Join Maxime Monรฉ, CEO at Poool, and SEO expert Vahe Arabian, Founder and Director of State of Digital Publishing, as they discuss whether a paywall can have a negative impact on SEO, best practices to follow and how you can maximize the value of both your conversion strategies and SEO performance.

On the agenda:

  • Walls 101 - the basics
  • Walls and SEO - the โ€˜need to knowโ€™
  • Can a wall have a long-term negative impact on SEO?
  • SEO guidelines for maximizing wall value and SEO simultaneously

Who are Poool?

The all-in-one Membership and Subscription Suite for digital publishers to convert, manage and retain their members and subscribers.

Who are SODP?

State of Digital Publishing is a publication and community for digital media and publishing professionals in new media and technology , additionally providing a range of SEO and content strategy solutions.

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Walls 101 - the basics

The type of wall employed has a huge impact on your SEO performance and strategy, so it's important to understand the variety of wall and blocking possibilities.

What are the different types of walls?

๐Ÿช Cookie wall - presented to users who decline consent to cookies, asking them to either accept the user of cookies or support the production of your content in another way.
๐ŸŽฏ Goal = to increase consent rates

๐Ÿ“’ Registration wall - blocks content and asks or requires users to create a free account on your site in order to gain access to your content.
๐ŸŽฏ Goal = increase the number of registered users, collect 1st party data, monetize from advertising

๐Ÿ’ฐ Paywall - blocks and asks or requires a user to pay to subscribe in order to access premium content.
๐ŸŽฏ Goal = increase the number of paying subscribers

Vahe, have you noted an acceleration in the number of walls being employed by publishers?

Yes absolutely - if we look at Google trends, we can see a huge increase in the number of walls being employed across digital publisher's websites, particularly with the advent of ad blockers and during the initial covid period.

We've also noted a diversification of the wall types, especially in the more established, bigger, english-speaking countries like India and Europe.

We can also divide each of these wall types further:

๐Ÿ‘‰ Metered wall - allows users access to a limited amount of content before they're blocked. For example, 3 free articles before a paywall.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Freemium wall - content is divided into free and premium, with the latter being behind a wall

๐Ÿ‘‰ Hard wall - all content is behind the paywall (think Financial Times)

Paywalls and SEO

Vahe, can the type of paywall (such as metered vs freemium) influence its impact on SEO?

We'll cover this more later but yes, depending on the crawling and technical aspects of the wall, you'll potentially see discoverability issues with the content depending on the wall employed.

But it's also important to consider HOW you implement each of those different types, because there's huge variation even within a single type. This is especially the case of dynamic approaches, where audiences are segmented and presented with different journeys.

What are the different blocking methods?

๐Ÿ‘‰ Frontal or user side, either via CSS or Javascript

๐Ÿ‘‰ Back or server side, with or without SEO optimization

So, which is the best solution?

Unfortunately, this isn't easy to answer because it depends on the strategy.

For instance, if you're very dependent on SEO and just starting out with a paywall, we'd recommend the user side blocking method as there's less risk involved in terms of SEO.

In general, you can use the table below to compare pros and cons as well as work out which is the best option for your own strategy.

Paywalls and SEO

What are your thoughts on this, Vahe?

You have to consider the level of capabilities that you have, but, at the end of the day, it's all about how you protect your content, your main asset to drive monetization.

You'd also need to think about structured data for copywriting and watermarking, particularly as Web.3's coming into effect. This is actually something that you can embed in your content so that if another site republishes your content elsewhere, you'll still get the attribution back to you. This will protect you for the long-term.

These different wall types, models and blocking methods don't make things simple... but that's what we'll cover next.

Walls and SEO - the 'need to know'

Technical SEO implementation for paywalled content:

๐Ÿ‘‰ Back in the day, google recommended free sampling

๐Ÿ‘‰ Now, they're bringing Google News Showcase as an alternative, particularly as many legislation changes are dictating that publishers need to be compensated for their work

๐Ÿ‘‰ Publishers have 2 options:

1) Metered sampling (metered paywall) - users offered a limited number of articles per month
โœ… Allows for content discovery
โœ… ย Great for publishers launching a subscription strategy

2) Lead in (hard paywall) - user can read title and first paragraph before the block
โœ… ย Works well for premium, evergreen content and niche topic focused content
โŒ ย Hard paywall can affect bounce rates which will influence SEO ranking
โ— But readers need to know what they're subscribing to ๏ธ๏ธ

Importantly, both need to allow for content discovery to increase propensity to subscribe.

For instance, in the lead-in approach, you can add an executive summary at the beginning of the content, discussing the most important points, prior to the wall. This has the dual benefit of increasing propensity to subscribe and improving SEO performance.

