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How to Optimize Gated Content for Search Engine Traffic

How to Optimize Gated Content for Search Engine Traffic

Does your website feature content that’s only accessible to some visitors and not others? Known as gated content, it’s often used to attract subscriptions. You can create gated content, for instance, that requires a subscription to access. Only after signing up for a subscription will visitors be able to view it.

With gated content, visitors will have an incentive to sign up for a subscription. It’s a way to reward visitors for signing up. If you’re going to use gated content on your website, though, you should optimize it for search engine traffic. Gated content can still generate search engine traffic, but optimizing it requires a different approach than that for ungated content.

The SEO Challenges of Gated Content

Gated content poses challenges for search engine optimization (SEO). Because of its restricted accessibility, search engines typically can’t see it, nor can they crawl it. Search engines, of course, can only rank content that they can see and crawl. Therefore, your website’s ungated content may rank in the search results, whereas its ungated content won’t rank.

Search engines crawl content from the perspective of an ordinary visitor. Each search engine has its own bots, such as Googlebot, Bingbot, and Yandex Bot. When these bots crawl your website, they’ll only see content that’s available for all visitors to see. They won’t be able to see gated content. Gated content is behind a metaphorical wall, so it’s hidden from search engines and ordinary visitors.

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Create Summarized Landing Pages

One solution to overcome the SEO challenges of gated content is to create summarized landing pages. A summarized landing page is essentially an entry page for a piece of gated content. You can create a summarized landing page for each piece of gated content on your website.

These summarized landing pages can include an overview of a piece of gated content. Alternatively, they can include an excerpt of a piece of gated content. As long as the summarized landing pages are ungated, they’ll be able to rank in the search results. Search engines can crawl the summarized landing pages, and visitors can view them to learn more about your website’s gated content.

Use Flexible Sampling

While accessible to search engines, summarized landing pages may not rank high as their corresponding pieces of gated content. Summarized landing pages are shorter than gated content. A typical summarized landing page may contain just one-quarter the number of words of its gated content. Some of them may be even shorter. Regardless, the short length of summarized landing pages may prevent them from ranking as high or for as many keywords as their gated content.

Fortunately, Flexible Sampling offers a solution. Released in 2017, Flexible Sampling is a paywall framework developed by Google. It allows visitors to sample gated content without signing up for a subscription. At the same time, Flexible Sampling allows Google to see gated content for crawling and ranking purposes.

Google offers two types of Flexible Sampling:

1. Metering: Visitors are allowed to access to access a specific number of gated content pieces before signing up for a subscription. With metering, you can specify the maximum number of gated content pieces unsubscribed visitors can access.

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2. Lead-in: Visitors are allowed to access a portion or excerpt of gated content pieces. With lead-in, visitors can only view a small section of above-the-fold content.

To implement Flexible Sampling, you’ll need to mark up your website’s gated content with tags. Flexible Sampling uses JSON-LD markup. You’ll need to use JSON-LD to tell Google where your website’s gated content is located. For more information on how to implement Flexible Sample, visit developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/appearance/flexible-sampling.

Use First Click Free

Bing offers a paywall framework as well. Known as First Click Free, it’s similar to Google’s Flexible Sampling. First Click Free will allow visitors to access a limited number of gated content pieces on your website before signing up for a subscription.

There are a few things you should know before implementing First Click Free. For starters, you must allow access to at least five gated content pieces per day. You can allow visitors to access more gated content pieces, but the daily minimum required by Bing is five. Secondly, First Click Free only affects visitors who discovered your website through Bing. Visitors who discovered your website through a different search engine — or by clicking a link to your website on another site — aren’t affected by it.

Like with Flexible Sampling, First Click Free can help your website’s gated content to rank. It will provide Bing with access to your website’s gated content. Visitors who’ve viewed the daily maximum number of gated content pieces will have to sign up for a subscription to view additional pieces. Nonetheless, Bing will always have access to your website’s gated content

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What About Cloaking?

Some webmasters use cloaking to get their gated content ranked in the search results. Cloaking is a technical process that involves the use of a script to serve different versions of a page to different audiences. For their website’s gated content, some webmasters serve to search engines the ungated versions and visitors the gated versions. But rather than cloaking, you should stick with summarized landing pages or Flexible Sampling and First Click Free.

The problem with cloaking is that search engines may misinterpret it as ranking manipulation. Google’s SEO guidelines state that webmasters should avoid cloaking because it creates unexpected results for visitors. Google will see a different version of a cloaked page, so it may rank that page for irrelevant keywords while using the wrong meta tags.

By default, gated content can’t rank in the search results. It’s only accessible to visitors who’ve signed up for a subscription. Other visitors, including search engines, can’t access it.

You can optimize your website’s gated content for search engine traffic, however, by creating summarized landing pages or implementing Flexible Sampling and First Click Free. Summarized landing pages are short entry pages that describe and point to a piece of gated content, whereas Flexible Sampling and First Click Free are paywall frameworks developed by Google and Bing.

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