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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Potential Google Exploit: News Re-crawling Issue

If you are fortunate enough to have one of your sites considered as a reliable news source and are included within the Google News service, you know of the traffic that can be generated when your story is the lead on a topical search. And maintaining the lead position within the “Universally” placed Google News result on Page 1 for a specific key phrase is highly desirable. Given the level of competition for certain topics, maintaining that lead spot, at times, can be fleeting at best.

With Google News’ Andy Golding and Kiran Gunda both posting on the Google News Blog that the system will now re-crawl news posts, in an effort to put forward the latest information. This all sounds good and reasonable to me; however, this feature does present some exploitable opportunities for sites that are willing to jeopardize their status within the Google News system.

For example, I’m noticing that some sites are publishing content, and given the freshness of that content, are securing the lead story spot within the Google News feature. But as soon as another site publishes a similar story, using a similar headline, the first story is then pushed down the list. Upon seeing that their story no longer holds the lead position, the original group then quickly goes in and changes something on the page -- quite often all they change is the title -- and viola, they once again have the lead spot for that topic. (Now, there are time constraints involved.)

I first discovered this flaw back in November when I changed the publishing time on a story I published. The reason I changed the publishing time was because this story was more important than a few of the subsequently posted articles, and I wanted that story to be the top post on my magazine-styled site. The site uses Word Press as a CMS, and the fastest and easiest way to change the order in which a story is displayed is to simply adjust the publishing date or time.

After I had changed the publishing time of the story, I noticed that my story was once again the lead story in Google News for that subject, and it displaced the story that had originally displaced my story. At the time I had attributed this to a flaw in the Google News site mapping system because the only thing that had changed was the time stamp. I was using a Google News Site Map generating plugin that automatically updates the XML file whenever you publish or update a page. Not wanting a plugin to be responsible for getting my site removed from the Google News, I stopped using it and pondered on how best to deal with this discovery.

Well, before too long, Google made their announcement about its re-crawling feature, which certainly explained a few things. However, I think that there are some real potential problems with this feature.

While it may be difficult to actually determine the importance of re-crawled information and where re-crawled content should be displayed within the scope of freshness, it’s less difficult to determine what should happen to sites that abuse the re-crawling feature. Regardless of what happens to offending sites who abuse this feature, it’ll be interesting to see how the Google News team addresses these issues.

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