What Does Google New Flexible Sampling Policy Mean for Media Websites?

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In a blog post from October 2, 2017, Google announced that they will be replacing their First Click Free (FCF) policy with a newer and more convenient model: Flexible Sampling. More than a decade ago, Google launched the FCF policy that required media houses to offer a specific number of free articles per day to every Google Search user. With the new Flexible Sampling, media websites can now decide how much free content, if any, Google users can get

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This decision comes after “research, publisher feedback, and months-long experiments with The New York Times and The Financial Times, both of which operate successful subscription services”. Nowadays, subscription models have become an essential revenue stream for publishers and media websites. As such, Google’s new Flexible Sampling model gives media houses more flexibility in doing business, unlike the FCF policy, which favored consumers’ best interests.


To find out more about subscription models, check out our article How to Choose the Best Subscription Model for Your Website.

But what is Flexible Sampling? And what does it actually mean for publishers and media sites?

A New Age of Flexibility

In 2015, the FCF’s final update required publishers to give users access to 3 free pieces of content per day. However, this new policy was still ill-suited for many media websites and publishers. Many users were consuming the free content ensured by Google without ever committing to a subscription, causing many media sites to lose potential revenue.

The new Flexible Sampling can help media websites tap into this fleeting potential income. Media websites can now decide how much free content their users can enjoy based on their own business strategies. Many publishers recognize that free sampling is necessary in order to bring on more subscribers. Readers need to ‘Try before they buy.’ However, Google finally recognizes that “publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them.

The Flexible Sampling models brings with it huge revenue potential for media websites. Yet implementing the smallest change to your currently free content sampling might discourage your average user from revisiting your site. A decrease in traffic can ultimately impact your website’s Google Search ranking. With this in mind, Google followed up their announcement with a list of best practices to smartly implement the new Flexible Sampling model. The search engine even added their own two-cents as to how publishers should strategize their free content offerings.

What does Google Advise?

Google advises media websites and publishers to follow two types of free content sampling:

1. Metering

Metering, also known as a Metered Paywall, involves offering users a quota of free content after which the paywall appears. Unlike the FCF imposed daily metering, monthly metering generally provides websites with more room to test out the ideal amount of free content to give users. How much free content a user gets is key in pushing them to subscribe. Giving too little or too much might hinder a user’s willingness to start paying for your content. A monthly metering system gives your readers enough of a taste to ultimately want to subscribe for more.

So, exactly how much free content is enough?

There is no one answer to that question. However, daily news publishers are advised to offer between 6 to 10 free pieces per user per month as a starting point. According to Google’s recommendation, a free sampling within this range maintains a website’s good visitor experience, while encouraging conversion opportunities among recurring users. Publishers are nonetheless advised to experiment, analyze, and iterate from there, to find the best number that works for their business and readers.

2. Lead-In

The second type of free sampling is lead-in, which offers users a sneak peek to an article without displaying its full content. This method of free sampling is a common practice for Hard Paywall subscription models. It’s important to keep in mind that lead-in is stronger when utilized in addition to metering. Once the meter runs out and the paywall is raised, users are only shown the “above the fold” content of an article. With that being said, instead of completely blocking users out, lead-in exposes them to the value of content they might be missing out on.

Future Changes

With the recent addition of ad-blockers, advertising is no longer enough to bring in a sustainable revenue for most media houses. As an alternative, subscription models are a viable revenue stream that can generate high earnings in the long run. Google’s newest Flexible Sampling approach gives media houses the opportunity to tailor their free samplings and subscription offerings to best fit their business strategies. Google is also working on building a suite of products and services that will improve the reach of media websites and publishers, and lead to more subscriptions. One of their future plans is to “simplify the purchase process and make it easy for Google users to get the full value of their subscriptions across Google’s platforms.”


To find out more about the different types of subscriptions models and how to choose the best one for your website, check out our articles on the various subscription models including Hard Paywall, Soft Paywall, Freemium Model, Download-to-Own and Partnership model.

Saria J. Beainy

Saria is a Partnership Manager at Bookwitty. Her expertise lies in client-focused relationships, with high technical acumen. She is responsible for supporting, developing, and managing Bookwitty partnerships. In her spare time, Saria blogs about all things "wine." You can follow her blog on anotherglassofred.com.