Google Creates “Source” Meta Tags To Help ID Original News Sources

Friday, November 26, 2010

With the amount of content published online seeming to expand dramatically every year, Google says it’s experimenting with two new meta tags that it hopes will help it identify the original sources of online content. They’re called syndication-source and original-source and here’s a look at what they do and how publishers can use them.

What Is Syndication-Source?
Web sites that syndicate their content to others can use the syndication-source meta tag to give Google a signal that theirs is the one that should be included in Google News. In a perfect world, the tag will be used by both the site that syndicates its content, as well as the site that receives and publishes the syndicated content from another source. The tag looks like this:

meta name=”syndication-source” content=”http://www.somedomain.com/article1.html”
What Is Original-Source?
The original-source meta tag can be used by publishers wanting to claim their article as the original version. In a sense, it’s somewhat like the rel=”canonical” tag, which can be used to indicate the canonical version of similar web pages (more about the canonical tag below).

Search Engine Land, for example, could use the original-source meta tag on this article (and others) to indicate that ours — not the various sites that scrape our content or reference it in other ways — is the original version.

Similarly, Google says this meta tag can also be used in the same way publishers link to other sites. For example, since this article is also referencing an announcement on the Google News blog, we could use the original-source tag similarly to how we cite them via a link.

In fact, Google says you can cite several different sources with multiple versions of this tag if you want to credit each one that led to the article you’ve published. The tag looks like this:

meta name=”original-source” content=”http://www.somedomain.com/article1.html”
What About The Canonical Tag?
As mentioned, there’s another tag (technically, an attribute), that Google introduced that seems similar to what today’s new “source” tags do. That’s the canonical tag. See our past coverage about the tag for more background:

Google, Yahoo & Microsoft Unite On “Canonical Tag” To Reduce Duplicate Content Clutter
Google Supports Cross-Domain ‘Canonical Tag’
Why use these new tags if you’re already using the canonical tag? Simple answer — because you’re a news publisher. These tags only work for within Google News, and they are designed to help Googel News experiment more with source identification and attributions. Google told us:

We felt the options currently in existence [the canonical tag] addressed different use cases and were insufficient to achieve our goals. The more accurate metadata that’s out there on the web, the better the web will be.
What About Spam?
Meta tags are, in some circles, an invitation to spam. And there’s nothing to stop Joe’s Search Blog from scraping and re-publishing this article, while also using one or both of these tags to claim that his is the original version. Worse, there’s also nothing to stop a high-trust, authoritative site from using — or misusing, to be more accurate — these tags.

Google’s blog post talks about this being an experiment and needing to see how people use these tags “in the wild.” Clearly, they’ll be looking for misuses, too. Google says they may reduce the importance assigned to the metatags on an individual site if they’re being misused, and they also reserve the right to remove sites from Google News altogether if need be.

Google also has a help page about the tags here.

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