This February, The Wall Street Journal ended its participation in the “First click free” program by Google. As a result, traffic from Google to the Wall Street Journal dropped a massive 44%.

The “First click free” program is an initiative by Google and the publishers of subscription-only content. The program allows the first click from Google through the pay-wall with each subsequent click requiring a subscription. The program enjoys a lot of support from publishers, as they can make up the difference with ads and new subscribers.

The Wall Street Journal initiated an experiment and the news is both good and bad. The bad news was a 44% drop in traffic. The good news on the other hand is that during this same period, subscriptions increased four-fold.

Even so, the WSJ is still not happy with the drop: Suzi Watford, CMO of the Journal said: “Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would. … You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”

They should not be surprised. When you are not part of the program, Google cannot index even the initial page. The only option is to either return to the program or open the site’s content to Google’s spiders.

Site’s which require a subscription have an identifier next to the name in the Google News results page.