We commonly hear that having fresh content can help your SEO, but it’s not as common for us to see a breakdown of exactly what fresh content means and how important it is for ranking.
So in this post, we’re going to cover:
Fresh content refers to recently published, updated, or rewritten content. Google and its users appreciate fresh content because it’s more likely to be accurate.
Ever since its freshness algorithm update in 2011, queries for trending or time-sensitive keywords trigger Google to prioritize newer pages with the most up-to-date information. The freshness update impacted at least one result on the page for 35% of searches.
We can identify four dates associated with any URL that has been published online:
If a page is updated and republished after the first crawl, the published time indicates when the page was most recently edited by the website. If the page is updated without republishing, it is shown as modified time.
According to Moz, Google estimates the freshness of your content based on many factors, including:
The freshness factor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it’s one of the multiple factors or trust signals that both search algorithms use for ranking and users contemplate before clicking any of the results. And since freshness is more relevant to certain queries than others, the requirement for fresh content should always be evaluated on the basis of your primary keyword.
Query categories for which Google will seek out fresh content include:
Query categories where recency has no major impact on the accuracy of the information may include:
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Someone interested in reading about ecommerce trends will likely be looking for the latest trends in the ecommerce industry, not those of the previous years.
A page targeting a recency-sensitive query will slowly decay if not updated, whereas frequently updated content is more likely to have its position reassessed.
But for a keyword such as “search marketing,” freshness is not necessarily among the most crucial factors. People who search for that keyword will likely want to find out the basics of what search marketing is and what it covers, which hasn’t really changed in the last few years.
In this case, an older but still-accurate page that gains new backlinks continually but is not updated can certainly compete with a newer page that doesn’t have inbound links or keeps losing its existing links.
Now that we established how content freshness can impact ranking for time-sensitive queries, let’s quickly go through some tips and best practices for incorporating the freshness factor into your SEO strategy.
The easiest way to evaluate the level of freshness that users presumably want for a query is to look at the publication dates of the top results. For example, you can check the first 10 or 20 results and calculate their average age. Ideally, you should also give more weight to the top-ranking results in your calculation.
We can see by the SERP that recency is important, but not critical for the query “how to get on the first page of google.”
You don’t have to always be publishing content on new topics. But as we learned earlier, your rate of new page creation factors into your freshness score. So be sure to be publishing new content regularly, whether on evergreen or time-sensitive topics.
The more frequently you publish content, the more often Google knows to crawl your site.
This Google research publication points out that search engines cannot recrawl every page all the time due to the massive scale of new content being published every day.
As a result, Google crawls pages preferentially based on their rate of content update.
By updating old content regularly, you improve your freshness score which can then make it easier for your time-sensitive content to rank.
Report pulled from ahrefs for a social media marketing brand; as expected, they have to update their content very frequently.
If your content didn’t rank in the first place, the updates are hardly enough to rise to the top. Here are some resources to help you with getting your content to rank:
Changing your article’s published date and the year in the title is a common practice, but this does little to signal freshness to Google. As we covered earlier, changes to the main body of the page are more important to Google than adjusting the date/time tags. So you’ll need to update the core content of the page.
While creating fake freshness can potentially increase your CTR, at least momentarily, it will likely result in shorter dwell time on your page if users still find your content somewhat outdated.
And if you end up with weaker engagement metrics, that certainly can have a negative impact on your ranking.
In his SEO Blueprint training course, Glen Allsopp stresses the importance of aligning the published time Google associates with your URL with the year in your page title.
Articles where the published time doesn’t match the year in the title are, in fact, fairly common.
After updating your core content, you may choose to resubmit your sitemap on Google Search Console if you wish to speed up the process of having Google recrawl your updated content. Google will find the changes eventually on its own, so this is usually not worth it for smaller changes.
Whether it makes sense to update content so Googlebot will crawl your page more frequently and rank it higher depends on how important freshness is for your query.
Here is what Ahrefs suggests:
So let’s take a look at your options when freshness is crucial or important.
While Google pays more attention to major updates, minor updates to a page are still important, because as we mentioned, a page’s freshness deprecates over time, no matter how evergreen. Examples of small updates include:
This method is a great way to get more traffic from your evergreen posts that don’t need major revisions.
Revising outdated posts/pages and changing the published date is an effective way to boost freshness. This becomes relevant when an article requires a complete overhaul to meet visitors’ need for recent, up-to-date content. It should earn you a higher freshness score than a simple update.
This method is best for evergreen topics that resonate with your audience long-term; as well as pages for which you want to preserve backlinks and other beneficial SEO traits.
Great example of revising and republishing by Sprout Social.
Whenever republishing revised articles, it’s a good idea to share them on social media, just as you would any other new article to boost engagement.
Pro tip: Another option is to combine several topically related, outdated articles into one updated ultimate guide and redirect all traffic from the old pages to the new one. Especially if those old pages are performing well, you don’t end up losing that existing traffic, either.
A good example of topics that require new content regularly is any article that lists out and explains trends around a certain theme.
For example, at Supermetrics, we cover affiliate marketing trends every year. If you search for “affiliate marketing trends,” none of the results on the first or second page are older than from 2020.
To maintain freshness for this topic, we write an entirely new article every year, where we feature new experts and go through recent developments.
Another reason for this practice is that we’re also targeting the query “affiliate marketing [current year].”
An additional bonus is that your older posts provide historical data that is useful for looking at trends over time.
Keeping tabs on your page performance, including traffic trends and engagement, is crucial for understanding freshness.
For example, a page that doesn’t rank at the top but attracts a good amount of clicks that result in visits with a high average time on the page and low bounce rate will signal to Google that users consider your page relevant and fresh enough for that query.
You can learn more SEO metrics here.
Following these metrics for your content over time will provide useful insights into your page performance and whether there’s a need for updates or revisions. You can track these metrics using Google Analytics or by pulling the data to a spreadsheet with a reporting tool like Supermetrics (as in the image below)
Keyword traffic volumes tend to fluctuate, and not only for trending topics. So, if your page traffic is down, it could also be due to recently declined keyword volume for that query.
Or maybe there’s new competition for your target keyword and one of those new pages managed to cut in with their fresh content. A brief look at the SERP position history could reveal if this is the case.
And keeping a close eye on the clicks and impressions and the search queries that generate them helps you evaluate when it might be time for updating your page to improve freshness.
The aim of keeping your content fresh is to serve users better by making sure your information is up to date. This should lead to more clicks and engagement and attract links organically, all of which is a signal to Google that your page deserves to be at the top of the search results.
We covered a lot in this post, so let’s finish off with a recap:
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