There was a speculation about Google planning to introduce an ‘unavailable after’ meta tag. It would probably look something like this:

< META name='unavailable_after' content='Wed, 01 Aug 2007 00:00:01 GMT'>

By specifying this tag, webmasters can tell Google not to index a particular page after the specified date OR consider the given page as stale. This would be appropriate for promotional pages where the promotions expire after a given time. This would help unclog the search engine indexes of irrelevant data.

This valuable piece of information, provided by the ‘unavailable_after’ tag, would not only be used to clear up the Google’s index but could also make its way into Google’s ranking algorithms. There are two perspectives to how a search engine could use this data for ranking:

  • When a page specifies its expiry/unavailability date, it implicitly tells the search engine of the period for which it would be most relevant. Hence, as the unavailability date of a page approaches it should start becoming less irrelevant to a users query. For example: The user query for ‘fedora release notes‘, currently, has the top 3 results pointing to the notes of FC7, whereas the other results have a random mix of release notes for FC3, FC2, FC4 and FC5 (with FC3 and FC2 pages being ranked higher than FC5 and FC4 respectively). Lets say that FC8 was going to be released this November [schedule]. Assume that the Release Notes page for FC7 has the unavailable_after tag set for sometime around December. Thus, as December approaches, FC7 pages would start losing their relevancy for such queries and gradually transition lower in the search rankings, making FC8 the most relevant result. This would resolve the current inaccurate ordering of results obtained for the query ‘fedora release notes‘ on Google. This could be achieved in a manner similar to proposed in the following paper: Time Damping Of Textual Relevance.
  • This perspective (inverse to the above perspective) would be very specific to promotional/shopping related pages. Most shopping promotions/offers are valid for a given period. Hence, such pages should become more relevant to a users query as they approach their expiry date. For example: Consider a user query for ‘20% discount shoes‘. Lets assume that the results have pages from Zappos as well as Shoebuy both offering a 20% discount on shoes. The Shoebuy sale is going to last for about two more weeks from today (as specified by the unavailable_after tag) whereas the Zappos sale would be ending in another two days. Since both the stores are offering the same percentage discount, it would be more appropriate to rank the Zappos page higher as its offer would be ending soon. From the point of a user (shopper), he would be more interested in looking at offers ending soon, as he can always checkout the other long lasting offers at some later time.

The perspectives above represent only a few of the conceivable usages of the unavailable_after tag. There could be a numerous other perspectives to how this data could be utilized to improve search rankings.

I would lover to hear your take on the unavailable tag, particularly if you can provide another perspective to utilizing this data.