This is an old argument. Which I had hoped was mostly coming down on the side of keeping dates in, even though there are allegedly still potentially SEO benefits to leaving them out due to Google’s “Freshness Algorithm.” Supposedly, this was adjusted sometime around 2015 to fix this problem. (The problem being people playing SEO games with content publish dates regardless of impact on end user value.) One recent research task I was performing landed me on a variety of blog and lower end news sites that had chosen to not put visible publish dates on their articles. (We’ll leave aside the old issue of just what is ‘blog’ vs. ‘news’ site.) So I looked into this a bit and it seems there’s still info out there suggesting lack of dates is a good idea. Maybe it is in some special cases. But I think mostly not; at least from a user perspective.
This is a User Experience issue that screams, “I don’t care about users’ needs.” If you’re a Product person or Publisher that’s running a site where you’ve chosen to not display the publish date, please take moment to consider the following…
Reasons & Use Cases for the Publish Date & Last Modified Date
Let’s start with an assertion: If you are not putting dates on news or any form of content that has potential temporal relevance you are doing a disservice to your visitors.
- It’s rare that an article that is news or business related is truly evergreen. Things change fast. By not having a date, you’re article is quite possibly out of context, even if it’s still relevant.
- By putting the date, you are telegraphing respect for your user. For any visitor that’s ever wanted to know the date on a post and couldn’t find it, they’ll appreciate you for your simple courtesy. For any sophisticated user who thinks you’re intentionally obscuring the date for your own selfish SEO reasons, you also become suspect and, where remembered in the future, become the place to ignore as you’ll be of questionable credibility.
All this being said, it’s possible your content doesn’t need dates. If your content is creative and truly evergreen, maybe dates don’t matter. Maybe you’re putting out a recipe site. Chances are those aren’t going to go out of date. But think about it; what’s the whole point of publishing things over time? News, blog posts, etc. are typically somewhat related to things going on in the now. When you obscure when “now” is, whom are you serving? Pretty much only yourself. It’s not customer centric, which is increasingly an important trait. And it’s arguably consumer hostile.
In short, if anyone in your organization from the top on down tries to lay claim to consumer centric or customer focused thinking and you’re intentionally leaving dates off, then you’re full of crap. Your part of the spam problem, part of the ad fraud problem, part of the lie that pushes consumers towards distrust in the whole industry. And over time, technology will treat you just like any flaw in the internet. It will find ways to route around you.
Your – Flawed – Reasoning for Leaving Off the Publish Date
- Your perception of consumer’s perceived value: You think users may immediately consider “old” content, (whatever that might be), as less valuable and see less value in your content.
- You may be right. But the thing is, you have zero idea of the user context when they get to your page. It’s as likely as not that the date provides significant context value to your users and without it, you’ve actually degraded the value of your page. Of course, you might not care as your main reason for removing the date is for SEO only; no user value considered.
- You think removing dates will improve your search results.
- A very nicely dated 2016 article How to Remove Date From Google Search Results in a WordPress Site talks about how removing dates from WordPress themes could help search engine rankings. Or at least, help clickthrough as users wouldn’t see old dates in Search Engine Results (SERP) pages and therefore not just intentionally skip articles that felt old. (Would this be called (p)age discrimination?) The article points out one pluggin that actually removes the dates from old content, but keeps the dates for new content.
This type of behavior is example of one of many challenges search users face. It is possible some of these tricks could allow some content to “win” over other content based on sophisticated search engine optimization gaming. From the publisher perspective, this seems like a win.
There are two ways this supposedly helps publishers:
- Content explicitly dated that becomes older potentially is a signal to rank such content lower by some degree. Though this is supposedly fixed; at least by Google.
- User exposure to an older date, (whatever the user may perceive as older), can occur on a result page and cause the user to skip it. Or they may see the date on the page itself and more quickly abandon.
- Is it really a win to get such users? Sure, you got the page view. You’ve earned your $0.002 pennies for the page or whatever. But did you engender any trust or reason to return? If you think “It just doesn’t matter, 90% of my traffic is from search and my brand means nothing anyway,” then ok… keep doing what you’re doing, even though you become part of a quality problem. But any sophisticated user will be going to more than one site. If it turns out your obscuring of dates merely servers to make their tasks harder, your credibility is shot and this type of user will actively avoid you in the future. Again, maybe you don’t care as your analytics show you get more usage from new users via search then returning users. Still, maybe the reason for this is your behavior. Chances are if you’re playing games like this, you’re making other judgments that make you sketchy.
- Google isn’t stupid. Bing isn’t stupid. Others aren’t stupid. This is just another game in the ongoing SEO battle. Maybe this technique works by providing one tiny positive signal among the many that Search Engines use to do ranking. But at some point, a Product Person at the Big G will look at this, and see if it produces sub-optimal results for users. And with one update your behavior will penalize you far beyond the small gains you’ve gotten for doing user unfriendly things. Oh wait, they have figured it out! In fact, Google has already said they may ignore your timestamp for the purposes of news.
- Meta Data. Increasingly, smart sites are using meta data to help the search engines index content better. Among these data points in Schema.org are datePublished and dateModified. If you use these – and you should – then if you mess around later, at some point the search scientists will make you pay for it. And if you skip microdata/meta data? You’re also suspect. It’s just a matter of time before bad behavior comes back to haunt you. And it might not be so easy to recover from this as you can’t undo your history.
- You think you’re smarter than than Google. And others.
- This issue, mostly already cover, bears repeating. If you’re playing games based on the latest SEO tricks, you risk penalties when the engines figure it out. If you’re thinking, “that’s ok, we’ll just adjust again,” then fine. Except maybe that penalty will hurt more than every gain you had ever garnered from your tricks. To this day you can find somewhat current articles that gleefully point to their means to game the search engines. SEO is important as a tactic. And there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you do it ethically and without ignoring usability. When you cross the line though, you could pay dearly. Unfortunately, the people doing this probably don’t care and would just move on to their next job pointing at their past SEO success, even though they possibly damaged their old site. Managers: Watch for this sort of thing!
- You think dates don’t matter to users.
- Really? Then why remove them? They take up very little space and are likely useful to many visitors for a variety of reasons. If anyone says, “well, there’s benefits to removing them,” then they’re essentially admitting that they don’t care about the user value vs. what they perceive as an SEO benefit.
- You think your stuff is all Evergreen.
- If it really is, then great! Do what you feel you must. Chances are though, you’re just rationalizing. If you have info in your post referring to any current event, or research data by others and similar, you’re content is simply not evergreen. It may still be useful. And perhaps the ideas in your post are useful, but clearly there’s old info. And that’s ok. This doesn’t mean it’s lacking in value. But the historical context is part of that value. When you obscure this, you’re removing that value. And you’re not fooling anyone. Well, you’re maybe fooling some search engines and getting some trick clicks, but the end users – for the most part – won’t be impressed.
Where to Put Dates? (And Which Dates)
- Use Publish and Last Modified. The best practice for users would be to have both a Publish Date and Last Modified Date. Extra credit if a Last Modified Date area includes a snippet explaining what was modified and why.
- Where to put the dates. Put the publish date and last modified date right at the top along with the byline, (if you have bylines).
- You can use a formats like this:
Published: Mar. 12, 2016, Modified: Mar. 12, 2013
- Mar. 12, 2016 Updated: Mar. 12, 2013
- or similar.
- You can use a formats like this:
- Meta Data. Use Schema.org are datePublished and dateModified dates. See the whole list of Schema.org date formats to see what’s most appropriate for you. For that matter, check out the various article meta data options as well.
If you really want your content to be evergreen then write it as such. Or, just update your information! It can be challenging to do that of course. But it would fairly allow you to put a more current date.