In December 2009, the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog responded to publisher concerns about page rank penalties imposed by Google’s search algorithm due to legitimate cross-domain content duplication. Most websites would rarely (if ever) have valid reasons for displaying identical content on multiple and distinctly different domains.
However, it is a common occurrence for news media sites with multiple syndication channels to legitimately publish duplicate cross-domain content.
Source Meta Tags
Google announced an extra feature for news publishers, to differentiate between the first version of a “breaking story” versus the re-distribution by others that follows. Such redistribution is legitimate, but publishers wanted to make sure that there was a way to give credit where credit was due to the most enterprising journalist for a given news story. Google responded with this suggestion:
News publishers and readers both benefit when journalists get proper credit for their work. That can be difficult, with news spreading so quickly and many websites syndicating articles to others. That’s why we’re experimenting with two new meta tags for Google News: syndication-source and original-source. Each of these meta tags addresses a different scenario, but for both the aim is to allow publishers to take credit for their work and give credit to other journalists.
Further details about Google’s introduction of “source” meta tags to help find original news was covered in the Google News Blog, and an even more in-depth description can be found in this excellent Search Engine Land article about meta tags including discussion of a recent algorithm patent granted to Google.
There is good reason for Google’s decision to implement these meta tags on a trial basis. Best practice, for both bloggers and publishers alike, requires attribution if using another source’s original work. Most reputable online content producers have credited their source with a link until now. However, there is some concern that they could stop doing that, and instead, merely use the meta tag. That would be a much worse outcome for the original writer, in terms of receiving much-deserved credit for their work.
The meta tags are useful to Google, as they give input to the page rank algorithm (which seeks to reward providers of original content). Yet I do believe that this is a good-faith effort by Google. It would be unfortunate if these new meta tags have the opposite effect from what Google intended.