This is a guest post by CT Moore.
When Rupert Murdoch shut Google out of its newspaper, the Times alone lost 90% of readers. But what if I told you that Murdoch didn?t have to lock Google out to erect a paywall?
In this day and age, there are countless anecdotes about why paywalls aren’t a viable business model. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get away with restricting content. Basically, it’s still perfectly viable to (1) restrict your content to registered users only, but (2) still let in Google so that content can still rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Business Reasons for Restricting Content
There are two very good reasons to restrict content. First, you might want to generate leads. For example, you offer content for free, but if users want to access it, they have to offer up some personal information — such as name and email.
More importantly, you might want to restrict content to better monetize your site. In this case, you restrict content to registered users, and then you use the data they provide during the registration process to better understand your user-base. This way, you can better target advertising (and presumably charge more for your ad space).
In this latter case, moreover, there is ample opportunity to access users’ social graph. For instance, you might let them register through Facebook Connect and then use their Facebook social graph data to gain information that they are unlikely to share directly with your site.
So now that you have a reason to consider restricting content, how do you make it show up in Google. Well, the answer is simple: First-Click-Free.
Restricted Content & First Click Free
Google already offers publishers a way to let Google in (to index all their content), but keep unregistered users out. The service is called First Click Free, and as Google explains:
Implementing Google’s First Click Free (FCF) for your content allows you to include your restricted content in Google’s main search index. [...] First Click Free has two main goals:
1. To include high-quality content in Google’s search index, providing a better experience for Google users who may not have known that content existed.
2. To provide a promotion and discovery opportunity for webmasters of sites with restricted content.
To implement First Click Free, you need to allow all users who find a document on your site via Google search to see the full text of that document, even if they have not registered or subscribed to see that content. The user’s first click to your content area is free. However, once that user clicks a link on the original page, you can require them to sign in or register to read further.
So by implementing FCF, publishers can ensure that Google can get in behind their registration wall and index their restricted content. Then, users can find and access that content in the SERPs, but if they want to access additional content, they have to become a registered user. This allows publishers to not only include their restricted content in Google’s index, but attract new users by giving them a taste of what awaits them behind the registration wall.
Lowering Barriers to Content
Given how saturated the content market is and how easy it is to find it for free, users are loath to jump through hoops for content, never mind pay for it. But both Google and popular social media sites offer publishers tools to reach users in a, well, user-friendly kind of way.
With Google’s FCF, however, publishers can expose unregistered users to valuable and targeted content, and given them an incentive to register. And when it comes to lowering the barriers to registration, publishers can leverage Social Media APIs such as Twitter and Facebook Connect so that users can register/login with pre-existing credentials.
Each of these tools not only let you give your content away for free, they also let you market it more effectively, as well as better understand your user-base so that you can better target additional users and grow your audience.
CT Moore consults on SEO and content strategy for the boutique agency Socialed.ca. He has over 5 years experience managing content strategy from the perspective of search and social media, and also sits as a staff editor at Revnews.com.