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What Are The Conversion Rates for Google's "First Click Free"?

By - December 01, 2009

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Google today announced a new policy in its ongoing attempt to reach detente with an increasingly querulous publishing industry. (For background, read Mashable’s piece).  

A key piece of the new policy has to do with changes to Google’s “First Click Free” program. From Google’s announcement:

One way we overcome this is through a program called First Click Free. Participating publishers allow the crawler to index their subscription content, then allow users who find one of those articles through Google News or Google Search to see the full page without requiring them to register or subscribe. The user’s first click to the content is free, but when a user clicks on additional links on the site, the publisher can show a payment or registration request. First Click Free is a great way for publishers to promote their content and for users to check out a news source before deciding whether to pay. Previously, each click from a user would be treated as free. Now, we’ve updated the program so that publishers can limit users to no more than five pages per day without registering or subscribing. If you’re a Google user, this means that you may start to see a registration page after you’ve clicked through to more than five articles on the website of a publisher using First Click Free in a day.

OK, I have some issues with all of this. First, why on earth do publishers need Google doing this for them? Google passes them a refer, and they can take that and do what they want with it. And they can surely create index-able “teaser pages” for their paid content as well. Publishers, stop asking Google to do the work you can and should own yourselves! Do you really need Google’s help here?

But that’s not what’s got me scratching my head this evening. My real question comes down to the whole “First Click Free” program itself.

Google clearly created this program to appease (or OK, if you want to spin it that way, to help) the publishing industry. Now it’s adding features that it says should help publishers close a loophole that is allowing Google users to get content for free.

That implies that folks are actively using Google as a tool to get free content. Is this really the case?

Perhaps, but I’d guess it’s a pretty low percentage of folks who actively try to get the Wall Street Journal by repeatedly searching on Google.

The really interesting question is this: Does “First Click Free” actually deliver a decent conversion of paid customers to media companies? (Know that by traditional marketing metrics, a decent conversion is pretty damn low – IE less than one half of one percent of people who see a paid offer actually converting).

Anyone out there have an answer?

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11 thoughts on “What Are The Conversion Rates for Google's "First Click Free"?

  1. Christian says:

    John,
    You are right about WSJ, but anyone producing a good / specific content should be interested,especially if you include real-time and geo-localization dimensions.

  2. haber says:

    I think very successful Google adwords advertising policies for users. But I do not think the same thing for publishers. Close the account can now unnecessary and meaningless. And do you know about any defense can not. In general, I agree John. I wish to continue their success.

  3. Craig says:

    This is nothing more than a peace offering to try and cut the tension but the model doesn’t work, it will simply promote the idea of hopping away from the papers and finding news in a variety of other publications once you’ve hit your five.

    This ‘payment dodging’ will be extremely easy to do (this news alone had 1,200 or so articles relating to it, it won’t be hard to skip around keeping off the five a day radar)

  4. Dan says:

    I think you may have it wrong, John. As someone who own’s a business that sells content, we interpret the 1st click free program as a way to get our restricted content indexed by Google.

    Because our content requires both registration and payment to be viewed, Google will not index it unless you let any and all traffic from search results to view content for free. In fact, If you took matters into your own hands, by say allowing literally 1st click free, but then place a cookie on a machine to prevent any further repeat views, you’d also get banned. 1st click free is a misnomer. It really means “All Clicks Free” so long as they come from Google. And yes, people do cancel subscriptions because of this: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-lets-paywall-sites-limit-free-access-to-five-clicks-per-day-2009-12

    Sure, only one person who actually cancelled a WSJ sub, but what all the others who just never bothered subscribing. I would guess that number is much higher.

    By participating in the 1st click free program, a paid content provider is essentially playing by Google’s rules to get their content indexed. So, it is not the other way around as you suggest. Google is not appeasing the publisher sites. It is saying…if you want your content indexed in the main search results, it has to be free all the time.

    At least that is how we interpreted it.

  5. Bill says:

    Craig makes a good point. The fix was likely an easy one for Google to do, and they’ve generally been standing by while Murdoch et al shout into the wind.

  6. Dan, you can totally have your paid content be in Google and not give any of your clicks, first or whatever, away for free. There’s a lot of confusion about this. I just did an entire article/interview with Google explaining this in more depth:

    http://searchengineland.com/josh-cohen-of-google-news-on-paywalls-partnerships-working-with-publishers-29881

  7. @Danny Sullivan, not in the main web index you can’t, as per your own article. The confusion is entirely coming from Google and their autistic behavior. Google News drives a tiny fraction of the traffic generated by the main site. Standing 100% by what Dan wrote, as another paid content publisher.

  8. There are way too many news organizations out there to make it economically affordable for a consumer to subscribe to them based on finding stories in major search engines.

    If the news industry comes up with a low-cost universal subscription service or consolidates down to about 3 news organizations, they might have a chance.

  9. Antonis says:

    I totally agree with Craig. That is just google throwing the ball back to mr.Murdoch. They dont want to appear as the bad ones in this case. Google try to do there part and “protect” the news industry or at least to seem like they are trying…

    however people will most probably go to the next newspaper when they reach 5 hits.

    Its up to them to offer content that is of high quality and make people to want to subscribe..

  10. Jaren Green says:

    his is interesting. A Google rep told me that Google wants all information to be free. That comment has been quoted before, but this time it was said in the context of my client’s subscription-fee-based information. To Google, the password is an irritant.

    Danny mentions Google Scholar, but that door closed for us too. We built the XML for Google to index and they promised to keep it secure, but then Scholar went silent. So now, there is NO way (not even Google Scholar) for a publisher of subscription-based information to get it published.

    We will soon have subscription-based content on our new site SolutionPipe.com. If anyone knows how I can get the content indexed without giving it away, please tell me.

  11. air max 90 says:

    Its up to them to offer content that is of high quality and make people to want to subscribe..

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