Monday, October 2, 2017
In Google’s mission to organize the world's information, we want to guide Google users to the highest quality content, the principle exemplified in our quality rater guidelines. Professional publishers provide the lion’s share of quality content that benefits users and we want to encourage their success.
The ecosystem is sustained via two main sources of revenue: ads and subscriptions, with the latter requiring a delicate balance to be effective in Search. Typically subscription content is hidden behind paywalls, so that users who don’t have a subscription don’t have access. Our evaluations have shown that users who are not familiar with the high quality content behind a paywall often turn to other sites offering free content. It is difficult to justify a subscription if one doesn't already know how valuable the content is, and in fact, our experiments have shown that a portion of users shy away from subscription sites. Therefore, it is essential that sites provide some amount of free sampling of their content so that users can learn how valuable their content is.
The First Click Free (FCF) policy for both Google web search and News was designed to address this issue. It offers promotion and discovery opportunities for publishers with subscription content, while giving Google users an opportunity to discover that content. Over the past year, we have worked with publishers to investigate the effects of FCF on user satisfaction and on the sustainability of the publishing ecosystem. We found that while FCF is a reasonable sampling model, publishers are in a better position to determine what specific sampling strategy works best for them. Therefore, we are removing FCF as a requirement for Search, and we encourage publishers to experiment with different free sampling schemes, as long as they stay within the updated webmaster guidelines. We call this Flexible Sampling.