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Is there SEO value in members-only or gated content?

Is it necessary to gate or paywall your content, and if so, does it add value to your SEO strategy? Here's what you should know.

Kyriakos in North Carolina submitted today’s Ask an SEO question. Kyriakos inquires:

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?

This is a great question, and I get it all the time from clients.

For this question, we can disregard the B2B aspect – the answer is the same regardless of the type of content on your website.

But there are a few nuances to consider, so let’s get started.

Is Members-Only Content SEO-Valuable?

The short answer is that if it requires a login, it isn’t providing any value to you in terms of SEO.

The reason for this is straightforward.

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

However, there are numerous technical solutions, and I will attempt to briefly mention some strategies for dealing with members-only content and provide some useful links here.

It is critical to begin by examining the need to gate or lock content behind a login.

Is it necessary to gate your content?

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

The first thing we did was look at their analytics, and we discovered that the average user (whether logged in or not) only watched one to two videos per month.

That raised an interesting question about the entire business model: would anyone be willing to pay a monthly fee to watch one to two videos? Most likely not.

We realized that not hiding the content behind a login would result in more traffic (and potentially more customers).

I tell this story because I frequently encounter clients who have gated content that does not need to be gated.

If you decide that locking down content makes business sense (and there are plenty of reasons why it might), there are a few options.

Use Google’s Free First Click Program.

Google has long provided a First Click Free program through which you can expose the content to users arriving from a Google search before requiring a login on their next page view.

Some tricks dedicated individuals could use to view all of your content for free in this manner, but it is an option worth considering.

Use Schema to tell Google what’s free and what’s not.

If you decide to allow the crawler past the login or paywall (as the New York Times, Quora, and other sites do), there’s even a schema markup you can use to tell Googlebot what content is paywalled vs free.

If you must have a paywall, I recommend the approach taken by the Washington Post or The Athletic (both sites I pay for).

On a limited basis, make content available for free.

The sites listed above allow you to read the first couple of paragraphs of any article for free before prompting you to log in to continue reading.

This can benefit both users and search crawlers, especially if you place the most important information (and keywords) at the beginning of the articles.

In general, allowing search engines to see your content will help you rank higher.

It won’t help you if they can’t see it.

The trick is to make 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 looks shady or cloaking.

Need help with our free SEO tools? Try our free Robots.txt Generator, Get Source Code of Webpage, Domain into IP.

Learn more from Ask An SEO and read SEO Tips for Small Business: 5 Ways To Rank Better.

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