With fair attribution, publishers see references to their work in third-party content, welcoming the referral traffic to the original content they create. Unfortunately, not all publishers automatically link back to the original source of a story. This has led the UK’s AOP (Association of Online Publishers) to suggest a solution that will make it easier for publishers to request missing link backs.
- The AOP says fair attribution is vital to ensuring publishers get credit for the investment they make in creating original content. Linking, as well as directing users to the original source of a story, is important for SEO as Google uses links from ‘prominent websites’ to judge authoritativeness and determine ranking.
- The AOP has heard from several of its members that not all publishers are linking back to original story sources denying the originator referral traffic. In response, the AOP is looking to raise awareness of fair link attribution and encourage best practice among digital publishers.
- The association’s proposed solution is a ‘Link Attribution Protocol’ that it hopes will help ensure publishers are properly credited for the original content they produce. The protocol rests on an email process that streamlines the process for registered publishers to request links from outlets who have not cited their exclusive content.
- The AOP gives examples of publishers failing to link to original sources. The most high-profile was The Sun’s exclusive on UK politician Matt Hancock’s affair that broke lockdown restrictions. In one example, The Telegraph quoted the Sun and a Twitter post but did not provide a link.
- Reporting on the same story, The Mirror provided a link to the original but made the link nofollow. The ‘nofollow’ attribute instructs search engines to ignore the outbound link which, according to Semrush, is effectively saying the site does not endorse the link.
- The AOP acknowledges that linking could be seen as benefiting competing publishers, but says:
There is no reason to add nofollow when linking to a valuable resource like the original source of a story from a premium publisher. Yes, it could benefit a competitor but if every publisher applies the same standards, then everyone enjoys the benefits.
The AOP proposal centres on publishers using a common email format to deal with fair attribution. If a publisher finds that another outlet has referenced an exclusive article without linking back, it would email attribution@ to notify them of the omission.
Publishers that wish to support the protocol first need to register. This means creating an attribution email address – [email protected] – and setting up an internal email group to deal with attribution requests. They should then share this email address with the UK AOP including the names of individuals included in the email group and AOP will make it available via a dedicated area on its website.
Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis, told Digiday that this type of drive to set new standards is part of a larger narrative about reputable media outlets differentiating themselves from other content production. He said:
The initiative is eminently sensible and should be embraced by every quality news and content provider out there.