Google News Gets A New Ranking Signal, And It's A Keywords Meta Tag

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Google announced the news_keywords metatag for publishers in Google News to help Google better identify and understand content that is related to things that are in the news.

Do you think this is a good direction for Google News? Let us know what you think.

Here's what it looks like:

<meta name="news_keywords" content="World Cup, Brazil 2014, Spain vs Netherlands, soccer, football">

If you use it, use commas to separate phrases. You can add up to ten phrases per article, and each keyword is given equal value.

The company says it's a way to empower writers to express stories freely, while helping Google News propertly understand and classify content. In a blog post, Google News product manager Rudy Galfi explains the thought process behind the feature:

The day after the historic 1929 stock market crash, Variety bannered their front page with these words: “WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG.” It’s a great headline: pithy, catchy, and expressive of the substance of the story as well as the scale of its consequences. It’s also worth noting that Variety’s editors had a full day to write the headline—millions of readers weren’t trying to search for the story within seconds of hearing about it.

The Web has transformed both how news organizations report information and the way users find it. Imagine if “WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG” were used as a headline today by an online news site. Since the headline is a sequence of text that’s only readily understandable by a human, most machine algorithms would probably attach some sort of biological association to it. In turn, this would make it difficult for millions of curious users who are using or Google News to find the best article about the stock market crash they just heard about.

With the news_keywords metatag, publishers can specify specific keywords that apply to news articles, basically like the classic keywords metatag.

The whole thing is pretty interesting, considering that Google has downplayed the regular keywords metatag. In fact, earlier this year, in a Webmaster Help video, Matt Cutts said, "You shouldn't spend time on the meta keywords tag. We don't use it. I'm not aware of any major search engine that uses it these days."

Of course, this is a different tag, and it's specifically news-related, though news results often appear in regular Google results. Cutts did say in a tweet:

Google is careful to note that the tag will be only "one signal among many" that its algorithms use to determine ranking.

"The news_keywords metatag is intended as a tool -- but high-quality reporting and interesting news content remain the strongest ways to put your newsroom’s work in front of Google News users," says Galfi.

Keep in mind, Google still frowns upon keyword stuffing (unless that's going away in an upcoming version of its Webmaster Guidelines, which is highly doubtful).

In case you need a refresher, here's Google's quality guidelines for News:

News content. Sites included in Google News should offer timely reporting on matters that are important or interesting to our audience. We generally do not include how-to articles, advice columns, job postings, or strictly informational content such as weather forecasts and stock data.

We mean it -- stick to the news! Google News is not a marketing service. We don't want to send users to sites created primarily for promoting a product or organization.

Unique articles. Original reporting and honest attribution are longstanding journalistic values. (If your site publishes aggregated content, you will need to separate it from your original work, or restrict our access to those aggregated articles via your robots.txt file.)

Authority. Write what you know! The best news sites exhibit clear authority and expertise.

Accountability. Users tell us they value news sites with author biographies and clearly accessible contact information, such as physical and email addresses, and phone numbers.

User-friendly. Sites should load quickly and use URL redirects rarely. Clearly written articles with correct spelling and grammar also make for a much better user experience. Keep in mind that we can only include sites that follow the Webmaster Guidelines.

Do you think this new keywords meta tag is a good signal for Google to be using? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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