Google to help limit access to free content

Google is to allow publishers to set a daily limit on the number of articles readers can access for free through its search engine.  

It follows criticism from media companies, including News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, who has threatened to make its content unfindable to users on Google. Murdoch has been said to be in discussions with Microsoft to exclusively list content from its news sites on the Bing search engine.

Although Google’s First Click Free service previously existed, it has now updated it to allow publishers to set users a five click per day limit before a pay or registration wall drops.

In a posting on the Google News blog, business product manager Josh Cohen, said:

Participating publishers allow the crawler to index their subscription content, then allow users who find one of those articles through Google News or Google Search to see the full page without requiring them to register or subscribe.

The user’s first click to the content is free, but when a user clicks on additional links on the site, the publisher can show a payment or registration request. First Click Free is a great way for publishers to promote their content and for users to check out a news source before deciding whether to pay.

Previously, each click from a user would be treated as free. Now, we’ve updated the program so that publishers can limit users to no more than five pages per day without registering or subscribing.”

Speaking at a US Federal Trade Commission workshop, Murdoch this week reiterated his stance that users should pay for online content. He added that currently without online publishers like News Corp, aggregators such as Google would have “blank slides”.

“Right now content producers have all the costs, and the aggregators enjoy [the benefits],” he said.

Google has posted a questions and answers section about First Click Free on its blog:

Q: Do the rest of the old guidelines still apply?

A: Yes, please check the guidelines for Google News as well as the guidelines for Web Search and the associated blog post for more information.

Q: Can I apply First Click Free to only a section of my site / only for Google News (or only for Web Search)?

A: Sure! Just make sure that both Googlebot and users from the appropriate search results can view the content as required. Keep in mind that showing Googlebot the full content of a page while showing users a registration page would be considered cloaking.

Q: Do I have to sign up to use First Click Free?

A: Please let us know about your decision to use First Click Free if you are using it for Google News. There’s no need to inform us of the First Click Free status for Google Web Search.

Q: What is the preferred way to count a user’s accesses?

A: Since there are many different site architectures, we believe it’s best to leave this up to the publisher to decide.


  1. Larry
    2 Dec 09
    9:16 am

  2. i thought this had always existed – it’s just something the site owners turn on on their end.

  3. mumbrella
    2 Dec 09
    9:28 am

  4. Hi larry,

    It’s a story my colleague is currently writing in a bit more detail (lengthier version to appear on this page shortly).

    But my first take is that the key difference is that rather than each and every time a reader lands via Google on First Click Free they can see that page for free, in the future a pay or subscription would drop after viewing five pieces of content in a day, if that’s what the publisher chooses.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  5. Gavin
    2 Dec 09
    10:01 am

  6. Is there a workaround, by perhaps deleting cookies, or would you just have to create multiple Google Accounts?

  7. Damien
    2 Dec 09
    3:36 pm

  8. Looks like Newscorp are trying their hardest to cut off their nose to spite their face.
    Paywalls simply don’t work, and I see this hybrid scheme failing to entice readers to buy their way over to the other side of the wall (where the proverbial grass is um, also brown).
    This plan to limit the number of “free” page impressions only limits the potential reach of their advertisers.