Publication dates matter, and so does the last updated date. Google examines these two date criteria when determining content relevance and freshness:
- The date when the content was first published online
- And the date when it was last updated
And yes, Google wants you to help them help you by including both dates on your website. Google thinks of it as a little birthday present, so don’t disappoint them.
- Google wants you to add multiple date signals to your posts to ensure the correct date is displayed in the SERPs
- Outdated or inaccurate dates could harm your website’s credibility in addition to impacting your SERP rankings
- Google relies on your help to get the dates right, so give them what they want.
Google recently started stressing the importance of including multiple date signals on your web pages. They’re not asking for much, just some little help on your part to ensure they’re displaying the correct dates on their results pages.
That comes after Glenn Gabe, a decorated SEO consultant at G-Squared Interactive and author at Search Engine Land, highlighted a mistake on Twitter that caught the attention of Google’s liaison, Danny Sullivan.
The story follows Jake Paul’s announcement about signing up with PFL. The article featured as the top story is dated October 29th, 2022, despite the announcement being made on January 5th, 2023.
So, why is it important to include multiple date signals?
An outdated or inaccurate date creates confusion and may deter users from visiting your website.
For example, you just learned that Jake Paul was signed up with PFL on January 5th, 2023, but when you see the article with an incorrect date of October 29th, 2022, you’ll likely be confused or turned off. That can cause a huge dent in the success of your website.
How Google Determines the Publication Date of an Article
Google is clear about using various factors to determine when a page was published.
The Google spider automatically scans a webpage looking for any prominent listing that may clue them on when the article was published.
First, it will check the structured markup or schema to see if the date has been updated.
Google bots don’t limit themselves to these methods. They’ll also review your page content and see if you have any visible dates.
Google reports that they employ different methods to minimize the potential of displaying the wrong dates.
And yes, search engines make errors too. They might display the wrong date, especially if you didn’t include a clearly listed publication date or the structured markup wasn’t generated correctly.
Google Relies on Multiple Date Signals
Google has a solid reason for not depending on a single date signal. That’s because all the date factors are prone to issues that can lead to incorrect dates.
Their system has to look at various factors to estimate when their page was published or updated.
Google relies on webmasters to provide them with accurate dates and information. If you do it right, Google will easily display the correct dates.
While Google doesn’t guarantee they’ll display a by-line date, visible or invisible, they still recommend including multiple date signals.
Following Google’s guidelines will help them correctly locate and process the date information.
How to Provide the Date Signals to Google
Here are a few things you can do to ensure Google displays the correct dates on its search engine results pages:
Use the < time> HTML Tag in Your Articles
Google prefers using the < time> HTML tag to display dates. That is because they can crawl it quickly, and it cues them in on the exact date of the article.
The < Time> element helps Google bots tell the exact date, and time the article was published, making it easier for them to display the correct time.
The time tag looks like this:
<time datetime=”2023-01-05T19:00″>January 5th, 2023</time>
In this case, Google will display the date as January 5th, 2023.
Include a Last Updated Date
The last updated date helps Google know when the content was most recently modified. That is especially important for content that is routinely updated or changed frequently.
This date should always be in the same place and easy to find.
When you include the last updated date, the format should be:
Last Updated: January 5th, 2023
The previous mod tag should be added in the <sitemap> of the page.
That should make it easy for search engines to find and display the date. It will also help them evaluate content freshness and relevancy.
Use the Pubdate Tag
Using the <pubdate> tag is a good idea for blogs and news websites. That will tell Google when the article was first published, making it easier for them to display the correct date.
The <pubdate> tag should be placed within the <article> element of the page.
<pubdate>January 5th, 2023</pubdate>
<p>This is a sample article</p>
Use the article:published_time tag
The article:published_time is another way to help Google display the correct date. This tag allows search engines to identify when content was first published and also signals that the content is time-sensitive.
This tag should be placed within the <head> element of a page and includes the following:
<article:published_time datetime=”2023-01-05T19:00″>January 5th, 2023</article:published_time>
In addition to including all these HTML tags to specify the date, you want to keep your content fresh and updated to increase the likelihood that Google displays the correct information at the right time.
