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Keeping It Fresh By Google Standards

The content freshness algorithm was introduced by Google in November 2011. The idea behind this algorithm is to display the freshest and best content at the top of search results. Since then, the “freshness” of the content (“content freshness”) has been a ranking factor that is included in the selection of search results.

Although digital leverage has only existed since 2018, the first published articles are already a few years old and are creeping backward in the search results. It was therefore time we looked at the freshness factor in 2021. This article and the information are based on statements by John Mueller, Cyrus Shepard, Amit Singhal, and other people, with the aim of providing the most current knowledge.

What does "Freshness" mean?

The Freshness algorithm tries to differentiate between two types of content: (a) Content that needs to be fresh and (b) Content that doesn't have to be

For example, the algorithm recognizes that fresh content does not have to be provided for all search queries. For an article about the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, content published 10 years ago will be as factually correct as content published a week ago. However, when asked what the current SEO updates or innovative content marketing strategies are in 2021, it requires freshness. So this is where Google has to find an up-to-date answer to this question. This is an example of “ query deserves freshness ” or QDF for short.

When searches "earn freshness"

Former Google employee Amit Singhal said when introducing the content freshness factor on the Google Search Blog : "Different search queries have different freshness requirements." The implication of this statement is that Google evaluates all documents for their freshness and then evaluates each page based on the type of search query. Singhal also describes the types of searches that are most likely to require fresh content:

  • Current events or hot topics: "Election Results", "Covid-19 Pandemic"

  • Regularly recurring events: "MMA fight night", "The Bachelor", etc.

  • Frequent updates: "Best DSLR Cameras", "Marvel Movie Reviews"

Google can determine exactly which search queries need content freshness by monitoring the internet as well as its own huge data warehouse. The data it contains include:

  1. Search volume: Are the search queries for a certain term increasing (eg " New York Earthquake")?

  2. News and Blog Coverage: If multiple news organizations write on the same topic, it is likely a hot topic.

  3. Social media: An increase in mentions of a particular topic may indicate that the topic is “trending”.

While some searches require fresh content, other searches can be better served with older content. Fresh is usually better, but not always - more on that later. In the following we show 10 ways in which Google can determine whether the content is up to date.

The top 10 freshness factors

  • 1. Freshness after the creation date

  • 2. The extent of the changes affects the freshness

  • 3. Changes to core content are more important

  • 4. The rate of change of the documents

  • 5. New page creation

  • 6. The rate of new link growth signals freshness

  • 7. Links from fresh pages give fresh value

  • 8. Traffic and engagement metrics can signal freshness

  • 9. Changes in the anchor text can devalue links

  • 10. Older is often better

1. Freshness after creation date

Initially, a website can be assigned a "Freshness" value based on the creation date, which decreases over time. This freshness score can improve a piece of content for certain search queries, but it decreases as the content gets older. Shortly after a page has been created, Google becomes aware of a document for the first time, for example when the Googlebot indexes the document for the first time or discovers a link to it.

“For some searches, older documents can be more successful than newer ones. Therefore, it can be beneficial to adjust the score of a document based on the difference (in age) to the average age of the result set. "

This quote as well as many of the following findings and recommendations for the analysis of the freshness factor originate from the US patent " Document scoring based on document update".

2. The extent of the changes affects the freshness

The age of a website or domain is not the only relevant freshness factor. Search engines can rate regularly updated content differently for freshness than content that does not change. In this case, the extent of the changes on your website plays a role. For example, changing a single sentence on a page doesn't have as much of an impact on freshness as changing the main text.

In fact, Google may ignore small changes completely. That's one reason why when we update a link on a page, we usually update the text around the link as well. That way, Google is less likely to ignore the change.

3. Changes to core content are more important

Changes made in “important” areas of a document signal freshness differently than changes made in less important content. Less important content includes:

  • JavaScript

  • Comments

  • Advertisements

  • navigation

  • Footer material

  • Date / time stamp

Thus, “important” content often refers to the main text of a page. So simply swapping the links in the sidebar or updating the footer text is unlikely to count as a sign of freshness.

