According to a Wall Street Journal report (registration required), Google is in the works to end its “first click free” (FCF) program, which provides users access to content behind publisher subscription paywalls when they click through from Google results.  The move is intended to help boost subscription rates.

According to the report, Google is going to allow publishers to offer FCF on a voluntary basis.  If publishers choose to opt-out, failure to do so isn’t going to result in any rankings hit.  FCF was introduced in 2007 in a way to expose subscription content to search users so they won’t become frustrated by paywalls, as well as help them test-drive content as an enticement to later subscribe.

As Google explained at the time it wrote about the program:

First Click Free is a way for publishers to share their subscription-only content with Google News readers. All articles that are accessed from Google News are allowed to skip over the subscription page . . .We like to think of First click free as a simple system that allows you to test drive a news source before signing up on their site.

Over the years though, FCF has been both unevenly enforced and adjusted by Google.  FCF has been controversial among publishers, such as News Corp (parent of the WSJ), who has been a vocal critic of Google and its policies toward publishers.  The end of FCF was reportedly “negotiated” between Goole CEO Sundar Pichai nd News Corp CEO Robert Thomson.

When WSJ pulled out of FCF earlier this year, it saw its traffic drop by nearly 45 percent.  BUt the company had reported that “a fourfold increase in subscription conversions” despite the decline in traffic.

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