The case for including datelines on content include context, credibility and user experience; those opposed cite evergreen content
Should you put dates on your blog posts and content? There are a lot of strong opinions on the right answer to this question – and not very much data.
Those that advocate removing dates from content, tend to say they do this to improve the traffic they earn from organic search. The data supporting this point is pretty weak. Aside from a few narrow experiments, I haven’t seen any thorough studies examining the effects of datelines on search traffic. To that end, my own modest search experiments suggest the opposite.
For example, in my search query for “should you put a date on content,” just two among the top 10 results did not have a date. The other eight listings did, and of those, six had datelines that were more than a year old. In fact, the top result is more than six years old at the time of this writing (see this screenshot with the markup).
It’s important to point out, those search terms in that test produced nearly three billion results. So, a glimpse at page one results is not even pretending to be conclusive. That leaves us with opinions or a tally of opinions through a survey.
A couple of days ago, I posted this survey question to Twitter. After voting, I invited people to weigh in with why in the thread.
Here are the survey results:
Should you or shouldn’t you put a date blog posts when you publish them? Please answer the survey question and feel free to comment why or why not in the thread.#blogs #bloggers #publicrelations #contentmarketing #content
— Frank Strong 🤘🏻✒️🗡 (@Frank_Strong) February 15, 2020
The sampling is clearly not random. This survey isn’t anymore scientific than the blogger that removed dates and claims a traffic bump. It does provide a more methodical look at the case for – and against – including dates on blog posts and content.
Below is a summary of the top arguments, followed by some of the verbatim commentary, and lastly, my own assessment at the bottom.
Top arguments for including dates on blogs and content:
- Change. Your own views (or that of your organization) may evolve over time;
- Credibility. Some writers won’t link to a post that doesn’t include a date;
- Scholarship. Scholarly citation requires a date; and
- User experience. People won’t consume content without a date.
Top arguments against including dates on blogs and content:
- Evergreen. Content that is evergreen doesn’t need a date;
- Traffic. Some bloggers say removing dates improved their organic search traffic; and
- Minimalism. It’s easier to update content that does not have a date.
Alternative viewpoints that fell somewhere in the middle:
- Publish a dateline near the copy, but not in URL;
- Use a date that readers can see but aren’t observed by a search engine;
- Update content and run it as a new post, with a new date, that references the old; or
- Alternatively, note the date it was updated in the body of the copy.
Here are some of the verbatim comments:
- Michelle Garrett: “Yes. Absolutely. Why? Why would you not? It feels like you’re trying to hide something if you don’t date your posts. Also, I won’t cite a post that does not have a date.“
- Dave Honaker: If it’s an evergreen topic, I see no harm in refreshing it every six months or so and popping on the new date.
- Carmen A. Harris: “I am ‘pro-date’ on this one. I am curious to read the responses of those that voted ‘no.'”
- Douglas Karr: “I often update, enhance, and republish old posts with updated research, so I don’t want a date-specific URL. However, I do use dates where appropriate in the titles and body.”
- Josh Bernoff: “It’s a requirement. 1. Can’t cite as a reference without a date. 2. Need to know context in which it was written. 3. Things change, content becomes obsolete. If there’s no date, it’s not a blog post.”
- Amy Hampton: “Absolutely date your work. Provides a timeline of your content. Searchers can see if the solution is current (esp tech blogs). Good scholarship means citing sources. Good citation needs dates. No need to date them in the WP/blog title. Just add to the body of the blog post.”
My view? The argument that removing dates will improve organic search traffic is gossip. Google certainly cares about freshness, but that’s just one part of a much bigger effort to solve search intent. That solution includes clarity, transparency and relevancy.
If your content answers a user’s question, Google will serve it in response to a query no matter the dateline. If your content doesn’t answer a searcher’s question, that’s not a problem that removing a date will fix.
Besides, do you really think Google forgets when it first crawled and indexed your post? How about when you updated it and submitted it in the Search Console to be re-crawled? No way! That is structured data and structured data is clean data.
To boot, John Mueller, an influential webmaster trends analyst at Google, seems to like datelines.
Dateline (building trust)
Even more important in marketing than the almighty search engine is integrity. The act of removing or omitting dates is often deliberately misleading. It’s frequently a conscious effort to hide from an audience the age of content in order to trick them into thinking it’s new or evergreen.
Here’s the thing: the stuff that’s truly evergreen is amazing because it has a date. Peter Drucker’s ideas are all the more insightful because he wrote them a long time ago.
All content conveys signals about its trustworthiness. Content should be well-sourced, neatly organized and generally free of errors. It should also be transparent about who is conveying that information and when.
We live in a world where disinformation is a growing problem because of how easy and fast both truth and lies can spread on the web. You’ve got to give people every reason to believe you. Datelines are an important element to that end.
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