How freshness works and how to make it work for you


Will posting new posts regularly or updating old blog posts help you rank better?

Maybe, but not just by changing the date or the frequency.

Google counts “hacks” like this.

In this article, we will discuss how freshness factors affect your ranking.

What is freshness?

When marketers talk about content freshness, they’re referring to an algorithm update from 2017.

Google’s Freshness Update was a significant algorithm update that introduced time as a relevance indicator, making search results more responsive to the user’s intent.

The update allowed Google to surface trending, regular, or frequently updated content.

People often misunderstand the Freshness update, believing it prioritizes recent release dates in raking results.

Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification and has fueled multiple viral “hacks” like mass content creation or updating publication dates as good SEO strategies.

So, I’m going to explain why freshness doesn’t mean what you think it means, and then explain how to make freshness work for you.

Freshness Vs. Frequency

Frequency is often confused with freshness.

Frequency is how fast you post content, while freshness is when a page was originally posted.

Frequently posting content will help your site get crawled more often out of necessity – a tip for the 2017 Google Caffeine Update, which made this (freshness) possible.

But indexing is not ranking.

Although frequency can increase how often Google checks your website, it is not the same as freshness and is not a ranking factor.

John Mueller, search attorney at Google, confirmed it in a tweet.

When asked if Google’s algorithms take posting frequency into account, he said no.

Take, for example, the Backlinko website.

Brian Dean publishes sporadically – about six times in 2021 – and has only published one article (so far) in 2022.

Yet the website still ranks in the top three for 3,850 unbranded keywords.

Example of frequency not being a ranking factorAhrefs screenshot, June 2022

How does Google determine the publication date?

Google looks at many things when determining when a web page was published, including but not limited to dates you provide or dates provided through structured markup.

But, Google does not rely on just one thing because all factors can go wrong.

What if a publisher doesn’t provide a specific date?

Or, what if the structured data on the page is missing or incorrect?

Google looks at several factors, not just the dates provided, to determine when a page was published or significantly updated.

Significantly updated is an important distinction.

Below are Google’s webmaster guidelines for news (because it’s the most relevant).

Google guidelines for publication dateScreenshot of Google Guidelines, June 2022

This image shows that Google makes it clear not to artificially refresh a story without adding important information or a compelling reason to give it a new date and time.

Is the publication date important?

Look at SEO, for example. It’s quite a volatile industry with many moving parts, algorithm updates, and experts mass publishing their findings on the interwebs.

You might think that SEO-related queries would definitely demand freshness.

seek [SEO audit].

Screenshot of SEO SERP AuditScreenshot of the search for [SEO audit]Google, June 2022

Nothing very surprising.

You will see articles from 2020, 2021 and 2022.

And then a Wordstream article with a 2018 date in the SERP (search engine results page).

Screenshot showing Wordstream 2018 release dateScreenshot of the search for [SEO audit]Google, June 2022

You can see that Google uses other factors to determine when a page was published.

You see, Wordstream tried to refresh this page by posting an artificially updated post date.

Example of an artificially updated publication dateSource code screenshot, June 2022

Either way, it still ranks on the first page. Maybe Google is not considering the query [SEO audit] deserve freshness.

seek [SEO trends].

SEO Trends SERP ResultsScreenshot of the search for [SEO trends]Google, June 2022

See a difference?

There are no articles until the end of 2021 and 2022.

An article on the front page does not even mention the date. It’s just how many days ago the article was published.

SEO Trends SERP ResultsScreenshot of the search for [SEO trends]Google, June 2022

Why does this happen?

An article from 2018 would be a horrible search result for the search query [SEO trends].

Google understands that people want to know about the latest trends, not outdated ones, and tries to match results to match user intent.

What types of queries does freshness apply to?

In his official update messageGoogle specifies three types of queries to which freshness algorithms apply: recent events (e.g. natural disasters), recurring events (e.g. sports scores), and frequently updated topics (e.g. product reviews).

For example, let’s look at the query [how to build a standing desk].

Sample SERPScreenshot of the search for [how to build a standing desk]Google, June 2022

Google understands this as an informational query (how to) and returns search results for videos from 2018 and links from sites as far back as 2012.

But if I seek [best standing desk].

Best product review serp exampleScreenshot of the search for [best standing desk]Google, June 2022

Google understands this as a transactional query; the user is looking to purchase a standing desk.

The SERP shows ads to buy the product and standing desk reviews as recent as “9 hours ago”.

Not a single site link on Page 1 is more than two months old. someone is looking [best standing desk] probably wants to read a product review, so freshness becomes important to user experience.

Final Thoughts

Google doesn’t care how often you post or if you constantly change the date.

Does that mean you have to stop updating old articles?

Nope!

Keeping your articles fresh means updating content, quality, and relevance to align with user intent and industry advancements.

Has anything changed since you first wrote the article?

Update it and make the changes visible so readers can see the historical view of events.

If you notice that Google is starting to show images, videos, or rich results in the SERP for your target keyword, update the way you present content.

More resources:


Featured Image: patpitchaya/Shutterstock



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