In the world of SEO, there are many factors to consider when it comes to an article's date. It may seem like a good idea to change the date on an article so that it appears more recent, but this could have adverse effects on your site's search engine ranking.
Some people think that by changing the date on articles, they will trick Google into thinking new content has been published when it really hasn't been. About this particular issue, Christian Velitchkov, Co-founder at Los Angeles, CA.-based Twiz, says that "there have been content writers who merely change dates of old content to make the writeup look fresh and recent. This malpractice has given birth to superstition." While others argue that if you are adding more information to an article, then updating its date is acceptable and desirable to change article dates because you're improving the article with new info.
The SEO community is divided over the use of changing article dates. Some believe it's a necessary evil, and others say that it can hurt your site in the long run. Let's take a closer look at what the experts say so that you can make an informed decision by yourself.
Google's Stance on Article Dates
It's long been proven that Google likes fresh content. But changing your article's date doesn't mean your article is fresh if it has the same content. Google's Senior Trends Analyst, John Muller, said in a recent interview for the Search Engine Journal that "changing publishing dates on web pages will not improve search rankings if no significant changes were made to the content."
He says that while updating the date is a good sign that the content is fresh, Google's algorithm doesn't work that way. Also, he mentioned that shuffling some images and content around without adding new information and then changing the date will impact your user experience and mislead your visitors into thinking that something is new. When they find the truth, they won't come back to your page.
So, if you're thinking of changing the dates, only do it when you have done sizable improvements to your content.
Related Article: How SEO Can Boost Customer Experience
Where Does This Belief Come From?
In 2011, Google made improvements to the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm by releasing a Google Freshness Updates report. Freshness update prioritized new content and boosted fresh updates in areas where users expect to find the most current information, such as news, politics, and trends.
However, the Panda update changed the game for freshness seekers. According to Steve Toth, CEO at Toronto, Canada-based, SEO Notebook, "Google used to reward freshness before 2015, but it doesn't work that way anymore. They did it because they used to assume that fresh content was accurate content, but I think perhaps now they have better ways of determining what's accurate mainly based on the site's reputation and authority vs. sheer freshness."
With the Panda Update, older content in authority domains usually outperforms new articles in search results because of the number of backlinks and visitors they attract organically. "Changing the date alone won't help your SEO efforts because Google will crawl your 'new' page and compare it with the version it previously crawled," says Nebojsa Radakovic, Marketing Manager at Wroclaw, Poland-based Bejamas. If you're showing the search engine the same page, it doesn't matter how recent the date is; the content hasn't changed enough to justify a change in rankings.
SEO Best Practices: When To Change the Article Date
- Leverage your Google Search Console: "Look at your queries report for a specific page in the Google Search Console. Updating your article to satisfy those queries better will definitely bring more traffic and better overall rankings," Toth shares.
- Only change dates for major updates: "If you make a significant change on the page, its date is a signal for content freshness that will prompt Google to crawl your page again," says Radakovic.
- Use structured markup data: If you want to change the dates, do it using structured data like datePublished and dateModified to help Google detect your changes and updates.
- Don't include dates in your URLs: To make an article date-relevant, you don't have to include the date in the URL. If you add the date and want to update this article further, you won't modify the date in the URL because if you do, your visitors will get a 301 redirection and lose the backlinks to that page.
- Replace old information with the new one: Updating your stats with new ones and your old research with new insights is the key to keep your articles fresh.
However, keep in mind that despite all the SEO tweaks and updates, the content that will end up performing better is the one that satisfies the user intent and responds to its queries, not always the freshest one. Freshness is good for content that's likely to change within a minute.
Still, the authority will always trump freshness for informational content pieces or tentpole posts unless your fresh article has what it takes to dethrone the higher-ranking ones.