If they didn't comply with that policy, then the site would rank lower in search results because Google's algorithm only scanned for free content.
For several years Google has required news providers - who wanted to receive prominent placement in search results - to allow visitors to their sites to view at least one news story for free with its 'First Click Free' policy. As a result, the Journal saw a 44 percent drop in traffic from the search engine.
Flexible Sampling is the first of several new features Google has planned for publishers. In a blog post, Google News chief Richard Gingras announced that First Click Free was being replaced by a new policy called "Flexible Sampling". That hasn't been the case, and Google has now made a decision to reorder the balance of its algorithms to not penalise paywalled content. This will allow publishers to determine the quantity of content pieces that they will give out for free -many may no longer give any pre-paywall content out at all. The company is also testing other methods of encouraging subscriptions, like single-click sign-ups for Android devices.
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"Our goal is to make subscriptions work seamlessly everywhere, for everyone", said Gingras. For example, the company is exploring the use of machine learning tools to help publishers identity potential subscribers so they can send customized offers to them. Both platforms are still capable of delivering millions of readers to publishers, and the prospect of that power being used to drive subscriptions is undoubtedly tempting.
Facebook, Alphabet's top rival in online advertising, is working on similar subscriber registration tools. Mr. Gingras said Google expected to begin rolling out its suite of subscription support services in the first half of next year. This will help Google understand that the publisher is not cloaking - when sites serve different content to Googlebot than users - and that it is an approved paywall.
Google has been meeting with publishers over the past several weeks about improving website load times and video performance.