine on their own how many free articles to let consumers view through the search engine and which should require a paywall. Google is working on improving that process as well. Google also announced a coming suite of tools for publishers to facilitate smoother subscription signups.

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Google is rewiring its search engine by ending 'first click free'