How to Craft an SEO Strategy for Paywall Content

It seems like a tall order. As a membership site owner, you want to hide content. On the other, you need it to be discoverable. How can you square this?

Thankfully, several options allow for restricted access to content but still manage to provide competitive keywords that drive traffic. For software as a service companies in particular, there are lots of ways you can enhance your SEO SaaS framework while remaining gated.

We’ll take a look at these approaches below, but first, ask yourself this question…

Why would you want to paywall?

Gating can be counterproductive if all you want to do is attract more visitors and links. However, if you want to grow your subscribers and committed consumers, your content should most definitely be gated.  

Here are the benefits of creating a paywall:

  • You will get more information about users who pay to access content.
  • Users value paywalled content more than they do free. They rate it as more useful, trustworthy, and legitimate.
  • A user accessing gated content is more likely to become a repeat customer or client. In this way, a paywall is a means of lead generation.
  • It generates income.

If you decide you want to paywall, the first thing is finding a reliable and high-quality provider, like MemberPress, who can make this happen. Then make sure the content is worth paying for. A good example of this is the New York Times, which, as of May 2021, had 7.5 million subscribers.

Image iva

In a world full of free information, why do people feel that it’s worth paying for news? The main reason is reputation. Newspapers such as the New York Times are established and trusted. These are monetizable assets. When there are so many “alternative truths” out there, it’s invaluable to have access to what you can confidently hold to be the actual truth.

If you can’t bring that brand recognition and value to the table, you’ll need to think of another reason why people will pay for your content. One of the best is content uniqueness. Another is good, old-fashioned quality. After all, content matters

While you’re thinking about content matters, let’s move on to how you can implement gating.

Giving the customer what they want – for a price

Google offers content providers something known as “flexible sampling”. With this, you get to decide how much of your content you want to make freely available to users. 

It makes sense to give some of your content away without charge, otherwise, how will the consumer know they want to pay for more? It’s a rare shop indeed that has no wares on display. Even rarer for such a shop to have customers queuing up to be parted from their money.

This side of the operation can be made easier if the package you select to implement the paywall is built on top of a content management system like WordPress.

Here are some ways you can offer flexible sampling:


wall street journal paywall lead-in
An article lead-in on The Wall Street Journal website.

Using this approach, you offer the reader a small section of an article. You can use an executive summary or a straightforward opening paragraph. The rest of the content remains inaccessible and off-limits until the user pays a fee. The Wall Street Journal and The Economist use this method.


new york times paywall metered article
A metered article on The New York Times website.

This gives users access to complete articles a limited number of times. For example, they might be allowed unpaid access to articles three times per month. Once they’ve used up their allowance, they’re prompted to pay a fee to get unlimited access. This approach is favored by the New York Times.

Which of these you decide on will depend on the nature of the content you’re providing. For instance, if you have in-depth material that deals with a compelling topic, you may find a lead-in approach works best. You can pose the question in an irresistible manner in front of the paywall and offer a detailed solution on the other side.

Two other approaches should be mentioned here:

Dynamic paywalls

This is a comparatively new idea. It takes the notion of personalization used in enterprise search marketing and applies it to gating. A user’s behaviors and habits are scrutinized for a more relevant subscription to be offered. This might be one that only gives users access to certain areas of the site rather than having to pay for material they’ll never want to read. 

This approach requires a good deal of information to be captured on user preference. Such a facility is only usually available from the leading membership plug-ins.

For example, with MemberPress, you can insert a shortcode into your content that will detect whether the user is logged in. When a page containing that shortcode is viewed by a logged-in user, they will be able to view the content where the shortcode has been placed.

Hard paywalls

This usually isn’t the best way forward, being characterized by no sampling. That is, it requires users to buy blind. If you don’t have that all-important brand identity, a hard paywall may not be the best option.

Getting technical

computer code on a screen

You need search engines to be able to see the content you don’t want non-paying customers to access. So, how do you go about gaining visibility while keeping things hidden? Google offers ways to use structured data to make sure your content appears on lots of SERPs.

Let’s look at two tools you can use.

Cascading style sheets (CCSs) are often employed to give websites enhanced visuals and better UX. Google likes them to be used to separate free access content from paywall content. Using these with JSON-LD structured data, you can tell search engines that certain parts of your content are not to be handed out indiscriminately. 

You can also set the cssSelector attribute to .paywall and use the hasPart attribute to ensure content remains gated in whatever fashion you choose. Such construction can be made automatic with the use of process discovery or similar approaches.

If the technical side of things falls outside your skillset, there are all kinds of great developers who can help you out. 

Three additional tips

  1. Acquaint yourself with accelerated mobile pages (AMP) to enhance loading speed on mobile devices.
  2. Use Google’s URL inspection tool to test how Google crawls and renders a URL on your site.
  3. Don’t forget to look at what your competitors are doing. Sometimes it pays to conduct some SEO competitive analysis and borrow ideas from your rivals. It’s a form of flattery, after all.


As with any content, when crafting an SEO strategy for paywall content, it’s important to consider the kind of user you’re likely to attract. If you want a good chance of pulling in those who are willing to pay for what you’re offering, you’ll need to use specific keywords. 

By using long-tail keywords rather than broader catch-all terms, you can hone in on those consumers who are most likely to buy what you're selling.


So, paywalls and SEO principles are not mutually exclusive – who knew? And, when you’ve put it all together and are ready to send out some marketing hooks, don’t forget that you don’t have to start from scratch with your outreach.

Think about adapting existing content for use in email campaigns, for instance. That’s the great thing about good content: it doesn’t have to be single purpose. 

One final thought – don’t over-worry about freeloaders. Fret more about making the sign-up smooth, with no moments of friction along the user journey. Combine that with search engine visibility, and you’re good to go.

With imagination and by following a few rules, you can ensure you have an SEO strategy for paywall content that will really perform.

Do you have additional questions about how to craft an SEO strategy for paywall content? Ask away in the comments section!

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About Nick Brown

Nick Brown is the founder and CEO of accelerate agency, an SaaS SEO company based in the UK and USA. He has over 12 years of experience in digital marketing and works with large companies advising them on SEO, CRO, and content marketing. He has written for sites like Hubspot and BambooHR.