Wall and SEO, an impossible marriage?

Wall and SEO, an impossible marriage?

Paywall, cookie wall, registration wall… they all can be a source of problems for natural referencing. The SEOs of two major French media and an expert give their opinion.

The walls thrive on the media. According to a study by Poool, a startup that offers a wall solution, 80% of press professionals in the United States use one. But why ? “When you place a wall on your website, you want to encourage the visitor to take an action that you define,” explains Maxime Moné, CEO of Poool. When the walls respond to one issue of netizen engagement, they raise others in terms of natural referencing. Elle.fr and Le Parisien share their feedback after setting up a wall on their website.

Front or server blockade?

There are different types of walls (paywall, registration wall, and cookie wall) as well as different blocking methods, and not all are equal when it comes to SEO. The two main methods used are front-end blocking and server-side blocking. According to Maxime Moné, “front blocking is easier and more SEO-friendly.” Elle.fr has chosen this solution to create its paywall from 2020, becoming the first French women’s medium to try this experiment. “We are blocking on the user side in javascript. The content is visible and accessible to the engines,” explains Alexy Souciet, front-end webperf manager at Elle.fr. A logical choice because 90% of Elle.fr’s content is free or “if Google doesn’t see all the content in source code, it won’t show it in the serps”. For its part, Le Parisien “had two walls before the June 2021 restyling. They could easily be circumvented and that motivated us to develop our own paywall,” explains Elisa Girard, product manager at Le Parisien.

Different results

In addition to the ease of bypassing the first walls, it was also SEO problems that prompted Le Parisien to develop its own solution: “The wall also took a long time to load on the page, which generated important bounce rates,” explains Elisa Girard. Going from two walls (a paywall and a metered wall that blocked reading after 3 articles read) to just one wall was beneficial for Le Parisien: “We made an initial assessment after 3 months: we have a better click-through rate on the paywall, better technical performance, better indexing since this redesign thanks to better compliance with Google guidelines”, specifies the product manager. Possible results thanks to work on the UX and a wall that is easier to manage for developers: “We have opted for a technical solution , which allows us to have a harmonized paywall on desktop and mobile.”

For Elle.fr, the image on the SEO page is more differentiated. This is due to a UX that suffers from the erected wall: “The UX plays a huge role in the ranking. We see that it is much more difficult to position yourself with an article behind a paywall than with a classic article, we have a paywall, we have user behavior that differs from free content, a large proportion of visitors stop reading and bounce back”, explains Alexy Souciet. The site responds well to small requests, but the most competitive ones, but more difficulties on the competitive ones: “Because the competition in the female media is very strong and in a free universe, as soon as we share a content by paying, will we has the feeling that we are no longer playing on an equal footing. At the moment we tend to avoid playing the big cards in the premium audience,” explains the front-end Webperf manager.

Despite this brake on certain content, Elle.fr still sees advantages in setting up this paywall: “We have focused again on the UX and the quality of our content. And the second advantage is that we gain an additional audience by opting for the Long Tail, which we wouldn’t necessarily have worked on before,” explains Alexy Souciet. In order to reduce the impact of the wall on free content, women’s media rely on the internal linking of free content and premium content: “Premium content must not remain in its silo. They need to be visible, so let’s put them on the home page, we’re careful not to land them too deep in the site’s tree structure”.

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