Should You Update Dates Frequently To Improve Content Freshness
There are a lot of Webmaster and SEO professionals who want to understand the impact of content freshness and article date updates on Google ranking.
SEO and Blogging are always evolving; what may have worked in the past may not work now. The best SEO practices from a few years back may land you in trouble.
Publishers and SEO experts continue to explore new opportunities to rank better on Google. Whether it is optimizing your content for the featured snippet to get to rank number 1 on Google.
Or to optimize content for voice search to help Google feature it.
The increasing use of AMP and reduction of Pop-Ups in the last few years are helping publishers increase traffic.
But these are all legitimate ways of increasing traffic.
What if I told you that I observed something black hat being used by several large publishers to have an undue advantage in search?
Let’s talk about it and understand how and why they are doing it?
Content Freshness Exploit
A lot of publishers are changing dates on their content daily to increase the relevance and take benefit from Content Freshness variable of the search algorithm.
As we know, there are over 200 factors that impact the position of a webpage in Google for a particular keyword.
The content freshness is one of these factors and is essential. Most of the people want the latest information or updated information about the topic they are searching for.
Say I am searching for “Legal Rights of Landlords.” I would like an updated article which informs of the current law of the land, than something which was written 3 years back and has stale information.
The three years old article may be the best, but it may not have the current clauses, which is essential for me.
Hence, Google tends to rank fresh content higher than stale content.
How Are some of the Big Publishers Exploiting Content Freshness?
I observed several publishers are automatically updating the dates on several articles, and even some are updating the title to add current date.
How does it help them?
Say a searcher wants to know the “iPhone Xs Max Price on 28 July 2019”.
The publisher can exploit these time-specific queries by updating the article every day using a script and even add a date to the title.
Some of the publishers, as mentioned below, are doing this daily. And it gives them a couple of advantages by fooling Google and the searcher.
Advantages of Exploiting Content Freshness:
- Google thinks content is updated and ranks it higher.
- Searchers Click on the result as they see the date and think it is highly relevant.
- Higher CTR and freshness help improve ranking overtime.
- It is great for the SEO of the whole website because so many pages are daily getting updated.
- More post updates and changes, and Google believes the website has a lot of new content.
- Finally, it leads to more gain in ranking and backlinks.
On the other hand, e-commerce stores like Flipkart or Amazon or other blogs who are targeting similar keywords may not rank as high.
The date updates may not be impacting all the queries in the search, but some of the queries where freshness has a higher weightage.
I am not 100% sure, but I think there are several queries where freshness gets a higher weightage and others where it is not so relevant.
Here are some of the Queries and Websites that seem to be using this technique at the moment.
There are several big websites like 91mobiles.com, digit.in, gadgetsnow.com, ndtvgadgets.com. pricebaba.com who are using this currently.
All these sites enjoy massive traffic and ranking in Google. You can check the Alexa rank for traffic growth of these websites.
Updating Dates of Posts – Right Way Vs. Wrong-Way
What you have seen is the wrong way of updating post dates to increase your CTR and content freshness.
Google says you can change the date of an article. Further, the search engine considers the time when the URL was crawled first.
When Google re-crawls it, they look for the revised date and any content changes.
So when you actually add some new value to your content and make it relevant for the current date, you should change the date.
If you are making minor adjustments, keep the date same or just add a last updated date. Google structured data support this.
You can even show last updated date on your article and in the serps easily if you are using WordPress.
So, in summation, there is no harm in updating dates when you are updating your content and making it more relevant.
But doing it just to game the search engine may be working today but may not work in the coming days.
Does Google know about this?
I had an interaction with Mr. John Mu from Google on Twitter.
@JohnMu have observed some big sites are using a script to update the Date on hundreds of articles every day. Is this practice okay? I think it helps them with the freshness aspect of the content. If you wish can share some examples.
— Kanuj from Candytech (@kanuj5678) July 25, 2019
I have later shared the details about some more sites to him which are exploiting this currently and probably Google may fix this in the future algorithm updates.
Disclaimer* – I own a popular tech blog Candytech.in and I stumbled on the exploit as mentioned earlier when doing keyword research for it.
Also, I strongly advise you to not do it. Google will catch up one day and will penalize such sites.
Notably, I even came across a similar issue mentioned by Glenn Allsopp in his article on detailed.com