It looks like Google is working hard to solve one of the oldest problems in online news: source attribution.
News sites are increasingly turning towards content syndication,
– to monetise their own content;
– to save costs by republishing content from press feeds.
As a result many news sites are publishing increasing amounts of syndicated content from press feeds like AP, Reuters, and the Press Association, which leads to all kinds of issues for search engines like Google that want to give proper credit and link to the original publisher of a news story.
Previously Google made deals with the likes of AP to host AP’s news stories and link to those instead of the same stories on other news sites. But that is a bit of a patchy solution, depending too much on what kind of deals it is able to make with content syndicators.
Last Tuesday, November 16th, Google announced what might be a proper and definitive solution to this issue: source attribution meta tags.
These meta tags should enable Google to see which is original content and which is duplicated content from syndication feeds. There are two types of meta tags: original-source and syndication-source:
- original-source allows a publisher to indicate the first publisher of a given story. For their own original content a publisher can put their own article URL in the meta tag, and for content that is taken from or inspired by other stories it can use this meta tag to give appropriate credit.
- syndication-source is a meta tag that allows publishers to give a preferred URL for a piece of syndicated content. For example if news site B republishes a story from news site A, both articles should contain the syndication-source meta tag with the URL of the story on news site’s A website.
On paper this looks like a great solution, but it is obvious that these meta tags can easily be abused by unscrupulous publishers claiming original content when they’re actually copying content from others.
That’s why Google is first going to wait and see what happens ‘in the wild’. They’ve also issued a stern warning on the appropriate help pages: “If we find sites abusing these tags, we may, at our discretion, either ignore the site’s source tags or remove the site from Google News entirely.” It would take a particularly brave news publisher to risk exclusion from Google News.
While it’s too early to say if these source attribution meta tags will indeed serve as the news industry’s version of the canonical tag, it is definitely an encouraging sign and I expect many news publishers to make haste with implementing these tags, if only to protect their own original content.