To Date or Not to Date? The Blog Post Chronology Debate

This post is part of the Branded Blogging Series, which features tips on how to learn from the successes of some of the most innovative and successful brand blogs.

In 2011, the concept of “evergreen” content took hold of the blogosphere, thanks largely to the rollout of Google’s freshness meter. Ironically, many of the posts on the matter have no date to reference, so it is hard to tell when it really began. 

At the heart of the matter was a new search engine optimization method, which suggests omitting post dates in URLs to get around Google’s attempt to demote old content. Some bloggers evolved this tactic by removing dates completely, and since then the real benefits are up for debate.

The point of Google’s freshness algorithm is to make sure searchers are finding the most relevant information on a topic, and not the stuff that’s days, weeks or years old. As Google explains, “…The most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old.” 

The way SEO suggests content producers solve the problem of getting demoted in search if deemed “unfresh,” is to remove the date from the post URL. Using WordPress as an example, this is as simple as changing your permalink structure to “Post Name,” which has become the new WordPress standard. The idea is that content lacking dates is more likely to be accepted by readers and shared. In some cases, this has proven to be true.

Author Jim Connolly, of Internet Marketing Jam, decided to remove all dates from his blog for 30 days, inspired by Copyblogger having taken the plunge not long before. He notice a consistent drop in bounce rate, averaging 74% to 59% over the four weeks. Various bloggers commenting on the topic across the web have reported similar benefits in less statistical terms, but how removing dates will affect your blog is relevant to the kind of content you curate.

Psychological Issues at Play

There are two facets of the issue, in truth. One is based entirely on human psychology and the other on search engines. Both aim for the same result, more readers spending more time with your content, yet come from very different motivations. 

When looking for news or trending topics, for example, it is important for the most relevant, and yet most recent content to be delivered via a Google search. If I click through to an article dated in 2009, I may not even bother to read it. However, if it has no visible date at all, I might trust it more, or I may actually treat it the same as old content because nothing is there to validate it as new.

A blog focused on timeless content — such as recipes, relationship advice, business tips or opinions — could benefit from a date-free blog design. The removal of dates and other unnecessary meta-data allows the blog to look more like a resource and less like a journal or commentary on fleeting issues.

But date removal is not wise for all formats. Consider a blog covering web design techniques or technology trends. While these types of posts are often found without a date, some readers may find it irresponsible not to provide some indication of how old the technique is. Readers new to the techniques benefit more from using current information that is relevant to today’s standards.

Where the Real Benefit Lies

There is no denying the importance of dates in journal or news-based content, or blogs focused on trends and statistics. However, to maintain your page ranking and ensure your best content continues to inform and delight readers, graduating older posts to a dateless format can make a noticeable difference. Simply using a dateless URL format may provide the most benefit, saving you the trouble of removing all dates.

When used in combination with timeless topics, removing visible dates can improve the frequency of shares and the overall time your visitors spend with your content. 

Alternative ways of dating content may be used in situations where it is best, such as referencing a date in the body of the article (“…as of April 2012…”) or using a WordPress plugin to show or hide it at will.

Whatever choice you make for yourself or your clients should be based on the goals for the blog and how much benefit you believe a date affords its readers.

Recommended Reading

Here are some great commentaries from around the web that content strategists interested in post chronology should check out:

Recommended Resources

Here are some WordPress plugins that help solve the dating issue. Check them out and let us know about your favorite plugins for chronology issues in the comments:

Image courtesy of Flickr, Bob West

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