Structured data paywall markup doesn't need to be visible to users, but it needs to be visible to web crawlers, says Google's John Mueller.
Paywall markup will be discussed as part of Google Search Central's SEO Office Hours stream on December 11th, which asked a question about the correct test.
Mueller goes beyond the scope of the question and provides additional guidance on how to properly implement paywall markups.
As more publishers move content behind a paywall for residual income from their work, it is important to know how to use it in a way that is compatible with Googlebot. It's also helpful to use it in such a way that it doesn't negatively impact the user experience.
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Mueller's advice covers all of these aspects of paywall markup. Here's what he had to say on the subject.
Mueller's advice on paywall markup
First, Müller addresses the question of how paywall-structured data markup can be tested.
To test whether the implementation of the paywall markup is valid, website owners must use Google's Rich Results Test.
This may seem obvious to some, but it's a question worth asking as the rich results test validates the markup that Google uses to produce rich results.
There is no extensive result type for paywall articles. Until recently, paywall content was not shown in featured snippets.
Understandably, this can lead to confusion as to whether the Rich Results Test is the right tool. Because paywall content can be displayed in featured snippets, if implemented correctly, website owners can validate it using the Rich Results test.
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Valid markup makes the difference between Google's recognition of content behind a paywall and the misunderstanding that the content is camouflaged.
Since the premium content of a website is not visible to unpaid users but is visible to Googlebot, it technically corresponds to the definition of camouflage if no paywall markup is used. So you want to avoid that.
Mueller states that paywall markups need to be visible to Googlebot, but not to visitors. Usually, Google needs extensive result markup that is visible to both users and Googlebot. Otherwise it is considered a camouflage.
Here is Mueller's full answer:
“Essentially, you would use the rich results test like any other type of structured data. I think the tricky part with some of these paywall implementations is that of course, Googlebot needs to see all of the content for us to understand what we should be displaying your website for. And with that we should also be able to see the paywall markup.
So when viewing the paywall markup, keep in mind that users probably won't need to see the paywall markup. It's really important that we see it. Especially if you serve the content from Googlebot and in some cases do not display it to users. "
In addition to Mueller's advice, website owners can also use the URL inspection tool to ensure that Googlebot can render the paywall content.
For more information on how to use paywall markup, see the full documentation here.
Hear Mueller's advice in the video below: