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Paywall SEO: Digital First Print Second, From 0 to 35k subscribers in a year

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Paywall SEO: Digital First Print Second, From 0 to 35k subscribers in a year

With more and more publishers adopting a paywall due to the decline in print circulation and revenue, media brands are looking to subscription models for the future of digital news and journalism.

But how do paywalls impact SEO? Learn the technical SEO best practices when it comes to integrating a paywall. Avoid the most common mistakes as they are revealed and get strategic insight into how Independent.ie went from 0 to 35k paying subscribers in a year. And think more than content when it comes to your paywall SEO strategy.

With more and more publishers adopting a paywall due to the decline in print circulation and revenue, media brands are looking to subscription models for the future of digital news and journalism.

But how do paywalls impact SEO? Learn the technical SEO best practices when it comes to integrating a paywall. Avoid the most common mistakes as they are revealed and get strategic insight into how Independent.ie went from 0 to 35k paying subscribers in a year. And think more than content when it comes to your paywall SEO strategy.

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Paywall SEO: Digital First Print Second, From 0 to 35k subscribers in a year

  1. 1. Paywall SEO: Digital First Print Second, From 0 to 35k subscribers in a year Dan Smullen | Mediahuis Ireland https://www.slideshare.net/danrsmullen/ @Dansmull
  2. 2. Why Paywalls?
  3. 3. 1. Newspaper Circulation 2020 2000 ● UK national newspaper sales have fallen by nearly two-thirds over the last two decades
  4. 4. 2. Newspaper Ad Revenue ● Western European newspaper revenues have fallen by more than a third from 2003 to 2019. Source: Western Europe News Media Landscape Trends
  5. 5. 3. The Rise in Ad Blockers 1. The Rise in Ad Blockers Ad-blocker users In the United States alone, has grown from 15% in 2014 to almost 27% in 2020. Source: Statista.com
  6. 6. What if people won’t pay?
  7. 7. The #1 Reason people do not pay for news is because it is free! Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report
  8. 8. People have always paid for quality journalism “Think about it. We’re bakers and we make croissants, and if you come to one door, our print door, you pay for the croissants” “But if you come to the back door, the digital door, we give them away for free.” And in Feb 2020 this enticing yet unsustainable bakery deal is over. “From now on, also at the back door, we’ll ask the 2½ euro a week for the croissants there.”
  9. 9. “Digital First Print Second” Print editions of dozens of regional newspapers to finish, with sweeping job cuts feared From 0 to 30k+ subscribers
  10. 10. Digital news subscriptions is the future of journalism.
  11. 11. What impact does a paywall have on search?
  12. 12. 2 in every 5 visitors to Independent.ie comes from earned media such as search or social.
  13. 13. Independent.ie tested a regwall and found no significant impact on traffic. ● Before introducing our paywall, we implemented a registration wall. ● The regwall was tested on two completely temporary replicas of our sites for Canada (independent.ie/ca/) and Australia (independent.ie/au/). ● For users in those countries, we put all content behind a registration wall. ● We observed no significant drop in traffic (~5%) with a significant increase in new subscriptions.
  14. 14. “You can’t just switch a paywall on and just think you’re done” TheSun.co.uk Paywall SEO failure ● In 2013, the Sun.co.uk introduced a paywall. ● In 2015, the paywall was scrapped. ● In 2016, technical SEO with Barry Adams commenced. ● 2017 visibility greater than before the paywall disaster. Source: Sistrix.com
  15. 15. Technical SEO and Google’s Guidelines Matter The Times UK traffic impact of implementing flexible sampling. ● The Times UK’s audience development team wrote on medium that prior to adhering to the paywall SEO guidelines the Times UK were “virtually non- existent in it’s search engine results pages”. ● When they implemented the flexible sampling structured data in 2018, they doubled their page visits in comparison to 2017.
  16. 16. What are the technical SEO requirements of a paywall?
  17. 17. 1. Google must be able to crawl paywalled content
  18. 18. 2. Structured Data must be used ● Paywall structured data must be used to differentiate paywalled content from the practice of cloaking.
  19. 19. 3. Paywalled content must use markup (Hardwall only) 1. A class name using for the cssSelector property needs to be around each paywalled section of the page. (.class selector only) 2. NewsArticle structured data must be used for AMP and non-AMP. 3. The cssSelector must reference the class name in the NewsArticle structured data. HTML Structured data Tip The no archive robots meta tag can be used on all paywall articles to prevent Google’s cache from storing paywalled content to prevent users bypassing the paywall.
  20. 20. You don’t need to market to bots!
  21. 21. “For Paywalled Content, Google allows you to “legitimately” cloak googlebot” What we see What Googlebot sees “Paywall structured data markup doesn’t need to be visible to users, but it does need to be visible to web crawlers” Google’s John Mueller Source: Search Engine Journal
  22. 22. And not just Google, Facebook also wants you to cloak them! Tip “Whitelist Facebook’s user agent. This will allow Facebook to access the content.”
  23. 23. What are the different paywall models?
