Back in February, The Wall Street Journal stopped participating in a program that allows Google visitors to bypass its paywall.  The publication ended up discovering that it doesn’t get as much traffic from Google as it did before.

Based on an interview with Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal reported that the traffic coming from Google dropped 44 percent after it left the “First Click Free” program.

The First Click Free program lets visitors from google access articles that are typically behind paywalls for free, when they click to them from the Google search results.  There are many publishers who participate in the program due to their traffic and related ad-revenue offsetting potential lost subscription revenue.

But if a publisher does not participate in the program, Google isn’t able to fully index the articles they publish.  Not only that, such articles are also listed with a “subscription” designation next to them.  By having this “subscription” designation next to it, there are people who might be put off  due to the fact they don’t have a subscription themselves.  In the end, they won’t want to click through.

Something that’s a bit shocking, the WSJ appears to be a bit surprised and a little upset over the traffic drop.  The WSJ seems a bit surprised and possibly upset over the traffic drop. Suzi Watford, the Journal’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview with Bloomberg: “Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would. … You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”

It’s clear from Google’s own rules, which has been covered before, that such a traffic drop was likely. The WSJ certainly knew it could happen and deliberately chose to leave the program. From a previous article, it told me:

We are constantly experimenting with different ways to enhance the digital experience for members. As a continuation of this, the Journal has broadened its test by removing content available through Google’s First Click Free. The test began last month when the Journal removed four sections, resulting in subscription growth driven directly from content.

Something else of note – even if the WSJ’s overall traffic dropped, a fourfold increase of subscription conversions came out of it, according to Bloomberg.  Losing the traffic and potential ad revenue with it seems to be the natural offset.

Something else that has benefited WSJ, Google is only showing a “subscription” designation when stores appear in Google News:

Of course, it seems Google fails to show such a designation in its regular search results:

Google says that the subscription designation only within Google News, and not within Google Search Results.  It won’t even show when subscription content appears in the “Top stories” section of Google search.

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