Friday, June 09, 2017

WSJ’s Google Traffic Drops But Paid Subscription Conversion Increases

The Wall Street Journal  (“WSJ”) stopped participating in the “First Click Free” program which allowed Google visitors to bypass its paywall in February 2017.  As a result, WSJ’s Google traffic dropped by 44%.  However, the paid subscription conversions increased fourfold.  The article claimed that WSJ was surprised at the drop in Google traffic and believed they were being discriminated against as a paid news site since they do not get the visibility in search that a free site would get.

It is strange that WSJ was “surprised” at the drop.  When publishers are not in the program, Google cannot fully index their articles which results in less visibility (i.e., less likely to appear for a wider range of topics).  So when WSJ pulled from the program, it should have known Google traffic would decline.  Publishers need to think about the tradeoffs when deciding to participate in the “First Click Free” program.   They must determine if the traffic and related ad revenue offsets potential lost subscription revenue.    It was most likely a strategic move by WSJ to pull and they probably believed losing that traffic and the potential ad revenue would be offset or exceeded by subscription revenue.  It would be interesting to see if the Google traffic dropped resulted in less revenues.  If not, WSJ is ahead in terms of its topline revenues with the additional subscription revenues.

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