What’s this about?

This is an extract from TWIS SEO Update 9th June 2017.

You can read actionable insights into the reasons for The Wall Street Journal Losing 44% of SEO Traffic in this post. If you would like to discuss the ways modifying your traffic / revenue model might impact your web business, please feel free to contact me.

#SEO #SERP #WSJ #GoogleNews

Wall Street Journal Organic Traffic Drop


  • After removing itself from Google’s First Click Free program in February 2017, organic traffic to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) dropped by 44% according to the WSJ itself.
  •  First Click Free was replaced by a straight subscription sign-up, resulting in a quadrupling of new sign-ups.
  • The WSJ believes it is being discriminated against as a paid-for news site.
  • The WSJ pages still appear in search, perhaps not as prominently, and with (occasionally) a “subscription” tag appended by Google.
  • The WSJ stats are likely to be cherry-picked to promote their argument. Independent analysis is not wholly possible.
  • This revelation is another shot in the long-running battle between old media and new media.

TWIS 09 June 2017 WSJ Organic Traffic Drop

Credit: SEMRush

Actions to take:

  1. Remember that the WSJ is a very strong brand. It has a lot of natural organic brand search. Its results will not be easily replicated.
  2. Remember that since the Vince update Google operates on “what do users expect to see” principles with strong brands like the WSJ expected by users to be part of the search results.
  3. Before switching off First Click Free or removing free content conduct a thorough analysis of benefits versus disbenefits.
  4. Test proposed free / subscription changes thoroughly, including subscription types and price points.
  5. Workshop expected long-term traffic impacts. Conversion rates may increase, but without traffic there will be no conversions.
  6. Contact me if you would like to discuss ways to optimise revenue and sign-ups from content.


Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp have long-held beliefs that users should have to pay for its news content, and that Google should not be able to index and surface their content for free. Over the last few years most of NewsCorp’s premium news sites in the UK and Australia have moved towards paywalls using varying models.

These models include a free front-page followed by a straight sign-up now, or followed by half-page article with “a register to read more” free or paid sign-up.

It isn’t surprising that the WSJ has lost so much traffic, but caution is needed when interpreting the figures. It looks from the stats posted above from the SEMRush tool, that the WSJ may well be using year-on-year figures, May 2016 to May 2017. If you look closely, you can see that May 2016 was a peak, but that since Feb 2017 there has only really been a 25% drop-off in organic traffic.  It should also be noted that SEMRush’s stats are great, but they aren’t the whole organic search market, and they aren’t WSJ’s own analytics.

Unfortunately, we have no conversion comparison data to go on. It is important to be aware that the sign-ups are likely to be a reflection of changes in conversions rates rather than absolute numbers or total numbers.

It is critical for anyone contemplating a shift away from First Click Free, or free information, to a sign-up only model, that you realise that WSJ has one of the strongest news brands. It would be remiss of Google not to include it in its results in some way. Excluding WSJ would diminish the quality of Google’s results in their users’ eyes. If your brand is a strong as WSJ, it may be worthwhile. If it’s not…

More info:

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The State of SEO Mid-2017 Released

The State of SEO Mid 2017

We recently released the super-exciting The State of SEO in mid-2017. Read it now.

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  • Read The State of SEO in mid-2017.
  • The Wall Street Journal turned off First Click Free and lost 44% of organic traffic (according to them).
  • However, it did quadruple sign-ups with the replacement subscribe-to-read model.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to discuss what these changes mean for your web property, or would like to know how to implement them, please feel free to contact me.

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