How Freshness Works And How To Get It To Work For You

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

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

Google accounts for “hacks” like this.

In this article, we will discuss how the factors behind freshness affect your rank.

What Is Freshness?

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification and has fueled multiple viral “hacks” like mass creating content 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 get freshness to work for you.

Freshness Vs. Frequency

Frequency is often confused with freshness.

Frequency is the rate at which you publish content, whereas freshness is the date a page was originally published.

Posting content frequently will help your site get crawled more often out of necessity – hat tip to the 2017 Google Caffeine update, which made this (freshness) all possible.

But, indexing is not ranking.

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

John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, confirmed this in a tweet.

When asked whether Google’s algorithms take posting frequency into account, he responded that they do not.

Take, for example, the Backlinko website.

Brian Dean posts 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 non-branded keywords.

Screenshot from Ahrefs, June 2022

How Does Google Determine Publication Date?

Google looks at many things when determining a publication date of a webpage – including, but not limited to, the dates you provide or dates provided through structured markup.

But, Google does not rely on just one thing because all factors have the potential to go wrong.

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

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

Google looks at several factors, not just 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 (as it’s the most affected).

Google Guidelines for publication dateScreenshot from Google Guidelines, June 2022

This image shows that Google clearly states not to artificially freshen a story without adding significant information or compelling reason to give it a fresh date and time.

Does The Publication Date Matter?

Look at SEO, for example. It is a fairly volatile industry with many moving parts, algorithm updates, and experts publishing their findings to the interwebs en masse.

You may think that SEO-related queries would certainly demand freshness.

Let’s search [SEO audit].

Screenshot of SEO Audit SERPScreenshot from search for [SEO audit]Google, June 2022

Nothing too surprising.

You’ll 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 publication dateScreenshot from search for [SEO audit]Google, June 2022

You can see that Google is using other factors to determine the publication date of a page.

You see, Wordstream tried to freshen this page by publishing an artificially updated publication date.

Artificially updated publication date exampleScreenshot from source code, June 2022

Regardless, it still ranks on the first page. Maybe Google doesn’t consider the query [SEO audit] to deserve freshness.

Let’s search [SEO trends].

SEO trends SERP resultsScreenshot from search for [SEO trends]Google, June 2022

See a difference?

There are no articles up to late 2021 and 2022.

An article on the first page doesn’t even list the date. It’s just how many days ago the article was published.

SEO trends SERP resultsScreenshot from search for [SEO trends]Google, June 2022

Why is this happening?

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

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

What Types Of Queries Does Freshness Apply To?

In its official post about the update, Google specifies three types of queries that freshness algorithms apply to: recent events (eg, natural disasters), regularly recurring events (eg, sports scores), and frequently updated topics (eg, product reviews).

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

How to SERP exampleScreenshot from search for [how to build a standing desk]Google, June 2022

Google understands this as an informational (how-to) query and returns video search results from 2018 and site links from as far back as 2012.

But, if I search for [best standing desk].

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

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

The SERP displays ads to purchase the product and reviews on standing desks as recent as “9 hours ago.”

Not a single site link on page 1 is more than two months old. Someone searching for [best standing desk] likely wants to read a product review, so freshness becomes important to the user experience.

Final Thoughts

Google doesn’t care how frequently you post or if you keep changing the date.

Does that mean you should stop updating old articles?

No!

Keeping your articles up-to-date means updating the content, quality, and relevancy to align with user intent and industry advances.

Has something changed since you first wrote the article?

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

If you notice that Google begins displaying images, videos, or rich results in the SERP for your target keyword – update how you’re presenting the content.

More resources:


Featured Image: patpitchaya/Shutterstock

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