The New York Times plans to put up some form of a paywall. That's geek-speak for saying the New York Times wants to become a subscription site where you pay to get access to (most) stories.

NYC New York Times Building by wallyg

As someone who makes a living from work that exists on the web I can understand their desire pretty well. Getting paid beats people telling you how good you're doing. Being the grand old lady, as the Times is often referred to is nice, but tell that to the people the NYT had to let go so far already. I'm pretty sure they'd prefer a job and pay.

The Times' former pay-for-access program " TimesSelect — didn't go over well internally, especially with influential columnists who saw their audience dwindle.

Those very columnists are now on the bandwagon as they realize less but paying audience is better than no audience as all as the company disappears.

SEO Questions about Subscription Content

Of course all that is Ruud the considerate talking. When you ask Ruud the SEO " that's different.

Sitting down with the managers I'd say, look, technically this isn't a problem. Going behind a paywall doesn't mean you lose all visibility in the search engines.

We don't need to do any cloaking as we might have had to do in the old days; Google and others provide for a model in which we show them and their visitors a "first view free".

Of course that FVF model can be used to gain almost unlimited access but generally such a trick is used only by a small group of people geeky enough to "go there". Most people eventually blocked by FVF will either leave or have to subscribe.

But visibility in search engines isn't just *presence* in the search engines. Visibility doesn't limit itself to indexed pages.

Visibility in search engines also is ranking. And ranking happens through links.

A web site gets (free) links for two reasons: reference and word of mouth.

I want people to use the New York Times like a huge news encyclopedia, digging up facts and proving their opinion. To do so they will quote and cite the news paper " which means that they'll link to it.

For people to use the site as a reference source, the content has to be visible to all all the time.

I also want people to talk to each other, suggesting they should read or check this or that in the NYT. "Did you see that Bill Gates said?", "You didn't read that?", "After reading that book review I". This kind of word of mouth on the web also results in links.

For people to recommend checking out a certain story the story has to be visible to all all the time.

Thus: less visibility of content leads to less links which in turn leads to less prominent search engine visibility which in turn can lead to less income.

SEO Solutions for Subscription Content

Not in the position to make business decisions as SEO's we often have to deal with less than optimal situations; we have to work within the parameters the client sets.

Given a paywall subscription model, what can we do from an SEO point of view?

The first component — indexing — is outlined above: make sure the site can be indexed. Use the "First View Free" model to appease Google.

The second component — links through presence and mindshare — is where we transition from SEO solutions to SEO strategies.

Here are 3 ideas to create "out of sight, on my mind" solutions that will get and keep people linking.

Share The Media

Instead of showing the story for all to see, share its media freely.

The New York Times has the best infographics, great video and beautiful photos. Especially the first gets talked about and linked to frequently and intensely.

Let the artwork, let the media, do the talking and sharing. A picture tells a thousand words but those interested in the details will still want to read those thousand words.

First View Free + Performance Model

Extend the FVF model to other sites as well.

People will continue to link as they do now because the stories remain visible.

You can easily combine this with performance.

Sites that refer at a certain level earn their referrers more free views. Or, sending traffic at a certain level visitors coming from that site can get a (better) discount.

Of course it's easy to see how we could move into an affiliate model from here, making the linking site profit from its linking.

Web & Social Tools

Create scripts, widgets and apps that add value to stories and encourage visibility.

The NYT has a huge encyclopedia-like reference section. A tool could be offered to web site owners that parses a story, displaying additional information (factlet-style) about it.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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4 Responses to “New York Times: Paid Content & Visibility [Subscription Content SEO]”

  1. Newspapers have to re-design themselves. The days of purchasing paper are on the way out. I totally understand an online subscription if done reasonably.

  2. Terry Van Horne says:

    Ruud, Dave and I recently had the former SEO of NYT MD Simmonds and Topher Kohan of CNN on out podcast "Search Geeks" and we explored this topic a bit. One thing I find interesting is the way the Mobile apps for iPad etc. seem to be getting much faster support and investment than the web has from news pappers. Could be that the delivery system is more suited to a subscription model in that peeps are used to paying for apps for these devices, whereas on the web it is all pretty much free and that is unfortunately the perceived value.

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Terry, what struck me as *weird* from their subscription model is how it differentiates between web + iphone and web + ipad. And that the latter is more expensive — even weirder. Good move on the free social links, of course, but how they're going to stop the floodgates, not sure.