Could meta tags be making a comeback?
Google is experimenting with two new meta tags to help it identify the original sources of online content. The tags are called syndication-source and original source. This is an interesting way to tease apart content sources, since tags are easily abused. They went away with the power of meta tags years ago, so we will see how they can combat spam. Since the amount of new content that is published each day and social media presence in search engine results is only going to increase, search engines need to find a way to track content sources.
Web sites that syndicate their content to others can use the syndication-source meta tag to tell Google 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.domain.com/article.html”
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.
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.domain.com/article.html”
Meta tags are an invitation to spam for some people. So there is nothing stopping any content publisher from scraping and re-publishing an article, while using one or both of these tags to claim the original version. Worse, there’s also nothing to stop a high-trust, authoritative site from using, or misusing these tags.
Google’s blog post talks about this being an experiment and needing to see how people use these tags. They will probably spend more time trying to stop the misuse. Google says they may reduce the importance assigned to the metatags on a site if they are abused, and they also reserve the right to remove a site completely from Google News. (Please note these tags are currently being experimented in Google News, not on Google.com.)
Google has a help page on the new meta tags.