What does the end of first click free content mean for readers?

… and what would be the wider ramifications?

This is only a report which has been circulated, and it doesn’t include all content simply that which you need to pay a subscription to view anyway. Let’s explain and look at this a bit closer…

A report has been issued by the Wall Street Journal (American) which suggests that Google is soon to end its First Click Free feature (FCF). Incase you didn’t know what this was, FCF simply allows users to see a piece of content for free on an otherwise subscription paying site when someone clicks through from a Google search. The report which brings this news states that Google is intending to allow publishers to keep the FCF scheme going but only on a voluntary basis.

Why was it introduced?

Originally when this feature was first introduced in 2007 it was designed to entice users to see some content in the hope they might be encouraged to sign up and pay for full access later. It sounds like good psychology – a try before you by, and evidence shows that the approach certain works. Many newspapers and other publishers in the UK adopt the same kind of approach to their content.

However the concept has caused controversy. There have been complaints that it has not been uniformly enforced and the rules have changed over the years meaning the goal posts are not entirely clear or fair according to some.

What would a change mean?

Well the Wall Street Journal have already taken the plunge with this and seen some quite interesting results. The amount of traffic has been said to drop by nearly half yet the amount of conversions through subscriptions has gone up four times!


Google have released an official reply to the report saying they have no plans to make any announcements about FCF at this time. That doesn’t entirely put the topic to rest however with perhaps a careful choice of words?

Let’s assume the change does happen, what would it mean? It would lead many to think that it’s simply a decision about money and trying to make as much as possible. Whilst realising that businesses are businesses some would see this as one step too far, and perhaps cause them to turn away from these avenues. Despite subscriptions increasing in the above example, this is only a one time test. Perhaps we can be reasonably confident the success rate wouldn’t be so high if this was rolled out totally?

Stop and think about UK websites and newspapers. If you couldn’t even see a sample of the site for free, would you be prepared to sign up on a whim? It’s almost like picking up new clothes without trying them on, and hoping they will fit and look fine. The world doesn’t work in this way and more importantly, business doesn’t. We can’t argue with the Wall Street Journal’s results but Google need to watch, think and play this very carefully in our opinion.

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