CALIFORNIA – Google announced on Monday new steps to help struggling news organisations, including an end to a longstanding “first click free” (FCF) policy to generate fresh revenues for publishers hurt by the shift from print to digital. However, sometimes that content is behind a paywall.

With a large number of news sites locking content away behind a paywall, Google had required publishers to provide people with access to three free articles per day or face demotion in search results.

In its place, Google has introduced a set of “flexible sampling” guidelines that it recommends online publishers use, however they are purely advisory and the internet giant will no longer enforce the model.

Though Google is removing the “first click free” stipulation, the company’s position on the matter remains clear – it really believes publishers must offer some form of free content for first-time clickers.

Google first introduced FCF to subscription-based content more than a decade ago, with users able to read the first article they clicked on a given site in full, however any subsequent clicks through the same site would require them to log-in or subscribe.

It’s something that has already been welcomed by the industry, with Kinsey Wilson, an adviser to New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, saying: “Google’s decision to let publishers determine how much content readers can sample from search is a positive development”.

Google is making the move after feedback from publishers and readers and after tests with the New York Times and the Financial Times.

Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google Inc., said in a blog post Monday that publishers will now be allowed to decide how many, if any, free articles they want to offer readers before charging a fee. The minimum number of items offered under the previous Google search engine rules had been three.

He explained people are becoming more accustomed to paying for news, but that a “sometimes painful process of signing up for a subscription can be a turn-off”. “Longer term, we are building a suite of products and services to help news publishers reach new audiences, drive subscriptions and grow revenue,” Gingras added.

Google also plans to launch free software in the coming months for publishers that enables users to pay for content with credit card information that they’ve previously supplied to the search giant.

“We’re encouraged as well by Google’s willingness to consider other ways of supporting subscription business models and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them to craft smart solutions,” Gingras said.