The Wall Street Journal tests closing the Google paywall loophole

The Wall Street Journal has long had a strict paywall — unless you simply copy and paste the headline into Google, a favored route for those not wanting to pony up $200 a year. Some users have noticed in recent days that the trick isn’t working.

A Journal spokesperson said the publisher was running a test to see if doing so would entice would-be subscribers to pay up. The rep wouldn’t elaborate on how long and extensive the experiment was and if permanently closing the loophole was a possible outcome.

“We are experimenting with a number of different trial mechanics at the moment to provide a better subscription taster for potential new customers,” the rep said. “We are a subscription site and we are always looking at better ways to optimize The Wall Street Journal experience for our members.”

The Journal has zealously protected its online content behind a paywall because subscription revenue is core to its business model. But as has been pointed out over the years, the Journal also wants its articles to register in Google search, which continues to be a big traffic driver for publishers. Despite the growing attention to Facebook as a traffic driver, Google still accounts for 35 percent of publisher’s referral traffic, according to Parsely.

As for Facebook and its ilk, paywalled publications including The New York Times have offered other ways to get in on social media traffic by making their content freely available to people who find their content through their social feeds.

The tweak sparked discussion on Twitter about the motivations behind the change, other ways to continue accessing the Journal for free and the inevitable scolding: