Publish Date, Last Updated, Query Deserves Freshness, & Google Fresh Rank

Ryuzaki

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#1
For my next trick, I'll be getting obsessed about Freshness!

I'm seeing this thread already as the cousin to my 301 Redirect in the Present Day thread, where I posed some questions and then eventually ran the experiment myself for all to see.

The Problem
If you read the forum and my case study regularly, you'll have seen me saying that in the past 3 months Google has been pushing more than several significant updates. I kept commenting that I was slipping in commercial rankings while gaining more long tails.

The Blame
I was attributing that to them giving more weight to age, which is what I originally saw, but I was only looking at the top 10. But as I kept looking further into the top 20 I realized that a huge part of it could have been a recalculation of Fresh Rank. Newer posts from last year and this year are beating me from two years ago with nearly no links and poor sitewide metrics.

For some odd reason, I simply never realized commercial intent queries like "Best Blank" and "Blank Reviews" where Queries That Deserve Freshness. I'm traditionally an information site guy so I never paid that much attention.

The Question
So last night I went on a several hour long journey to read everything I could about this topic to make sure I'm missing nothing, all the way down to patent snippets and all the way up to forums and bloggers.

I learned nothing new, so I narrowed my search to specifically what I'm thinking about doing for my site. This is when I found about 4 case studies, all with various problems that rendered them completely (retarded) useless.

All of these case studies were simply about "What happens if I do something to my publish date?"

Published Date to Updated Date
So there was one by a Moz contributor who changed his publish dates to "Last Updated" dates. Let me state here that nobody used Schema markup or anything else. He saw positive results but he only did it to I think 16 posts that weren't getting much traffic. Some of them got up to 200% boosts in traffic. Yaaay, expect when you read the comments he reveals that he also bumped all the posts back onto the homepage, and it was the remaining 5 or 8 or whatever that got the biggest boost. Worthless.

Published Date to Current Date
Then there was a guy who accidentally left the "current date" as a placeholder when uploading a site redesign and saw a huge boost. This is already muddy since the site was redesigned too. But he changed it back and nearly immediately saw a dip right back to normal levels. So he changed the date back to the current date and got a boost again, then back to normal. The problem here was we're talking about the difference between 100 visits a day sitewide to 200 and back. I think it the results were legit, but there's not much statistical confidence.

No Date to Published Date
Another guy never had dates on his articles, and he added them and tanked his traffic by 40%. That's all the data we got out of it. But it's an important point that dates can hurt you where freshness is demanded.

Other Random Reports
AirBNB changes their listing dates to the current date every time Google crawls them, so Google thinks it's fresh each time. Google claims that they'll take the date snippets away from sites abusing it, and that you can't "trick" Google, but I'd say that's a crock of shite at this point. I think they're capable of doing it and will do it, but I don't think they've done it yet. But I've also not tested or searched for examples of people getting this penalty.

The Proposal
My proposed questions to you guys are:

Should I change my published date to an updated date site wide except on the archive pages? I'm thinking of only having the updated date (and marked as such), but I toyed with the idea of having published and updated on there. But I want Google to recognize my freshness.

Part of the problem is that all of my commercial pages were just HEAVILY updated a month or two ago, as well as a majority of my blog posts. Google didn't recognize it and they still list my publish date in the snippets in the SERPs. I'm thinking of switching to Updated and possibly even adding the Schema for it on there.

I do have meta properties for Published Time, Modified Time, and Updated Time in there, but I read John Mueller saying that Google ignores and has never used those. This makes it sound like they only base it on their own comparisons in their index on whether or not substantial changes have been made.

I think the examples above illustrate a few points that need to be stated.
  • Google prefers aged content for some terms. Will changing to an updated date hurt these rankings even if the publish date is old?
  • Google prefers fresh content for some terms. Will changing the date along with having updated them in the past couple of months help with these rankings?
I'm not going to open the can of worms of trying to show different dates depending on the queries I want to rank for. I'm going to be making this change sitewide. I also do not want to get into having the dates in the title tags either.

Is this a good idea? What have you to say about this in general? Have any of you toyed with this?
 
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#2
I think that is a good idea and it's something that I been thinking lately.

I think that the best way to do it is to display it like this:

<time datetime="2018-03-27T00:00:00+00:00">Updated on: March 27, 2018</time>

Or something like that.

But keeping the published date (and updated date too) on the schema markup.
 

Ryuzaki

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#3
Thanks, @DarkRed. I'm currently considering removing all instances of any dates from the meta data, which Google ignores anyways. I didn't realize I had that in there. I read that Google still gets confused here, and then any instance of extra dates can cause them to latch on to the wrong one. You'd think with actual meta tags they'd have that sorted out. I don't know though, they're not perfect.

I'm thinking I'll remove all instances from the meta data and then change the Publish date to an Update date and add some schema or micro-markup to it. I'm tempted to not even use any schema.

Everything I'm seeing indicates that Google cheaped out on the resources needed to really to drive "freshness" based on content changes and are entirely relying on the date's on the page. That may be inaccurate, but it's what I'm seeing reported everywhere, even in the non-SEO realm of people talking about Schema itself.

I definitely am not interested in tricking Google so much as not giving them places to get confused.

Let me support why I'm talking about stripping everything but the Last Published (and I may or may not use Scheme markup there). I read several instances, but here's one in specific that shows exactly why I want only the actual updated date and nothing else:

This SEO by the Sea post shows how they copy and pasted the date of a patent they were discussing into a post, and Google used it instead of their actual listed publish date in the SERPs. I'm assuming they base their freshness off of this date too, even though they have cache dates, but I can't prove it.

And here's one of several places where John Mueller said that Google doesn't use the meta tags for dates. There's also the page where they list exactly which ones they do use, which do not list anything related to dates.

Edit: For future reference, I just made all the changes in the evening of April 5th. I changed it sitewide, even on archive pages, and used the exact markup DarkRed recommended, which was what Schema's documentation suggests too. We'll see what happens.
 

Ryuzaki

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#4
It's been 3 full days since I made the change. Of course, Google hasn't yet encountered or calculated all of the posts yet, but I'm seeing indications that some are starting to process the change.

For instance, here's the SERPWoo graph for a post that used to sit in the top 3 that made me a ton of money. You can see that this ranking boost is 100% correlated to changes I made on Thursday night, with today being Monday afternoon.


That's a jump from low 2nd page to low first page. If I search manually I see it a little bit higher now.

All of this pages terms are doing the same thing, so I should definitely see a boost in organic traffic site-wide, or at least for the commercial category where it matters.

My hopes is that all of these see this kind of boost and also continue to slowly climb back to their absolute peak over the next month. It would make a huge revenue difference. As these posts got eroded, I kept my earnings stable by adding more and more. With all of them activated and performing well... I need that!
 
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#5
That's great @Ryuzaki !!

So, you removed all the dates except the last updated date like you said right? Or you kept the published date?

Thanks
 

Ryuzaki

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#6
@DarkRed, I should have specified, my bad. In the end, I:
  • Removed meta tags showing Publish date, Modified date, and Updated date
  • Replaced every instance of Publish date site-wide with...
  • On taxonomy pages and the posts, I added an Updated date
  • I wrapped the Updated date in Schema itemProp markup, though I'm not convinced it was needed or will be parsed correctly without creating the entire object. Someone correct me here if I'm wrong.
Seems like they're picking it up on the very next crawl.
 
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#7
@Ryuzaki so you deleted all meta tags, then on the actual page, if the text said "Published on XXXX" or similar, you changed the text to say "Updated On XXXX"?. So there is no reference to any published date any where on the page.

What you describe in your first post might be happening to me...

So the only code you have on the page is something like:
Code:
<time class="entry-date updated" itemprop="dateModified" datetime="2018-03-18T13:28:33+00:00">4 weeks ago</time>
I've just done this, let's see what happens
 

Ryuzaki

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#8
@Darth, yes, but I didn't do "4 weeks ago" or any kind of relative dating. On the datetime I'm doing 'Y-m-d' with PHP, which renders like '2018-04-10' but without the time of day, and on the actual displayed time I prefer 'M j, Y' for something like 'Apr 10th, 2018'.

But the main point is that I don't want relative dates. I want very explicit dates with no possible confusion. I'm sure Google might be able to pull the datetime value and still sort it out, but it looks like to me they're placing all the emphasis on whatever actually renders. I'm trying to give them the least hurdles to jump to get the data they're looking for in a format they can read without doing much calculations (while still serving the visitors).
 
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#10
FWIW, I also just list the last modified date WITHOUT Schema and WITH relative time as the text for humans, and Google -- without fail -- picks this up. Even if the only "edit" I'm doing on a 10 year old post, is removing an image. I'm not opposed to using proper Schema for this, it has just never been needed.

From my experience, Google doesn't care about the text you serve users. I've had them pick up the correct "modified" date whether I have "4 weeks ago", or some custom date format like "4th of march, a couple of years ago"
 
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#12
Well, it's not something I write -- it's a function on the template itself. Pretty standard in themes, so just edit the HTML it outputs
 

Ryuzaki

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#16
@Ryuzaki I am curious how this test progressed over the course of the month....
I'm not able to get a decent Amazon screenshot of my clicks increasing again, which was the whole point of this. Something about my earnings and ordered items is squishing the chart to where the click change isn't real visible. But I went from around 600-700 clicks a day to around 800-1000 clicks a day. I busted 1000 several times.

Traffic from Google only, from April 6 to April 29 versus the same period previously, increased by a whopping 20%, which is pretty much what I was reporting I lost around the forum for so long.

Overall it's been great but I'm also not sold on an all-or-nothing switch either. I think I could take a hit on SERPs that want to show aged time stamps. I need to set up a "Does this need to show the Updated date?" checkbox or just set it up by category. I need to dig into some various pages and see how non-commercial terms fluctuated.
 
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#17
Thanks @Ryuzaki and congrats on the uptick... I'm sure that's life changing s*** at the level you're at.
I'm going to sort out how to apply this to my projects and report back. I've got a nice an aged one that might really benefit.
 
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#18
I’ve noticed something interesting regarding “last updated” time stamp.

A particular site I’m tracking is getting top 3 positions consistently and only displaying last updated in page and in headers.. however, the dates are older than the site on many pages that are ranking well.. by over a year in some cases.

So it has me thinking how much correlation is google really doing against these time/date stamps vs other metrics.
 
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#19
Interesting post!

Two of my money sites tanked this week, no PBNs used for link building, no shady stuff and I have no idea what happened.

The main money pages had a published date in early 2016, reading this post made me think this might be it. I updated the posts with more LSI and changed the published date metadata, I'm crossing fingers for this to have a positive impact...
 
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#20
Interesting post!

Two of my money sites tanked this week, no PBNs used for link building, no shady stuff and I have no idea what happened.

The main money pages had a published date in early 2016, reading this post made me think this might be it. I updated the posts with more LSI and changed the published date metadata, I'm crossing fingers for this to have a positive impact...
Have you kept the site regularly updated with content? If you posted most of your content in 2016 and then left it then it could be a freshness thing. You may have had a lot of competitors who have been maintaining their sites with fresh content and links overtake you, which would make it look like the problem is with your site.

Another thing to look at is the ratio of money pages on your site. If it’s too high that could be another reason for losing rankings.
 
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#21
Have you kept the site regularly updated with content? If you posted most of your content in 2016 and then left it then it could be a freshness thing. You may have had a lot of competitors who have been maintaining their sites with fresh content and links overtake you, which would make it look like the problem is with your site.

Another thing to look at is the ratio of money pages on your site. If it’s too high that could be another reason for losing rankings.
New content yes, but the money pages that dropped were not updated since about a year.

It seemed that they both recovered, I did the following:

- Updated published date in WordPress
- added about 200 words of new content with LSI that wasn't yet on the page
- added a small 'Last updated: 05/22/2018" text on the page



Not sure if my edit fixed it, or if they reverted some algo change
 

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#23
Not sure if my edit fixed it, or if they reverted some algo change
There was definitely some kind of buying-term algo shift in the past few days. But I wouldn't rule out the freshness impact either. It worked a miracle for me.

If you have a post that hasn't been updated are you still showing the text "Updated On"?
I ran more tests regarding this but haven't posted about them. My posts ONLY show "updated on" now.

But I also updated the date on one without changing the text and as soon as Google crawled it, they removed the date in the SERPs. So I waited and made a substantial update and updated the date again. Upon next crawl they added the date back into the SERPS.

This definitely looks like something you can't cheat on. My conclusion is that you can change your content all you want and Google won't notice unless you trigger them to notice by updating the date. That's when they make the comparison in the index. Otherwise it'd be too much processing power to do a comparison on each crawl.
 
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#24
This definitely looks like something you can't cheat on. My conclusion is that you can change your content all you want and Google won't notice unless you trigger them to notice by updating the date. That's when they make the comparison in the index. Otherwise it'd be too much processing power to do a comparison on each crawl.
That's very similar to a discussion @Steve Brownlie and friends had on their latest video. They saw similar results by only changing the date. Actually, thinking about that video is what made me look up this post.

What I'm curious about is, what if I don't change the date but have all posts say "Updated on". For example, I have a post with a publish date of Jan 1, 2018, the page currently reads "Published on Jan 1, 2018", if I did a blanket change to say "Updated on Jan 1, 2018" would that have a negative impact on that post? I'm not looking to cheat rather than wondering if using the blanket term "Updated on" even if the post date has changed would negatively impact anything.

Or would I be better of creating a line of code that says, if date modified, show "updated on" if not show "published on"?
 

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#25
That's very similar to a discussion @Steve Brownlie and friends had on their latest video. They saw similar results by only changing the date. Actually, thinking about that video is what made me look up this post.
Thanks for checking out the show man. Personally I haven't tested this enough to really weigh in more than what's been said already but one thing I do notice is that if you have a post that ranks for something 'somewhat time sensitive' - ie where google isn't hitting it with QDF so you can still rank but in some users minds a newer list or information might be better - you start to see 2+ year old posts get less clickthrough which I guess feeds bad information back into the machine.

Just another reason to work the way @stackcash is starting to on his sites (mentioned on the show a few times) with regular content refreshes/adding to pages. He might be slightly ahead of the curve on it but I can see it becoming more essential as time goes on.