Get ready to subscribe and sign in: Google recently announced that it will be relaxing a long-standing policy that incentivizes major news sites to offer free content online. The policy--called "First Click Free"--is one of the main reasons you can read articles from sites like the New York Times without a subscription, provided (as the policy suggests) it's the first article seen by a Google News user.

While this may sound like the end of a (very convenient) era, it's not all doom and gloom. Here's what you need to know, and how your brand might actually benefit with the support of a strategic content partner:

What is the "First Click Free" policy?

"First Click Free" allowed Google users (read: everyone) to read a limited amount of content for free, even from subscription-based publications. These publications had to opt into to this policy, and were incentivized to do so (or, rather, de-incentivized not to), by Google algorithms that pushed those who didn't opt in lower in search rankings. You can read more about it here, but (in a preview of things to come), only if you have a Wall Street Journal subscription.

But, why?

Google may be able to get into our minds (targeted ads, anyone?), but we can't get into its mind just yet. This move could signal wanting to mend relationships with publishers, whose subscriptions and ad revenue have been in a steady downward spiral since users have been able to access mainstream content online. In fact, back in February, the Wall Street Journal--which had previously removed its Business, Markets, Politics, and Opinions section from first click free--completely opted out of the First Click Free program.

Is there any good news?

This move is great news for traditional news outlets who charge for content. Now that the algorithm will presumably not ding their search ranking, they can move back to subscription only--a move (they hope) will increase revenue.

Beyond these obvious beneficiaries, brands stand to benefit in the long run. Without an incentivized reason to participate in "First Click Free," we may see more and more media outlets go back to subscription only.

That means that platforms that offer free content are about to become a whole lot more desirable to consumers--and that includes brands' platforms. As the lines between branded content and editorial continue to blur--thanks to savvy brands creating in-house content arms or outsourcing the work to full-service media companies--many consumers have become more open to informative and entertaining contents, regardless of the publisher. This move could increase this audience, meaning that if you haven't planned your content strategy just yet, it's time to get on it.

Smart brands are going to jump in to fill the free content need left by publishers--is yours going to be one of them?