One of the greatest benefits of using the internet is access to up-to-date information. When people use search engines or browse Google News, they usually look for the most recent articles. For these reasons, date and time are relevant ranking factors for Google Search and Google News. There are many misconceptions about the way Google determines and uses date and time for ranking. In a recent blog post, Google explained the best SEO practices for date and time.
In some situations, Google will show the date of a page in the search results. When the date is shown is determined automatically by Google and is based on if the information is time-sensitive or if it’s news-related content. In practical terms, this means that some blogs will have a date shown in search while others will not, and there’s no way to guarantee that dates will show up in search for an ordinary website.
Whether the date is shown or not, it’s still necessary for SEO purposes. Google has advanced search filters that can show results from within a specific time frame. Content with a date that’s over a year old is disadvantaged in these advanced searches. The remedy isn’t to just stick a new date on all of your content. While the date you list for your content matters, it’s not the only way Google determines the date for a page.
As John Mueller explained in a post for Google, “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.”
Google says there are a few things that publishers can do to help Google determine the best date for their content. The easiest method is to show a clear date prominently on the page. Most blog posts have the date included on the page. Individual pages usually don’t, but you can fix that by adding a “Last modified” date at the bottom of the page.
The second method is to use structured data. This solution is a bit more technical and involves the schema markup of the page. Google recommends using the “datePublished” and “dateModified” schema with the correct time zone designator for AMP or non-AMP pages. Remember to use the ISO 8601 format for dates in the schema. Some plugins and applications can help your web developer make these structured data changes.
Using the correct date is critical for websites that want their articles listed on Google News. For these web pages, both of the methods listed before must be used. Google also provided guidance on updates to news content. When a news article has a significant update, it should be given a new time that reflects those changes. However, Google warns news publishers to not abuse the system by claiming articles have been updated when there were no substantial changes. Fixing errors and changing headlines are not enough to warrant a new time.
To ensure that Google sees the right date, try to minimize the number of dates listed on the web page, especially near the top. For example, if you start an article with “On July 16, 1969…” and there’s no definite date under the headline, Google’s algorithm might assume the first-listed date in the one that’s meant to be used. Similarly, using future dates or dates that are tied to an event, rather than the article’s publication, can cause confusion about the best date to apply.
Getting the best date for the pages on your website is essential, and it’s worth the effort necessary to get it right. For more recent SEO guidance from Google, read this article on the best SEO practices for online videos.