Google offers paywall alternative

Kathryn McConnachie
By Kathryn McConnachie, Digital Media Editor at ITWeb.
Johannesburg, 04 Apr 2012

Google hopes to capitalise on the general dislike of paywalls by offering an alternative that requires users to answer survey questions instead of providing their credit card details.

The new offering, Google Customer Surveys, was unveiled last week by the search giant as a new method for publishers to generate revenue from their content. The microsurveys, created by companies wanting to do market research, appear as pop-ups, which prompt the reader to answer one to three questions in order to continue reading. For every response to the microsurveys, Google pays the publishers $0.05.

Currently available in the US only, Google's launch partners include Pandora, AdWeek, New York Daily News, Lima News and the Texas Tribune.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says the survey-as-paywall approach is really the pay-per-click advertising model in disguise. According to the Google Customer Survey pricing, businesses will pay $0.10 per response to a survey question, or $0.50 for a demographically targeted response. The microsurveys are currently described by Google as a “loose paywall” given that they can be blocked by simple ad or pop-up blockers.

Survey creators are also given access to a dashboard with detailed analytics of the responses to their questions.

“It's a great concept for anyone wanting to conduct research economically and quickly, and a useful approach for content owners who balk at the paywall concept,” says Goldstuck.

“However, it is also intrusive, especially when the survey questions have nothing to do with the content on the site being visited. Of course, it is less intrusive than being asked to hand over your credit card details, so it is a win-win where the survey content is relevant.”

Quick clicking

The Google Customer Survey model, however, begs the question of how accurate the responses to the survey questions will be. “That is the key weakness of the concept,” says Goldstuck. “Most people will simply click through the questions as fast as they can to get to the content as quickly as they can. This places an obligation on the survey creators to make the questions and intent of the surveys as interesting as possible, so that the surveys themselves become engaging, and become a form of content in their own right.”

Goldstuck says those who have already found the traditional paywall concept to be working for them, such as the Wall Street Journal, will be unlikely to mess with the model by introducing what is essentially an advertising model.

Google is yet to specify if and when it will extend the Customer Surveys product beyond the US. Locally, publishers have been struggling to win readers over on the concept of paid-content.

Goldstuck says: “The SA market is too small to make paid-content viable in the consumer space. It can work where it is geared specifically to corporate audiences, and where corporate subscriptions are negotiated individually.”