Microsoft Man To Publishers: Google Punches Holes In Your Paywall, But Bing Won’t

Is Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) turning to “research” in its pitch to paywall-happy news publishers?

MSN UK content manager Alastair Bruce has published a 60-slide personal presentation on the topic (via that nicely surveys 30 paid content sites – and then concludes: our search engine will protect your upcoming charging model but Google (NSDQ: GOOG) will damage it.

Says Bruce’s study…

“With some sites (FT), coming to the news articles from Google gives access to content that breaches the sub or registration wall. This does not happen with Bing.

“Pasting the headline into Google then clicking on the result allows me to read the whole article. BUT try this with Bing and you get the subscription wall.

“If sites suffer the same issue as the FT (subscription/registration content is able to be read via Google), then their model will be compromised.”

The phenomenon is a relatively well-known loophole, but it’s no accident, nor a fault of Google’s – some time ago, deliberately opted in to use Google’s First-Click-Free scheme to let Google crawl behind its paywall and to give full articles to readers who come via the search engine.

In fact, we’ve learned from the FT that it will use the scheme still further. It has accepted the additional First-Click-Free offer Google made to publishers late last year and will be reducing to fivethe number of articles search users can get this way.

In his study, Bruce examines how different approaches to search engine optimisation of a range of paid publications may “turn some users off” and lead to less visibility. He urges publishers to optimise landing pages for walled-off stories.

Bruce says the “opinions expressed here are his and not necessarily those of Microsoft“, and MSN points out that it was a personal piece. But this is exactly the kind of area in which Microsoft took an interest last autumn, when it began supporting Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), the newspaper business’ preferred system of rule-making for whether search engines can go behind the wall or not.

Rupert Murdoch may have declared an end to search engine dependency – but staff at his titles like Times Online remain interested in using search engine optimisation to retain visibility to people over the wall. As all this shakes out, both search sites would rather accommodate the publishers than lose them.