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Google is now letting paywalled publishers limit the number of free articles readers can access through the Web to just three per day.

The Internet giant first introduced its so-called “First Click Free” (FCF) offering a decade ago, letting online publishers with subscription-based content give some access to articles found through Google News and web searches. Though the article a user clicked on could be accessed in full, any subsequent clicks through the site would require the reader to log-in or subscribe. It’s all about letting publishers have their content fully indexed and accessible, while still letting them sell subscriptions.

Then In 2009, Google allowed publishers to implement a “five articles a day” limit, with a view toward “encouraging” more publishers to open up some of their content. But from today, publishers can now elect a limit of just three articles. This applies to content found through both Google News and Google Search, as before.

“Recently we have heard from publishers about the need to revisit these policies to reflect the mobile, multiple device world,” explained John Mueller, a Google Webmaster trends analyst, in a blog post. “Google wants to play its part in connecting users to quality news and in connecting publishers to users. We believe the FCF is important in helping achieve that goal, and we will periodically review and update these policies as needed so they continue to benefit users and publishers alike.”

For publishers wishing to side-step offering free content altogether, they can still do so. One option is to allow the article to be discovered through Google, but append the search result with a ‘Subscription’ tag and then display a subscription page with optional “snippet” when a reader clicks. Alternatively, they can “opt out” of having their premium content indexed at all by Google.

So all that’s really changed today is that Google will now let publishers stipulate fewer free articles per-reader per-day. It’s a minor win for publishers who wish to adopt a so-called “metered” paywall approach, and they can still choose to open up more than three subscription articles if they wish. However, the more tech-savvy readers out there will know that it’s actually pretty easy to circumvent the First Click Free policy, simply by carrying out a fresh web search from scratch.

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