Content freshness is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm and has been that way for years. Google tends to favor unique, recent, and timely content on the search results page. However, there’s a repercussion stemming from this – many websites would relabel their old content as new to try to game the algorithm. This is not a good SEO practice, and we’ll discuss why that won’t help you rank better in this post!
Google likes fresh content, and so do we
Why does Google favor fresh content? It’s because we, as users, like new content.
We always want the most recent and up-to-date information. Whether it’s about the latest fashion trend, the latest face massager, or the latest SEO tips. Freshness is even more important for some topics, like medical information or breaking news. Of course, Google wants to meet its user’s demands. That’s why the search engine has introduced algorithm updates to help rank fresh and timely content.
What does Google mean by “fresh” content?
Google introduced the “Freshness update” way back in 2011. Since then, there have been multiple updates to the algorithm. But some things stay the same – fresh content is more favorable to rank high.
But what does Google mean by “fresh”?
Google defined three categories of fresh content in 2011, including:
- Recent events or hot topics, such as scientific discoveries, an earthquake, or a new movie.
- Regularly recurring events, such as football matches or government elections.
- Frequent updates, such as a new phone or new Google updates.
Google also broke down the type of queries that demand “fresh” information in Google’s Search Quality Rating Guideline:
- “Breaking news” queries, like a natural disaster.
- Recurring event queries, like a sporting event or fashion show.
- Current information queries, like the population of a country or inflation rate.
- Product queries, like the new iPhone or new TV.
It’s good to know that not all queries and topics need the most recent update. For instance, queries that aim to learn about the history of World War 2 don’t require the most recent articles. An extensive report from years ago can contain just as good information.
Can you change the date of your content to make it fresh?
Many websites try to trick the algorithm into thinking they have fresh content. One way they do this is by changing the date on a page’s title or publishing date.
Some websites even go so far as to change the date/year on their page title or in their content in advance so they’re ahead of other competitors when that date hits.
For instance, if you search for ‘Best TV to buy’, you might get a search result like this:
At the time of writing this post, it’s not 2023 yet. And you can even see the publish date of one link is December 2022. Most likely, it’s an evergreen article that lists good TVs in 2022 and was frequently updated throughout the year. But since new TVs in 2023 don’t come out until later in the year, and people will search for ‘the best TVs in 2023’, these sites use this approach to stay ahead of the competition.
For the most part, this hack doesn’t work, and we advise you not to do the same! You won’t get a ranking boost by doing so. Even if you do, you’ll eventually fall off when other websites start to write better content on the same topic.
And we’re not saying this out of the blue, either. Take the word of Google’s Search Advocate John Muller, who pointed out in one of his tweets:
Is there significantly new content? Then update the dates. Is there no significantly new content? Then don’t update the dates. We see a lot of spam & low-quality content that just arbitrarily updates dates (“Best fax machine for 2023”), it’s pretty obvious & embarassing.
— John Mueller is mostly not here 🐀 (@JohnMu) November 26, 2022
And that wasn’t the first time he answered that question:
When you write something new, or siginificantly change something existing, then change the date. Changing the date without doing anything else is just noise & useless.
— John Mueller is mostly not here 🐀 (@JohnMu) February 5, 2022
Now, you shouldn’t always flat-out believe everything Google says, but in this case, they are right. Don’t “fake” your fresh content. A ranking boost doesn’t happen that easily. You’ll have to work hard and create fresh and valuable content to improve your ranking.
Fun fact (or just a fact) – We used to support current month and current year variables in the ‘SEO title’ field in the preview tool of Yoast SEO. But we decided to remove those altogether, partly because we don’t want our users to use them to “fake” refresh old content without putting in the work!
Does updating existing content make it fresh again?
Yes, it does! But it depends on how much you’ve added to that content.
If you only fix a few typos and add a few sentences here and there, that doesn’t count as making it fresh. On the other hand, if you make a significant update to a page, or frequent updates with new information, that does matter.
For instance, we’ve recently updated an article on page speed, adding much more information. The ranking for that post improved significantly after the update. That’s due to Google’s algorithm having to re-evaluate the post and compare it to other articles on the same topic.
The search performance chart of one of our recently updated post
Don’t try to trick the algorithm into thinking that you have fresh content while you don’t. You won’t gain any SEO benefit from relabeling your old evergreen content as new. Instead, put in the hard work and update your content with new and useful information. If your content is great, Google will give you the ranking boost you deserve! Want to learn how? Check out Marieke’s article on keeping your content fresh and up to date.
Edwin is a strategic content specialist. Before joining Yoast, he spent years honing his skill at The Netherlands’ leading web design magazine.