You don’t want to mislead people with incorrect dates, so include the correct information and follow Google’s best practices for writing article dates. Your readers will appreciate it, and so will Google.
7 Best Practises for Influencing By-line
Google doesn’t guarantee by-lines in its search engine results pages. It does, however, recommend a few things to help web admins influence their decision:
While Date is Required, Time is Optional
The time element of a date can be included, but it won’t sway Google’s decision on whether or not to display a by-line date.
If you decide to Include Time, Specify the Correct Time zone
When you include a time element, specify the correct time zone, taking into account daylight saving time as appropriate.
Make Sure Your Dates and Times Are Consistent
You must ensure the date and the optional time zone are consistent across the page and in other content. The time and date visible to the user should match those in the structured values.
Don’t Specify a Future Date
Google recommends against specifying a future date in your article. The date you include must specify the publication date, not the stories or events described in the article.
If you must specify a future date for some events, use the Event Markup instead.
Modify the Structured Data if You Make Changes to the Article
If you change your article after it has been published, be sure to update the structured data accordingly. Use the mod_date tag to inform Google that you’ve updated the article.
Minimize the Use of Other Dates
The more dates you include unrelated to the content, the more likely Google will get confused. If you followed all the date guidelines correctly and still find that Google isn’t displaying the correct date or by-line, you may need to remove some of the dates.
Don’t Include a Date if it’s Irrelevant
Including an irrelevant date will confuse Google and may lead to inconsistent results. You should only include a date if it is relevant and necessary to the article.
Add a Visible Date to the Page
You can also add a visible date on the site. You want to label the dates as published or last updated.
Here are a few examples:
Posted Jan 11th, 2023
Published January 11th, 2023
Last Updated January 11th, 2023
Updated February 14th, 2023
The idea is to provide the publication date and the last update date.
Every time you modify, add or change anything in your article, you want to update the date.
<title>Your Article Title</title>
Posted Monday, January 11th, 2023
Your article content
What to Avoid
You want to minimize signals that Google may find confusing or contradictory. For example, you want to avoid providing multiple dates for the same article, which can lead to Google showing incorrect dates.
Additionally, if you’re displaying different times in different places, such as UTC and local time zones, ensure you’re using the same time for both.
Google’s guidelines are clear: they expect your article to have one clear and visible date and time, ideally placed between the headline and article text.
Google is still working on handling dates accurately, but until they get it right, they rely on us to provide them with multiple date signals that they can use to determine when the article was published and modified.
Creating New Content Vs. Modifying Existing One
When discussing dates, it’s natural to discuss whether you want to create new content or update existing one. Anyone pondering these options should consider answering the questions below:
Is the Content Useful?
Ask yourself if the content is helpful to the reader or only requires minor adjustments. If your content is still relevant to the reader, you don’t have to give it a complete overhaul or write fresh content from scratch.
Instead, update the outdated or irrelevant sections and add the “last updated” date.
What’s the Traffic Rate
If the page still receives a solid traffic stream and ranks well in the SERPs, you don’t have to rewrite it or produce a new content piece. A fresh content piece will only compete with the old post for visibility — and you do not want that. What you want to do is to make sure the people checking you out receive the latest information.
Does the Content Fit
Look at your overall content structure. Is there room for it? Look at your topical map and everything. Does writing a new content piece enhance your content pyramid and establish your topical authority better?
How Much of an Update Does the Content Need?
If updating an article means redrafting almost the entire piece, you’re better off creating a new content piece.
After creating a new piece, you want to set a 301 redirect from the old content page to the new one.
If updating the old post means editing one or two paragraphs, it’s common sense not to redraft it completely. Just edit the paragraph, update the modification tag, and you’re good to go.
Some Final Word
Updating your content dates isn’t just good for SEO but also for the readers visiting your website. You’d be surprised how many of them check to ensure whatever they’re about to read is fresh and relevant.
The same way you want to make it easy for search engines to review the dates, make it easy for your reader to see the publication and modification dates.
Let them know that you revised the article and updated it with the latest information.