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

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:

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.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | Google: News | Google: SEO | Legal: Copyright | SEO: Duplicate Content | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://www.planetc1.com/ chiropractic

    What about a scenario where an author provides same article to a dozen news sources via email? I imagine all would want to claim original source and all are indexed in Google News.

  • http://www.gravytrain.co.uk Moxley_GT

    I think what you are saying in the last paragraph is key Matt – I see this as more as a ‘tickbox’ where you agreeing to be honest. If not, but you used the tag, then you have no excuse.

    Rather like how a financial orgnaisation uses a tickbox on credit card forms to say you know the details you are providing are genuine, google wants to make sure content providers pretending to original publishers can’t claim ignorance if they are caught.

  • http://www.businessinsider.com Bridget Williams

    We worried about requiring the canonical attribute for our original content we were syndicating out because it required the partner to place the code in the page header which is a pain. Does the meta tag allow us to send along somehow in the feed, so there is no work on their end?

  • Rod Nicolson

    Anyone seen anything that indicates how SERPs will be affecting by these tags? I can’t see a syndicating site using them if it leads to a drop in rank.

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