After the Wall Street Journal removed the well-known trick of using Google to access articles behind a paywall, their Search traffic fell by nearly half. While this led to an increase in paying subscribers since February, the publication argues that Google should rank subscription content equally.
In February, the WSJ got rid of “first click free” due to the number of people clearing their cookies to read more articles behind a paywall. The publication told Bloomberg that nearly a million people were abusing this method.
Google defends the practice of sampling as it believes it will ultimately incentivize people to subscribe. The search engine believes it is important for users to be able to quickly read news without restrictions.
However, there are consequences of a stricter paywall where only the first few paragraphs of an article appear for non-subscribers. Google’s algorithms rank these pages lower in results, thus resulting in a 44% drop in traffic from Search for the WSJ.
WSJ ad revenue, ultimately, was not affected by the decline and was offset by an increase in visits via social media — with articles visited from Facebook and Twitter still displayed in full. Additionally, there was a 30 percent increase in digital subscribers during the most recent quarter.
However, the WSJ is calling for Google to show equal treatment of its articles in search, saying that paid news sites are being “discriminated” against.