For a company that constantly preaches the importance of good user experience, Google has been unusually stubborn about one matter – labelling paywall in their search results. The issue is not even up for a debate, anyone advocating for good user experience understands that something needs to be done about this to reduce user friction. Googlers however, keep defying common sense and trying to make excuses for it.
This is possibly due to fear of having to pay for news and are determined to continue passing the cost onto the user instead.
What is the problem?
The issue is complex, but there are some basic facts that are hard to argue with:
- Quality journalism is important and deserves to be supported financially.
- Newspapers have a choice whether to monetise via ads or premium subscription.
- Users have a choice whether to subscribe to premium content or browse through ad-supported content.
It’s this choice, that’s missing from Google’s search results.
What is Google doing about this?
Well Danny already admits that if they put a paywall label nobody would click on it and that would be bad for publishers.
That takes me full circle back to what I said before:https://t.co/t5Y2bPIWRv
Again, I understand the desire for a label. I did already pass it along. It's not the first time this has been raised. I just hope maybe this causes a little more thoughtfulness about the question…
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 4, 2020
I’m pleased to see that he’s passed on the issue internally, but the fact that he’s suggesting that I could be more thoughtful about this means he still doesn’t get it.
I put a lot of thought into this. It’s not about paying for content it’s about user experience, friction and frustration.
What is the solution?
Danny Sullivan rightly claims that content is a product and draws an analogy with physical goods, suggesting you wouldn’t expect to click on a search result and expect a free pair of shoes from an eCommerce site.
While this is true, Google’s search snippet can show the price, category, user reviews.
So if content is a product why not show the price in the snippet? They do it for other digital goods.
Google already offers flexible sampling as a solution. Why not go beyond that and show additional meta data such as:
- Content not visible
- Content partially visible
- Five Free Articles
- Free Trial
Towards True Good User Experience
I offer three ideas:
- Negotiate with newspapers to use Google Pay and integrate micropurchase functionality, make it easy to unlock the article with a single click, for a small fee.
- Give users an option to turn on an auto-pay with Google Pay, so every time a premium article is accessed a small charge is made (for example $0.10 per article).
- Offer a premium content subscription that gives users a Netflix like experience? $9.95 per month gives you access to all premium content in Google’s search results.
There are so many good solutions out there, but sending users to a locked page asking for payment isn’t one of them.
It’s not even about money. It’s the effort. We don’t want to go through hoops just to read a page of content.
Find a way to handle premium content in search in such a way that both Google and publishers make money.
A Google search can sometimes lead to a news article that requires a subscription. Currently there’s no way to know which one. Would you find a label like this useful?
Audience: Users on websites in the Google Surveys publisher network
Age: All Ages
Gender: All Genders
Respondents: 722 collected / 2,000 targeted
Full Data Download
Sample of Detailed Answers
- Yes, absolutely necessary
- yea….i wouldnt pay i’d just google untill i found a free source seems dodgy to pay ?
- Yes good to know which articles are paywalled
- if there’s a subscription
- Very useful
- Yes, id find it useful as would save me from wasting my time clicking on websites that i could not access
- I definitely would.
- this would be helpful
- I would definitely find labeling useful
- No. I want to see the detail of the many different options.
- No as many sites let you access a few articles, a label like this would suggest the whole website is paywalled
- no, i wouldn’t subscribe to anything
- Not particularly, I notice these things & it doesn’t change the circumstances.
- Not the cost but just the fact that a subscription is required
- Not really…if i find I have to subscribe I just dont watch it again.
In the meantime I use my Chrome extension to avoid pogosticking in Google’s search results. Despite the extension’s simplicity my user experience has improved dramatically.
Extension Page: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/paywall-label-for-google/elompmlaepbjbckjcahllcgkpnkmpoln/related?hl=en
Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.
ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6886-3211