Why PROs Should Not Fear the Paywall

Since its adoption by international publishing companies, the paywall has triggered an array of questions among a group of professionals who have always been working closely with journalists: PR practitioners.

How many times have you, as a PR professional, asked yourself  “If my client’s story is on a newspaper site which has implemented a paywall strategy, will this influence my client’s exposure and visibility in the media? How does it affect the SEO ranking?”.

James Henderson, Senior Business Development Manager at Evolok, was invited to Portland HQ to answer these questions.

In his presentation James debunked two of the most common myths of paywalls.

1. Media exposure and visibility behind a wall     

An increasing number of newspaper publishers have implemented metered/porous models, allowing their readers to view a set number of articles and a certain freedom when it comes to sharing a story on social media.

While the metered feature entitles the user to view a certain number of articles for free, the porousity of a newspaper’s paywall depends how much and for how long an article is permitted to be shared on social media networks. The more shares allowed, the more porous the wall.

The publisher is in entire control of the number of times an article can be read through social sharing as well as how many times their readers can share the story online.

The positive aspect of this is increased traffic; paying subscribers promote the story while readers who are unwilling to pay will still be able to read your story.

Therefore, publishing your story in a newspaper which has implemented a metered/porous paywall will make sure that it is better targeted towards those people who are passionate about the topic. After all, as Peter Himler, contributor at Forbes magazine, has noted:

"A widespread reach isn’t necessarily the target. It’s all about reaching the demographic that cares about that story or issue."

2. The Paywall affects my SEO ranking

It has been widely argued that paid for articles will negatively affect the article’s SEO rankings.  But here is what Madhav Chinnappa, Senior Business Partner at Google, says about it:

"There’s a myth in the industry that having paid content means you’re out of Google. [But] there’s lots of stuff there that allows control at a publisher level to allow them to do what they want."

This is backed up by the fact that Google only needs to view 80 words of the article behind a paywall for the story to maintain its SEO ranking.

3. A few leading PR professionals have also shared their opinions recently when interviewed about paywalls:

"Paying for content is a signal of committed interest. The consumer values it that much. It’s something that they really care about. (…) It’s all about knowing who has the eyes and ears of your target audiences and which of those are likely to fill the top of the funnel." - Dave Clarke, founder/lead strategist of AuthenticMatters

"The impact it is having on public relations campaigns are minimal. Because news goes viral, paywalls have not had that much of an impact on media strategies for our clients. We find that most of the influencers we are seeking to have an impact with are subscribing to the paywall and often the story goes viral with bloggers. The key is to have a story that is newsworthy and stands out." - David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC


Overall, PR practitioners shouldn’t worry about paywalls. As James mentioned in his presentation to Portland :

"Often the paywall has been given various different connotations but we believe it shouldn’t be scary, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare or a dictatorial leader. We actually think the paywall should be a hero."

What are your views on paywalls as a PR practitioner? Feel free to share your experience with us.

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