Recently released guidance from Google can help marketers ensure their content gets found online by including article publication dates.
Why This Matters
In the fast-paced world of marketing, having the most up-to-date information is vital to staying ahead of the curve, and that’s why many professionals rely on blogs to keep them current on the latest strategies and tactics.
When you’re searching the internet for the latest updates on a given topic, it’s natural to click through on the most recently published article.
Say you’re looking for tips to build a keyword strategy. You’ll likely click through to one published sometime in the last six months over one from 2007.
While the older post might be longer and have some good information, the tactics that worked then simply won't be as effective as they once were.
While most marketers intuitively recognize this situation, many of us fail to translate that behavior to inform our own blogging strategy.
If we’re not showing a clear publish date (or worse, an incorrect one!), we risk losing organic traffic if searchers don’t think the information contained in our articles or blogs is the most current.
Additionally, if not done correctly, altering dates on an article to reflect a more recent publication date could actually lead you to be penalized by Google for breaking article URL guidelines.
Luckily, Google recently posted an article on that outlines best practices to help Google find the correct date on your article.
A Closer Look: Formatting Blog Article Publication Dates
First, it’s important to know when Google will show a date at all in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
For evergreen content like your home page or product pages, a date is clearly not necessary - and as such, Google won’t display one in search results.
For pages that appear to be time sensitive, like news articles or blog posts, Google will determine if it’s relevant to show users the publishing date.
This is important because website owners must make it clear to Google that this is, in fact, a relevant article to be dated, or risk having Google view it as another evergreen web page on your site.
It’s also important to note that Google won’t go by the date your page was actually “published” on your site. Instead, it relies on a variety of factors to ensure it displays the most accurate date possible:
“Google doesn’t depend on one single factor because all of them can be prone to issues. Publishers may not always provide a clear visible date. Sometimes, structured data may be lacking or may not be adjusted to the correct time zone. That’s why our systems look at several factors to come up with what we consider to be our best estimate of when a page was published or significantly updated.”
While Google’s system will carry out its own analysis of your post, there are tactics marketers can employ to point Google in the right direction:
Show a clear date on the post: In your blog post template, there should be a clear space that identifies the publish date. Ideally, this should live between the title and the article body to clearly demonstrate its significance to Google.
Use structured data: Google is pretty good at drawing accurate conclusions from crawling your site, but for added assurance, you can use structured data to actually tell Google where to find your article publication dates. Do this by using the “datePublished” and “dateModified” schema with the correct time zone designator for AMP or non-AMP pages. Google also notes that when using structured data, make sure to use the ISO 8601 format for dates.
The above tips will help you lay the groundwork to ensure Google recognizes the correct date - but, there are extra measures you can take to minimize the risk of confusing its algorithm.
Here are some additional best practices that Google shared:
Be consistent: To make sure Google is picking up the right date every time, the placement of the article publication date should be consistent in every post you publish. This can be easily done by adding a designated space in your blog template, so you know all posts will be similar.
Try to minimize the use of other dates on the page: Since Google is crawling your site pages looking for dates, using other dates in related stories or in the article body risks confusing the system. Sometimes, this will be necessary for posting event dates, or referencing a specific story - but be mindful of it, and eliminate unnecessary inclusions.
Show when a page has been updated: If you are historically optimizing a blog post, it is best practice to indicate that updates were made so users know the post contains more current information. There are a few ways to do this:
Update the main publish date (make sure real, significant changes have been made)
Show two dates; the original publication date and the date the post was updated.
Use the “datePublished” and “dateModified” schema to make it easier for algorithms to recognize.
Use the right timezone: For popular breaking news stories, there's a clear difference between a post published 1 hour ago vs 12 hours ago. If you choose to use dates on your posts, make sure the right timezone is specified in your post to help Google display the most accurate information in search engines.
A Closer Look: Formatting News Article Publication Dates
While the above will work for standard evergreen blog posts, news articles are slightly more complex.
Google News articles are specific to articles that cover breaking news and other current events. These posts will show up in search results, but also under the “News” section of Google.
Due to the nature of the platform, Google News has more specific requirements around article dates and the structure they need to appear in.
First, the date must be clearly shown in the article - structured data alone is not enough. Also, the date must be displayed between the article title and the body text. This is a general best practice, and it’s a requirement for any content to be featured in Google News.
Additionally, there are specific rules around re-publishing content.
“If an article has been substantially changed, it can make sense to give it a fresh date and time. However, don't artificially freshen a story without adding significant information or some other compelling reason for the freshening. Also, do not create a very slightly updated story from one previously published, then delete the old story and redirect to the new one. That's against our article URLs guidelines.”
This rule is meant to deter spammy SEO practices where site owners attempt to gain more views by appearing to have the “latest” updates, even if the content doesn’t reflect any new information.
These guidelines help ensure that Google is displaying the best results for users. But, site owners can innocently make small updates without realizing that the changes don’t warrant a fresh publication date.
While it seems like such a small thing, your article dates can make the difference between someone deciding to visit your website or not.
And since many customers find you organically through your content, this can have a direct impact on your sales pipeline.
Your SEO strategy is so much more than just keywords.
Sometimes, your site could be ranking on the first page and still not get chosen by visitors.
In these cases, we need to think about our own behavior when we’re conducting Google searches and ask ourselves why we as marketers are making the choices we do.
This self-evaluation can help uncover the piece we’re missing that will draw users in.
Search algorithms are designed to solve for the user and will reward site elements that a typical user finds valuable, like site speed, mobile performance, and in-depth original content.
As long as you’re doing what’s best for the user, you’ll see rewards from the system - even if it's not an official ranking factor.
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