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News of the World cloaking stories and breaking Google paywall rules

March 15, 2011 One Comment

If you're a publisher with a paywall, you can remain in Google News if you stick to one of three methods of giving searchers a good user experience.

You can implement first click free (where searchers can read the story they found in Google News - but clicking on any other link triggers the paywall), have your site marked as "subscription" in the results or display a minimum 80-word summary of the article.

What you can't do is show Google News one thing - and searchers a subscription page. But that's what the News of the World is doing.

What the News of the World is doing

It's applying first click free to most of its recent stories but locking some new ones behind the paywall.

A recent NOTW story

So it's getting the benefit of all its stories being in Google News but still putting up a "subscribe now" message to people who click through to some of them.

You can run a Google source search to see all the News of the World stories in Google News.

The story pictured here, for instance, is freely accessible from Google News, as it should be with first click free (this search at Google News will find the story).

However, if you click through into the second page of that "source" search, you can see stories such as this one about Cheryl Cole (this search will return that page in Google News if you want to try to see it).

Snippet from Google News

Cheryl Cole story: triggers the paywall

Click through to that one, however, and you get the paywall subscription page:

Sign up page

The paywall is triggered

Here's another story that's in Google's index from last weekend but which triggers the paywall message (run this search to find that story and see):

Wayne Rooney story

Wayne Rooney story: triggers the paywall

And here's a third (run this search to find it):

Only Way is Essex story

Only Way is Essex story: triggers the paywall

Go back far enough and Google is applying the "suscription" marker to old stories as this screenshot shows (of the last story published on the 9th March and the first on the 10th).

One with "subscription" text, one without

Really old stories have "subscription"

But that still leaves high-profile pages from the most recent weekend that don't have the "subscription" marker, which the News of the World has let Google index - but which searchers now can't see unless they sign up.

And is it coincidence that the pages in question involve popular search terms like Wayne Rooney, Cheryl Cole and The Only Way is Essex?

Google is clear about this:

Google has strict policies against what's known as cloaking: showing one web page to the crawler that indexes it but then a different page to a user. We do this so that users aren't deceived into clicking through to a site that's not what they were expecting.

Will Google take action? Let's wait and see ...

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