This begs the question of timestamps on a page. Some webmasters like to update timestamps on a regular basis - sometimes in an attempt to feign freshness - but there is conflicting evidence as to how well this works. We would like to briefly discuss this aspect in more detail:

Does changing the publication date have a negative effect on your SEO? When we talk about changing dates, we need to be aware of two specific types of date updates:

  • Changing the date on the page itself

  • Changing the date in the sitemap

A comment from John Mueller on Twitter seems to suggest that even a massive date update for individual pages won't negatively affect SEO efforts. As far as the sitemaps are concerned, however, Google's sitemap instructions state that the value of a page must be displayed correctly. Otherwise, Google will just stop crawling them. All in all, according to a study by ShoutMeLoud updated in 2020 for dates, it seems to be best to show users the date of the "original publication" as well as the date of the "last updated". In addition, changes to the primary content should always be marked in the sitemap to avoid penalties.

4. The rate of change of the documents

Content that changes more frequently is rated differently than content that only changes every few years. Let us take the New York Times homepage as an example, which is updated every day and therefore shows a high degree of change.

Links from these pages may also be treated differently by Google (more on this below). For example, a fresh “link of the day” from the New York Times homepage can be rated as less important than a link that remains permanent.

5. New page creation

Rather than revising individual pages, websites often add completely new pages over time. This is the case with most ours. Sites that add new pages at a faster rate may have a higher freshness score than sites that add content less frequently.

Some webmasters recommend adding 20-30% new pages to your website every year. We personally do not believe that this is necessary as long as you send other freshness signals, such as keeping your content up to date and regularly gaining new links.

6. The rate of new link growth signals freshness

Not all freshness signals are limited to the page itself. Many external signals can also indicate freshness, often with strong results.

If your website is seeing a spike in link growth rate, it could be a relevant signal to search engines. For example, if people start linking to your personal website because you are about to launch a new product, your page could be seen as more relevant and fresh (as far as this current event is concerned).

7. Links from fresh pages give fresh value

Links from pages that have a high freshness value themselves can increase the freshness value of the pages to which they link.

For example, if you get a link from an old, static page that hasn't been updated in years, that link cannot pass the same freshness value as a link from a fresh page, e.g. the Wired homepage.

8. Traffic and engagement metrics can signal freshness

When Google presents users with a list of search results, the results that users select and the time they spend on each page can be seen as indicators of freshness and relevance. For example, if users consistently click a search result lower down the list and spend much longer on that page than the other search results, it can mean that the result is fresher and more relevant.

One could interpret this to mean that the click-through rate is a ranking factor, but that is not necessarily the case. A more nuanced interpretation would be that the increasing clicks tell Google that there is great interest in the topic and that this page - and others like it - corresponds to the intent of the users.

9. Changes in the anchor text can devalue links

If the theme of a web page changes drastically over time, it makes sense that any new anchor text that links to the page will change too. For example, if you buy a racing car-themed domain and then change the format to content related to racing bicycles, over time the new incoming anchor text will change from cars to bicycles. In this case, Google could determine that your page has changed so much that the old anchor text is now out of date (the opposite of fresh) and, as a consequence, completely devalues ​​the older links.

The lesson here is that when you update a page you shouldn't stray too far from the original context or you risk losing equity from pre-existing links.

10. Older is often better

Google understands that the latest result is not always the best. Let's consider a search query for “Magna Carta”. An older, authoritative result can be best here. In this case, a well-aged document can actually help you.

Google's patent suggests that the freshness requirements of a search query are determined based on the average age of the documents returned for the query.

A good way to tell is to google your search term and look at the average creation date of the search results. If all of the pages are more than a few years old, a brand new, fresh page can potentially have a hard time keeping up with the competition.

Time To Get Fresh

The goal is not to just update your site for the sake of being up to date and hope for a better ranking. If you do this, you will likely become frustrated with the lack of results. Instead, the goal should be to update your website in a timely manner so that users benefit from it, which increases clicks, user engagement and new links. These are the clearest signals you can give to Google to show that your website is fresh and deserves high rankings. Aside from updating older content, some of the best practices include:

  1. Create new content regularly

  2. When updating, focus on the core concepts and not on and not on unimportant footer material

  3. Keep in mind that small changes to your website may be ignored by Google. Whenever you update a link, you should always update all of the text around the link as well.

  4. Steady link growth is almost always better than inconsistent link growth.

  5. When all other factors are equal, links from fresher pages are likely to be of more value than links from dated pages.

  6. Engagement metrics are your friend. So try to increase clicks and user satisfaction.

  7. If the subject of a page changes too much, older links to the page may lose value.

If you follow all of these tips, it shouldn't be a problem for Google to see your content as fresh and rank accordingly. Keeping up with these factors is no easy task. Have a Promotoncis Marketing Expert stand in and handle these digital tasks.

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