Paywalls & SEO: A winning strategy via @ ChuckPrice518

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The development of a winning SEO strategy has always been the subject of debate.

While most SEO professionals agree on the key factors in ranking organic products, namely good content, solid and robust website architecture. backlinks, the prioritization and execution of these factors can vary and varies greatly. This is largely due to Google's non-transparent algorithm and endless kernel updates.

At the most basic level, the goal of SEO is to give your website the highest possible rank in natural search results. In other words, increase the visibility of your content for users.

Now, think for a moment about what would happen if you put an obstacle, such as a paywall, in front of a user who arrived on your page with the intention of read your content. . This would seem to go against the intuitive sense to provide a good user experience – but not necessarily.

Placing your content behind payment desks or portals has some advantages:

You can get more information about users who access the site. content.Users looking for content behind a paywall will often find it more useful, trustworthy and valuable. Users who access blocked content are often more likely to become a customer than those who choose not to do so.

That being said, the gating content has drawbacks. The three biggest ones are:

You can count on a smaller audience because users choose not to cross the portal. It's harder to gain links because users may not want to be seen as marketers for your content. There is sometimes a negative reaction from users who are stopped by paywall or gated content because they are used to receiving and consuming content freely.

What does Google say about paid content?

Whether your content is free or premium or not, you must follow Google's guidelines.

The main problem for premium content owners is how to be visible in searches if their content is not freely available to all users.

To mitigate this problem, Google initially introduced a Free First Click (FCF) strategy. This meant that in addition to their premium content, publishers had to provide free content that users could access through Google Search.

Suffice it to say that publishers are not the biggest fans of this model. was abandoned in 2017 for the benefit of a new, more aptly called "flexible sampling".

Basically, the new model gives publishers more leeway in deciding how much content they want to freely offer to users and users. how they want to provide it.

Publishers can choose from three options:


With this option, the reader receives a portion or an excerpt of whole article, the rest remaining hidden.

If the user wants to read the rest of the article, he has to pay a subscription. For example, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist and The Times all use this model.


In this case, the user can view a limited number of articles. (usually three) a month. After that, users are invited to subscribe to the website.

Several websites, including the New York Times, Sites and Media of New York Magazine, use this method.

Hard Paywalls

With strict payment walls, all content is blocked. Blocked content is not crawled or indexed by search engines.

This means that there is no chance that a blocked website content will appear organically in the search results.

Which of the three sites is the best Option?

It depends largely on the purpose of your content.

Information platforms, such as the New York Times, were highly successful with measured content. This model allows visitors to get a clear idea of ​​the quality of their content by providing complete samples as "teasers" to encourage users to subscribe.

As of November 2018, seven and a half years after the survey. "Subscription" experience, the NY Times "in failure" would have more than 2.5 million subscribers to digital information.

That said, the original content also has its place. If your premium content is more about studies, graphics, statistics, and data in general, you might do better with introductions rather than measured content. You can present a problem in front of the paywall and propose to solve it on the other side.

Rigid paywalls and SEO do not mix well ~ this is not an option.

Balancing Free Content & Premium

Free content has a distinct advantage over premium content in the area of ​​organic research, because of its sheer volume. This does not mean that premium content publishers will lack organic search opportunities.

In fact, one could argue that SEO is more important for subscription sites because they have an additional hurdle (paywall) to clear.

Premium content publishers actually have two interesting options.

They can look for a balance between free content and premium content, as the New York Times does. They can also create content that readers are looking for, but can not go anywhere else. This content must essentially be exclusive.

In other words, you can not place any type of content behind a paywall.

Basic articles such as "How to optimize your website for SEO" in the thousands (millions?) On the Web and be found with a quick search on Google for free. Users have no reason or motivation to pay for this type of content.

On the other hand, if a publisher deploys considerable effort to discover a need and then create a solution in the form of a white paper, an e-book or article in depth, they can justify placing their specialized content behind a paywall. If the content was created by a renowned expert, so much the better.

To decide whether to block the content or not, it may be wise to ask the following three questions:

The End Game?

Would you like to increase the number of subscribers or generate leads? If this is the case, the content should probably be blocked in one way or another.

However, if you want to generate more visitors and links, the trigger strategy will be counterproductive.

Is the content worth paying?

Put yourself in the user's shoes and answer the following question: "Is this content valuable enough for me to pay or fill out a form?"

Be careful when answering this question. As a creator or curator of content, the pride of being an author can make neutrality difficult.

Is the collected data useful? Another consideration to consider the content is the way it influences the user's experience. The increase in the number of pop-ups and overlays is directly responsible for the increase in the number of ad blocking software.

By requiring users to provide personal information to access locked content, a percentage (sometimes large) of the collected data consists of fake names and email accounts that are burned.

The update & # 39; Fred & # 39; and the difference between hidden content and higher quality

In March 2017, Google introduced an update algorithm called Fred.

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The basic idea was to reward websites with a positive user experience, as well as to demote websites with high quality content and particularly large ads.

Fred also had the unexpected consequence of demoting some legitimate paywall-type websites.

Technical Considerations in SEO for Paid Content

Fred's first problem was that he had trouble distinguishing between hidden and masked content. Since then, Google has come up with a solution: structured data.

In order for paywall content to appear in Google search results, it must follow structured and technical instructions.

JSON-LD and microdata formats are accepted methods for specifying structured data for paid content.

Do not nest content sections.

Only use the .class selectors for the cssSelector property.

Here is an example of a procedure for indicating paid content according to Google's guidelines:

Another important point; Clever researchers learned that it was possible to get around the payment barriers by accessing Google's cache and reading the content for free.

To avoid this, you must use the noarchive robots meta-tag, which will prevent Google from displaying the cached link. to this page.


Should your content be behind a paywall? As we have seen, several factors must be taken into account:

More importantly, does a paywall or subscription offer a value? Enough value for users to justify payment? Or can users access the same type of content elsewhere, for free and over the Internet?

If your premium content is truly unique and is not available elsewhere online, a paywall can be a good idea.

You simply have to face the fact that your audience can be reduced. But the good thing is that those who subscribe, will often be more loyal, will tell you more about themselves by filling out forms, and will provide more value by paying for the content.

Additional Resources:

Image Credits

Selected Image: 7163893 / Pixabay
Image posted : Gerd Altmann / Pixabay
Screenshots taken by the author, June 2019

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