  24. 24. Paywall Models Key Currency used to unlock access 1. Data and consent (e-mail registration wall) 2. Time (ad walls) 3. Effort (survey walls) 4. Money (paywall) Barrier Customer segmentation tools 1. Brand awareness and attitude (hardwall, subscriber only) 2. Interest (freemium models) 3. Behaviours (metered, time, dynamic walls) 4. Hybrid (mix of the above) Benefits Value proposition traded for currency 1. Content (news, non-news, owned, aggregated) 2. Features and tools (apps, puzzles, comments) 3. Experiences (less or no ads) 4. Non-content (gifts, events, competitions, tools)
  25. 25. What paywall model works for SEO?
  26. 26. Freemium Model 1: Metering/Dynamic (Cookie Based) Cookie based metering has been used by some of the most successful news subscription providers such as the NYtimes.com, Boston Globe, and Wired. For SEO, this model is perfect for SEO as google does not store cookies, and all content for Googlebot is free. In Googlebots eyes it’s almost as if there is no paywall.
  27. 27. Freemium model 2: Lead In (Javascript Based) The lead in method is where a publisher offers a portion of an articles content without it being shown in full. There are several methods of implementing this, shown above is where you hide the content using Javascript for logged out users, whereby the content is still in the HTML. The downside of this method is that the content is available for bots/scrapers.
  28. 28. Freemium Model 3: Free Content and Hardwall (Server based) ● The lead in hardwall freemium model blends a mix of free and paid content. ● Users are only shown the paywall. ● Only the real googlebot is allowed in. Free Content Paid for Content with Fake Googlebot Paid for Content with Real Googlebot
  29. 29. Hardwall model 1: Lead In with content in structured data for Googlebot only. If a user is logged in, content is returned. Logged out users will only see a few paragraphs of content. For Googlebot, the lead in hardwall uses flexible sampling where by it has it’s content in the structured data.
  30. 30. Hardwall model 2: Content only visible to Googlebot and logged in users All Content is hidden to logged out users Not if you are the real Googlebot
  31. 31. What paywall model does not work for SEO?
  32. 32. 1. Treating Googlebot the same as logged out users
  33. 33. 2. Redirecting and forcing Googlebot to log in from the indexable URL
  34. 34. 3. Not using paywalled structured data
  35. 35. “If the content is not visible to search engines, they can’t crawl, index and your paywalled content won’t rank well.”
  36. 36. “What’s good for SEO might not be as good for conversion” Harder paywalls are better for conversion, but harder to build an audience. Ensuring a paywall is search engine friendly is imperative for search traffic. Paywall Type SEO Traffic Conversion Metered Good Good Okay Hardwall Bad Bad Good Google Friendly Hardwall Good Bad Good Freemium with lead in Okay Bad Good Google Friendly Freemium lead in Good Okay Good
  37. 37. Paywall SEO Strategy
  38. 38. Reminder: “You can’t just switch a paywall on and just think you’re done” TheSun.co.uk Paywall SEO failure ● In 2013, the Sun.co.uk introduced a paywall. ● In 2015, the paywall was scrapped
  39. 39. If you want subscribers, say goodbye to clickbait Quality journalism goes hand in hand with a successful subscription model. Independent.ie exposed a politician for feeding the compensation culture instead of defending it. As a result it got the country talking. That same politicians name was the 5th most searched person in 2019 https://trends.google.com/trends/yis/2019/IE/
  40. 40. “You need to go beyond the headlines and offer quality content” Key Insight: Going beyond the headlines” and offering quality exclusive and unique insight drove the highest amount of new subscribers.
  41. 41. Subscribers may only be as small as 9% of your audience
  42. 42. So, don’t count on them for search traffic! When paid for content was launched with Independent.ie the homepage layout was changed to reflect this. From testing, we found people were most likely to pay for analysis and less for showbiz/entertainment. But for SEO, there was a reduction of 72% of articles being referred from the homepage. All content sections removed from the homepage lost +50% of position 1 rankings.
  43. 43. The structure of a news sites homepage matters for SEO ● The homepage has the most external and internal page rank. By removing pages from the homepage, this was a clear cut signal to Google and other search engines that these pages/articles were less important. For news SEO article Inlinks matter.
  44. 44. Increased total referring articles from the homepage
  45. 45. Impact: Clicks From Search Trending Upwards The decline of clicks from search since the homepage layout change in Febuary 2020 shows a positive average increase of 11% for December/Jan when compared to October/November of 2020.
  46. 46. “Paywall may work for News SEO but try not to kill your evergreen content with a paywall” Google may be using lower CTRs, increased bounce-backs to search, and lower dwell times for evergreen content to identify user satisfaction issues.
  47. 47. Instead understand and include customer segmentation in your content strategy.
  48. 48. Think about how search can help your conversion funnel Key Point: The conversion funnel is not linear. People may start with a search, but loyalty can be fostered through a newsletter strategy
  49. 49. Would you buy before you try?
  50. 50. “Think more than content with your paywall SEO strategy” Puzzles Tools Recipes Podcasts/Video
  51. 51. About Me: DanSmullen.com @dansmull
  52. 52. Publishing 52
  53. 53. Non-Publishing 53
  54. 54. Thank you.``

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