Membership sites are growing in popularity – and for good reason. As a membership site owner, it only makes sense that you have an opportunity to be compensated for the awesome content you produce on a regular basis. Especially if it provides specific value to your members that can't be easily found somewhere else.
And while your paying members probably love your expertly crafted content, that’s simply not the case for everyone. In fact, there is a good chance that Google hates your site. But don’t worry, it’s not your content they hate (other than its inaccessibility), and it's not you. It’s the fact that they can’t present it to their users.
Google loves to crawl and index the web. As the world's leading search engine, it is constantly looking for new and better information that can be indexed and shared. When Google finds valuable information that it can't share with its users, it ruffles their feathers.
In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at how Google crawls and indexes the web. We’re also going to make sure you understand how you can keep Google happier about all the restricted content on your website. This is important stuff to understand, so stick with me for a just a few minutes.
How Google Crawls and Indexes Your Site
It’s not called the Interwebs for no reason. While the web feels like a vast but well-organized filing system, that couldn't be further from the truth. The Internet quite literally resembles a spider web – any one point on the Internet can be reached by taking what is potentially an unlimited number of alternate paths.
Search engines like Google do an amazing job of helping to organize, categorize, and index an ocean of information. They do such a good job, that many people confuse Google with the Internet itself.
Using what are called spiders (referred to collectively as Googlebot), Google crawls the web, gathering information for its index as it goes. Each time Googlebot finds a link on a web page, it splits and follows that link – recording what it finds.
Technically, a spider could begin crawling a single web page and eventually cover the entire web. Billions of web pages around the world can be indexed starting with just one.
The information that Googlebot finds is then categorized and indexed. When you visit and search Google, you’re not actually searching the Internet, you’re searching the index or table of contents that has been created by Google. Google does its best to make sure that their index is always current and valuable. As you can imagine, it's a big job.
So Why Does Google Hate Membership Websites?
Great question. Let's assume that you have a reasonably popular membership or subscription based website that you built using the MemberPress plugin. If your site has been around for a while, there's a good chance you’ve built up a decent number of incoming links – which is great news.
The problem for Google arises when its spiders follow a link to your site – maybe it’s the home page – only to find that all of this amazing content that people are linking to is inaccessible to Google's customers. But why does this matter?
As most of us know, Google generates the majority of its revenue from advertising. In order to generate that revenue, they need to keep visitors coming back to their search index. That means presenting search results that are highly relevant and useful to their customers (people searching the Internet).
Although the content on your subscription based website might be very high quality, Google doesn’t like to send its customers there for the simple reason that they are required to either pay or subscribe.
Imagine if you frequently searched Google for information and several of the top results directed you to a subscription based website. You'd become frustrated very quickly, right?
In fact, if it happened more than a few times, you might decide to try a different search engine altogether. The end result of this would be that Google’s advertising revenues would decline, which would not make them or their shareholders happy.
So, although Google might love your content and the fact that so many other websites are linking to it, they hate your website and your business model.
How Can You Keep Google Happier
Ideally, what Google would like to see is that all of your content is free and accessible to the masses. And you're right, that would work well for Google but not for you. Luckily, there is a happy medium. One that will keep Google feeling better about your site and keep you in business.
We touched on many of these topics a few weeks ago in our article on membership SEO, but it bears repeating the basics right here.
The more accessible, high quality, and indexable content you have on your website, the happier Google will be. For the average website owner using MemberPress, this means finding a balance between free and paid/subscription content. If everything on your website is behind a paywall, you’re not giving Googlebot much to work with.
A better solution is to publish a percentage of your posts as free content. Don’t hold anything back – offer up your best stuff with no commitment required. You should also consider using the post excerpts feature in MemberPress – but don’t be cheap. Give Google as much high-quality SEO optimized content to work with as you can.
Google loves free content. It also loves websites that provide high-quality free content that can be served to its users every time a search is performed. The more indexable content you provide, the more it will grow to love your website.
This is not an overnight solution. But if you start giving Google more to work with, over time, you’ll see the benefits of this strategy begin to pay off. Google will have a little more love for your website which should result in more organic visitors and an increased membership base.
How do you find the right balance between free and paid content on your website and how do you find it affects status with Google? Please share in the comments below.
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