Every day, millions of people are looking for fresh content on Google. For us SEOs, this means that when we publish content can be as important as what content we publish.
Some say the older a post gets, the higher it will rank. Others would say that fresh and the latest content would perform better.
Do dates on your blog posts affect rankings?
To simply answer the question, yes, publishing dates may affect rankings. When a user does a search, Google will try to provide the most relevant and recent search results. These are especially true for news, recent events, and other trending topics.
Let’s say you are looking for the “best smartphones for 2020”. It wouldn’t be right for Google to serve you a search result written in 2019 or 2018. Let’s look at the search results. The featured snippet for the keyword “best smartphones for 2020” was published 5 days ago as of writing:
While the next 5 results were published 13 days, 15 hours, 10 days, 1 day, and 2 days ago respectively. One of the articles was just published 15 hours ago and is already in the top 3 for such a high volume keyword. But even though it’s new, Google found that it is relevant for my search because we are in 2020 and I am looking for the best smartphone in 2020.
To further explain how dates affect rankings, Google released an algorithm update way back in 2011 called “Google Freshness Update”. The update aimed to improve Google’s algorithm called Query Deserves Freshness or “QDF” which identifies if a user is looking for up-to-date articles or not.
Now that Google improved its system of identifying if a user is searching for the most recent content, articles that talked about recent news and events were highly impacted by the time and dates they were published.
But what does this mean for months and year old content? Well, you don’t have to be afraid.
At that time, the algorithm update affected about 35% of search results according to Google. This means old content is still useful and relevant. Remember that Google will only serve a user content that was recently published if it is applicable to their query.
So let’s say you have a website that talks about cars. If you have articles about how to take care of cars that are well-written even though they were written several years ago, Google may still serve your content to users. This is called “evergreen content” or content that may still be relevant even after a few years.
Google’s Guidelines on Dates
Have you noticed that there are times Google shows the date an article was published in the search results and sometimes it doesn’t?
According to Google’s guidelines, Google will choose to show the publishing date of an article if it is useful for the user, especially for news. So how does Google find out when an article was published?
Apparently, Google uses multiple ways. Here’s what they say on their guidelines:
“Google doesn’t depend on a single dating factor because all factors can be prone to issues. That’s why our systems look at several factors to determine our best estimate of when a page was published or significantly updated.”
How does Google Identify Publishing Dates
The visible date on time on the page
There are two types of dates you can show on your articles: the exact publishing date or the date the article was last updated.
According to the guidelines, the dates should be clearly visible to the users and should be properly labeled such as:
- Published August 10, 2020
- Last Updated: August 10, 2020
Check out this example. I wrote this article back in 2018 and I recently updated it.
Google can use structured data on your articles if you have any subtype of CreativeWork schema implemented such as Article and BlogPosting schema. It will use the datePublished or dateModified in the markup.
Your XML sitemap should also include the publishing or last updated dates for your articles. It should look like this:
Note: According to the Guidelines, the publishing date is required and the time is not.
When should you change the publishing dates on your blog posts?
In my opinion, the only time you should be changing the dates on your blog posts is when you make noticeable changes in existing articles. Maybe there are new data on surveys you cited or you have updates on your case studies.
And when you do make changes make sure that you label it properly as “updated” not published again. This is a big thing for users as it is a sign that they can trust that you provide up-to-date information.
How about completely removing the dates from blog posts?
Some websites remove the dates from their articles to show that their content is evergreen. Although it may look suspicious, some studies have shown that it can have a positive impact.
Remember: Blog Post Dates is for User Experience
When implementing publishing dates on your blog posts or changing the dates to when an article was last updated, keep in mind that you are doing this for the user. I would also say that if you have evergreen content, it might not be necessary to update them at all. Some topics may have a higher click-through rate if dates while in some topics, age may give you more credibility. I would recommend testing it out and find what works for your niche.