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Does Members-Only or Gated Content Have SEO Value?

Do you need to gate or paywall your content, and does it have any value to your SEO strategy if you do? Here's what you need to know.

Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from Kyriakos in North Carolina. Kyriakos asks:

We have a B2B member only website. Some of the content on our site is available to guests/not logged in users, but most of our content is for members that are logged in to the site. Does the content that is member only (visible after log in) help the site’s SEO rankings?

Great question, and it’s one I get from clients all the time.

For the purposes of this question, we can forget about the B2B aspect – the answer is the same no matter what type of content your website is focused on.

There are a few nuances though, so let’s dive right in.

Is There SEO Value in Members-Only Content?

The short answer is: If it’s behind a login, it’s not really providing any value to you for SEO at all.

The reason for this is simple.

Googlebot isn’t one of your paying customers, so it isn’t able to log in to view your content.

There are plenty of technical ways around this though, and I will try to briefly mention some strategies for dealing with members-only content and provide some helpful links here.

It’s important to start by examining the need to gate or lock up content behind a login.

Does Your Content Need to be Gated?

I remember one client who wanted to do this with all of their videos and asked us for an SEO strategy to help.

The first thing we did was look at their analytics, and realized that the average user (logged in or paid) only viewed an average of one to two videos per month.

That brought up a question about the entire business model – would anybody actually be willing to pay a monthly fee to view one to two videos? Probably not.

We realized that we’d get more traffic (and potentially more customers) by not hiding the content behind a login.

I tell this tale because more often than not, I run into clients who have gated content that really doesn’t need to be gated.

If you do decide that it makes business sense to lock up content (and there are plenty of good reasons why it may) then there are a few ways to go about it.

Use Google’s First Click Free Program

Google has long offered a First Click Free program where you can actually expose the content to users coming in from a Google search before hitting them with a login requirement on their next page view.

There are some tricks that dedicated people could use to view all your content for free this way, but this could be an option worth considering.

Use Schema to Tell Google What’s Free vs. What’s Paywalled

If you decide to let the crawler past the login or paywall (like the NYT and Quora and other sites do) then there’s even a schema markup you can use to tell Googlebot what content is paywalled vs free.

If you must do a paywall, I’m a big fan of the approach used by the Washington Post or The Athletic (both sites I actually pay for).

Offer Content Free on a Limited Basis

The above sites let you read the first couple of paragraphs of any article for free, then hit you with the login to continue reading.

This can be beneficial to both users and search crawlers, particularly if you’re putting the more important information (and keywords) early in the articles.

In general, though, if you’re letting search engines see the content, it will help you for ranking.

If they can’t see it, it won’t help you.

The trick is making sure you can let the engines see what you need them to see while still retaining the functionality you want for users and not implementing it in a way that appears like it’s cloaking or something shady.

More Resources:

Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!

Featured image: Saxarinka/Shutterstock

Category Ask an SEO
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Ryan Jones VP, SEO at Razorfish

Ryan is the SEO lead at Razorfish where he works from early in the morning until late in the evening. ...

Does Members-Only or Gated Content Have SEO Value?

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