Showing Google paywalled content with structural data

With all the content discoverability nowadays, it really comes down to how you mark up the schema for your content and paywall.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Your code has to tell Google which content is behind a paywall

๐Ÿ‘‰ This is crucial because, if not abided by, you may be penalized for cloaking and probably not rank

๐Ÿ‘‰ Requires a combination of the Paywall schema and Google NewsArticle schema together to make sure your content is discoverable

Paywalls and SEO

Indicating paywalled content to avoid cloaking

  1. Add a class name to each section of the page thatโ€™s blocked by a paywall.
  2. Add some NewsArticle structured data (or article schema for non-news based content).
  3. Add the structural data linked to the paywall in the JSON-LD NewsArticle.
Paywalls and SEO
Paywalls and SEO

What about paywalled content on AMP, News and Discover?

This schema is platform agnostic, meaning that if you're going to use it on AMP, on discover or Google News, all the visitors who come to your site will experience the same thing.

Perhaps the only nuance you want to consider for AMP is that the AMP plugin is compatible with the schema that you've imported, because it might be that you're using different templates.

Can a wall have a long-term negative impact on SEO?

The good news here is that by choosing the right wall strategy with the right blocking method and by following the 'need to know' guidelines, we know that we can feature our content on Google, Google News, etc.

But one question that's asked a lot is whether having a paywall will have a long-term negative impact on SEO?

Research online will tell you both answers...

Paywalls and SEO

Vahe, what are your thoughts?

I think that, overall, with technology improving and everything becoming more streamlined to make content discoverable (including Google's own methods of ensuring this is possible), the answer is that it's not going to have any impact.

The reason it's maybe had a negative impact in the past is for 2 reasons:

1) Maybe the content type isn't a good fit for a subscription strategy, which is definitely something to consider

2) Technology didn't used to be as advanced as it is now, and many recent implementations are significantly decreasing risks of a wall to SEO

Max adds that this is a commitment for publishers to not only implement the right strategy to begin with, but keep to the current guidelines from Google and adapt to ensure your paywall doesn't negatively impact your SEO performance.

Ultimately, there's no one strategy that will fit all.

What if we took a different approach to the question?

How can we maximize SEO and wall value at the same time?

There's no magic recipe, but there are certainly some rules you can follow:

๐Ÿ‘‰ ย Adapting the blocking method depending on content type

One of our clients has a lot of young readers who know how to bypass the paywall. So, to reduce these risks, they implemented different strategies depending on whether the content was lower value or premium. This made sure they got the most value possible from these premium articles

Premium or high value content โ†’ Server side blocking (hard to bypass)

Not exclusive but not free (low value content) โ†’ User side blocking

๐Ÿ‘‰ ย Change your โ€œpaidโ€ rules (premium / free) based on content type

โ€œColdโ€ content + all your competitors are free = ๐Ÿ˜ญ โ†’ No Wall

โ€œHotโ€ content + all your competitors use a wall = ๐Ÿค— โ†’ Ok, Paywall

Vahe adds that you need to understand the goals of each content, which is the concepts around creating pillars and clusters.

Imagine pillars as sections of your website, the evergreen content. You then create the related clusters around that subject, and there may be other content that is promotional, such as case studies or opinion pieces (which convince people to subscribe).

For instance, The Athletic used to employ a hard wall strategy, but they now take a freemium approach to broaden their audience and get into profitability. Now, they successfully drive people to convert through CTA buttons on their pillar pages whilst specific topic 'cluster' articles have lead in paywalls to increase subscriptions.

Paywalls and SEO
The Athletic pillar page
The Athletic cluster page

We can say then that a different strategy may be used depending on the paywall employed and content, but also on where the maturity level of the publisher (i.e. at the start of their subscription strategy, employed a paywall for years, etc).

๐Ÿ‘‰ ย Adapt your โ€œpaidโ€ rules (premium / free), based on potential (SEO/SUB)

High SEO Risk + Low subscription propensity = โŒ โ†’ No wall

Low SEO Risk + High subscription propensity = โœ… โ†’ Ok, Paywall


1- Competition
๐Ÿ‘‰ ย Check competitive landscape and adapt your blocking rules

2 - Blocking method

๐Ÿ‘‰ ย Choose the right blocking method based on your audience, SEO dependency, maturity, competition, etc.

3 - Paid rules

๐Ÿ‘‰ ย Make sure subscription and SEO teams are working together to choose the best paid rules

4 - AND make sure every choice you make will also benefit user experience (which, in turn, will benefit SEO)

Vahe, do you have any other tips to add?

On top of all these things, I'd recommend investing in ensuring your website is compliant for a good user experience. But definitely the most important is finding the right solution for you, based on your current situation.

Poool would like to thank Vahe for joining us in this insightful webinar!