Paywall structured data markup doesn’t need to be visible to users, but it does need to be visible to web crawlers, says Google’s John Mueller.
The topic of paywall markup is discussed during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours stream held on December 11 where a question was asked about the proper way to test it.
Mueller goes above and beyond the scope of the question to provide additional guidance on implementing paywall markup correctly.
As more publishers put content behind a paywall in order earn residual income from their work, it’s important to know how to use it in a way that’s compatible with Googlebot. It also helps to use it in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the users experience.
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Mueller’s advice covers all these aspects of paywall markup. Here’s what he has to say on the subject.
Mueller’s Advice Regarding Paywall Markup
First, Mueller addresses the question of how to test paywall structured data markup.
To test whether the implementation of paywall markup is valid, site owners need to use Google’s Rich Results Test.
That may seem obvious to some, but it’s a question worth asking because the Rich Results Test validates markup that Google uses to serve rich results.
There’s no rich result type for paywalled articles and, until recently, paywalled content wasn’t being shown in featured snippets.
Understandably that could lead to confusion whether the Rich Results Test is the proper tool to use. Since paywalled content can be surfaced in featured snippets, provided it’s implemented correctly, site owners can validate it using the Rich Results Test.
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Valid markup makes all the difference between Google recognizing content is behind a paywall and misunderstanding that the content is cloaked.
Since a website’s premium content is not visible to non-paid users, but is visible to Googlebot, it technically meets the definition of cloaking if paywall markup isn’t used. So you want to avoid that.
Mueller notes that paywall markup needs to be visible to Googlebot but not to visitors. Ordinarily, Google requires rich result markup to be visible to both users and Googlebot otherwise it will be seen as cloaking.
Here’s Mueller’s full response:
“Essentially you would use the rich results test, like any other kind of structured data. I think the tricky part with some of these paywall implementations is that Googlebot, of course, needs to be able to see the full content so that we can understand what it is that we should be showing your site for. And with that we should be able to see the paywall markup as well.
So if you’re showing the paywall markup keep in mind that probably users don’t need to see the paywall markup. It’s really important that we see it though. Especially if you’re serving Googlebot the content and not showing it to users in some cases.”
In addition to heeding Mueller’s advice, site owners can also make use of the URL Inspection tool to make absolutely sure Googlebot can render the paywalled content.
For more information about how to use paywall markup, see the complete documentation here.
Hear Mueller’s advice in the video below: