Dates in Google Search Results


Not That Kind of Date

As regular readers here know, this WordPress site recently dropped somewhat in Google referred search visitors.  When researching why that may have happened, I found that a Google Panda update occurred about 2 months after I removed the dates from all posts older than 6 months.  I then found several places, including this very interesting video on dating content by Matt Cutts of Google where he explains why Google, and searchers, want dates on all content.  Matt Cutts seems like a very intelligent and reasonable guy and even mentions evergreen content in the video.  He does not expand on that at all though, so I am not sure what to do about older, evergreen, content.   If anyone reading this post has knowledge or insight into this issue, please comment below and educate the rest of us.

Maybe I now wish I had known about this supposed Google preference for dated content before I removed my old dates and had Google search visitors drop.  Because it is Google, not the other search engines, who is in complete control of what gets seen on the internet, and Google does not let you know why any specific site does poorly or well in search results, we may never know for sure. But I have since put the dates back on old posts and also made a few other SEO tweaks to the site and already visits seem to be going back up a bit. However I do suspect it will take a while to get to where it was a few months ago.

This is particularly annoying to me as, mentioned above, many of my old posts are indeed “evergreen” and got lots of visitors and comments while they were in Google’s search results without dates.  I have posts that were written years ago that have 60 or more comments spanning from publication up to this month.  Now with some of them appearing in the search results with dates of 2009, 2008, or even 2007, (this site started back in 2006!), fewer people click on the links which means less discussion and commenting. This is frustrating because the comments and discussion are the best part of this site to me.

Maybe I can tweak the titles of those posts to better indicate evergreen content and see if that helps click through visits.  It may not help though since if Google decides an old date means a post should be on the 2nd or 3rd page of results rather than the first, that alone will mean many fewer searchers will even see that result.  I remember reading once that something like 90% of searchers never go past the 1st page of Google results.

So, whether to remove or leave dates on old posts is a hard call because:

~Remove the dates and Google will slap your site, pages will be left off search results and clicks will suffer.
~Leave the dates and if they are older than a few months, Google may decide the posts are not worth presenting at the front of their search results and clicks will suffer.

Wish there was an easy solution, but it seems that even the oldest posts need a date visible to Google’s crawlers.  It would be ideal if there was a way to indicate to Google on a post by post basis if content was evergreen.  The problem there would be how does Google verify that?  Some people would just remove the dates from old content and classify it evergreen whether it was or not.

If any of you have opinions or expertise on this issue, please leave a comment.  Feel free to include links to other information on the subject in your comment.  I am sure many people are unsure of the best way to handle dates on older content that may be evergreen in nature.  Of course we don’t care about older posts that are truly no longer relevant.  But sometimes the age of a post does not relate to its relevancy and what might be the best way to handle that kind of content?

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Will Sig
1 Binky

Put dates on everything! Everywhere!
I have no idea.
Binky recently posted..Blissfully IgnorantMy Profile


2 Will

Blissfully ignorant as usual, Binky. 😉 Hey you said it, I didn’t.


3 Robin Henderson

Well, Will, looks like we got that ancient tension between form and substance. Those of us who manage “substantive” (content-driven; i.e., worthwhile) blogs, like you and I, rely on our catalogue to bring in readers. Then there’s “the Market,” those great, fictional, dumb-as-their unwashed-dirt masses that business insists are the only demographic worthy of serving. We’re told that these people only want to read what was published tod… dang! It’s too old already!

Seems to me, if people who don’t want to read any posts on Zen that are older than yesterday are really out there, couldn’t they just use the date-limiting function already on Google Advanced? And if they’re too dumb to do that, couldn’t Google just put a button on the basic search? Then the rest of us who, like, read, would still have access to the stuff we use the Internet for.


Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit
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4 Will

That’s a real good summary of the problem, Robin. And its not even just what you describe. Many times older posts are more helpful because they have lots of added, relevant, content in the comment thread. If Google limits search results to very recently published content, then you only get the new stuff with no conversation having yet taken place. Much less helpful in my opinion.


5 Tony McGurk

I really don’t see why the date of the post should matter. Surely it’s the contet of the post that’s the most mportant.


6 Jan

It is a tough one. I personally want dates on the material I am reading, but as an intelligent reader, I can work out what content is evergreen and what is not. I hope that Google is not just adopting a “new is good” policy. I have been thinking about this because for one of my sites there is going to be a limited amount of new material that can be added unless I add stuff that isn’t relevant!


7 Will

The problem Jan is that by displaying the date on an evergreen post, you may never get to work it out for yourself. There are two reasons for this.

If Google deems posts with older dates less important and puts them on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, page, most people will never see them.

If the post does turn up in search results that people actually see, then the date being a couple of years old will mean that it will not usually be looked at. So valuable evergreen material will often get overlooked in favor or material that is newer, but quite possibly less relevant.


8 Jan

I see what you mean Will, you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea so to speak!


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