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Google metatags: Credit where credit is due

By Melissa Bell
(Paul Sakuma/AP)

In the nebulous world of online content, all too often original authorship gets lost in the link shuffle. An original, reported article will slink to the dregs of Google rankings, outpaced by Web sites that borrow liberally from it, or syndicate the article.

Google hopes to shore up the attribution issue by a bit of metatag magic. For the non-technophiles, metatags are lines of HTML code embedded into the page. The reader won't notice the extra addition to the page's coding, but Google's search engines will. Articles tagged with the "original content" HTML will send out a priority nod to Google News, giving it an added boost in the Google ranking world. Articles that are syndicated from an original source can be tagged as "syndicated," so Google News will recognize not to give them top billing.

Google News bases its rankings on more than just links and attributions. It rates how "trusted" the news source is, it judges hard news versus satire, it gives stories with photographs more promotion, and it uses the timing of the publishing as part of the ranking.

The metatags might be another key to helping Google find the most accurate news to promote. Writers and publishers should want their stories high in Google News rankings because more people turn to the site for news than they do any of the online media sites, including Fox News, the New York Times or The Washington Post.

The program, however, has more than a few questions unanswered. On Google News' official blog, software engineer Eric Weigle and publisher technical specialist Abe Epton write, "We'll need some time to observe their use 'in the wild' before we can make the best use of them. But we're hopeful that this approach will help determine original authorship, and we encourage you to take advantage of them now."

One of the biggest questions is how Google will get around unoriginal content producers from marking their work with the metatags. A number of "scrapper" sites troll the Internet and compile spam news that reaches the top of Google News despite it being unoriginal work. Tom Krazit at CNet News writes that one scrapper company in particular has managed to outsmart Google News by registering 44 domains that push empty stories tied to search-friendly terms and advertising. Because the metatags rely on the honor system, there is nothing to keep these scrapper sites from trying to take original credit for stories.

The syndication tag might be the more successful of the two tags, as companies can ask their syndication partners to implement the tags. But we'll have to wait and see just how much of a difference this makes.

By Melissa Bell  | November 17, 2010; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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I can see one issue here. I'm in the process of syndicating a column a write to local newspapers who are likely to publish the column online. The agreement I have is that they have two weeks in which to publish the column in their print circulation area and online before I publish it myself on my blog.

While I'm the actual owner of the material and they just have temporary publication rights, it would seem that the first of these publishers would be tagged as the original author of the column. I'd obviously want that tag for the work myself and for my blog to come up higher in search engine results.

Posted by: Wild_Ideas | November 17, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

That's a quirky set-up you're trying to enforce. If you're not going to publish on your blog first, why on earth should your blog be credited as the original source?

Presumably, you'll get full credit as the author, so that doesn't seem to be your concern. This is no different from the case of newspaper & magazine columnists who (when they publish a compilation of their work) acknowledge the source in which the work first appeared.

If you want your blog to get credit for being the the original source for your work, then publish there first.

Posted by: Bob-S | November 17, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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