Why publishers should follow the Verge-HuffPost aggregation dustup

January 24, 2013
Category: Uncategorized

Techdirt | BuzzFeed

It might be hard to understand why staffers at tech site The Verge complained so loudly about a Huffington Post “linkout” that sent readers to a Verge feature. After all, isn’t the Web built on such selfless acts of curation?

I’m sort of at a loss as to how anyone might think that the HuffPo snippet and link takes away from the original,” Techdirt Editor Mike Masnick wrote Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Huffington Post Senior News Editor Whitney Snyder roared to the defense of his organization’s linking practices.




But traffic isn’t the whole picture, John Herrman writes in BuzzFeed: “Stub stories like this serve other purposes, too: they send people to sites in the hope that [they’ll] come back to HuffPo to comment, for example, not unlike Reddit posts; and they provide an illusion of more content on a given vertical page.”

Huffington Post’s linkout to The Verge’s story pushed down an original story’s rank on Google results, Herrman says, because its HTML contained a “canonical link” back to the HuffPost story. Those links are something Google said it views as a “hint that we honor strongly … when calculating the most relevant page to display in search results.”

The Huffington Post did not address the question, “Without Google, would these posts exist?” The lack of a canonical link – and use of the same headline — suggests that they probably wouldn’t. Despite ranking higher on Google and much higher on Google News, the HuffPo link has been tweeted just 54 times (mostly in anger). The Verge’s story has been tweeted over 2,000 times.

And for publishers, the Google ranking really can matter. The Verge, which declined to comment on this story, clearly built its lush feature on videogame arcades to outlast the Web’s brutal imperative for new stories. It’s about 7,600 words long and is accompanied by gorgeous graphics and an eight-minute video. Anything that pushes its piece down the page for someone searching for the article could arguably erode the value of that investment. It’s less a matter of aggressive aggregation — Herrman calls HuffPost’s linkout an “etiquette breach at worst” — than a stone-cold exploitation of how Google works. Assemble enough of those sorts of links, the argument goes, and you’ll vacuum up pageviews in numbers that will increase your own value to advertisers.

Google, Herrman writes, ought to be able to recognize “which one of these posts is derivative of the other.”

Related: The aggregator’s dilemma: How do you fairly serve your readers & the sources you rely on?


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