How does content freshness impact SEO?
When it comes to SEO, there is a myriad of ranking factors that need to be considered when you are optimising a website. There is no manual for which of these you should focus on, however, any good SEO agency will tell you that some are worth focusing on more than others.
There are, however, some ranking factors that we don’t necessarily think about immediately that can make a huge difference in your ability to rank well for the keywords you are targeting and one of those is freshness.
Most people think that content freshness only applies to big news outlets and major publishers who are constantly trying to rank well for breaking news keywords. Whilst this is definitely true, there is plenty all website owners could learn from the tactics deployed by major news publishers when it comes to publishing fresh content.
In a recent Moz post, they uncovered some interesting findings when it comes to freshness of content and ranking well in the Top Stories results for a major news publication:
- Creating a unique URL daily for ongoing news stories was the best way to boost your chances of inclusion in Top Stories
- Update your news content frequently – major news outlets update periodically throughout the day to keep their pages and the publication dates fresh – US Today (8 Mins), New York Times (27 Mins) and CNN (28 mins)
This is not something we would recommend for your average website, however, it does raise the question of how important freshness of content could be in terms of ranking for other queries, not just sites wanting to appear in Top Stories.
Thankfully, this is something we have experience with across a number of our clients.
How updates to evergreen content can improve rankings
For most website owners, there is a much bigger focus on evergreen content. This is content that is not time-sensitive and typically targets keywords or groups of keywords with a high search volume.
We create a lot of this content for clients and part of our content strategy is to ensure we update that content periodically. We do this for two reasons:
- Whilst the content is evergreen, there may be time-sensitive copy included in the content, so it makes sense to review and update where relevant
- We have seen the positive impact on rankings when we make updates to that content, so it is a tactic we deploy to keep maximising the potential organic traffic from that post
Updates to evergreen content have been particularly important over the past two years due to the impact of COVID-19. For many clients, we have had to make regular updates to evergreen content to reflect the current environment – recommending the best hot pools in Rotorua is not as relevant when we are in a nationwide lockdown, so we have been adding relevant copy to those types of content piece to explain the current situation and obviously, changes have since been needed to bring that copy back up to speed.
Part of our learnings from making these regular updates, along with updating the publish date, is that we have seen a lot of those posts improving rankings. By making the content more relevant, and letting people know about the changes in situation, we were rewarded with better rankings – just how the “system” is supposed to work.
Sites that chose not to update their content were likely to not be providing the best experience for visitors as they might still be recommending that they visit the hot pools for example when it simply wasn’t possible.
This was a lightbulb moment for us and over the last two years, we have created detailed content schedules which show when posts were last updated with notes about the updates. We then add the next review dates to the content based on the information in the post, so we have a schedule of when a post needs to be updated to help to keep the information current and relevant.
We can see from the example below, that a piece of content we created in August 2021 had updates made in January 2022, April 2022 and again in June 2022 and following the update, we saw a spike in traffic to that page:
Whilst the spikes were relatively temporary, we can see that updating the content and the publish date had a significant impact on rankings and helped to drive more relevant traffic to the site.
This tells us that Google does place some value on the freshness of content, as they believe that this is likely to deliver the best result for users for certain search queries.
Why is freshness so important to Google?
One of the reasons why freshness of content is likely to be an important ranking factor is the impact it has on Trust – one of the key pillars of Google’s E-A-T initiative which focuses on Expertise, Authority and Trust.
Why should freshly published content be more trustworthy than older content? Well, it isn’t always, but there are definitely examples of queries where freshness has a direct correlation to trust.
Let’s say you want to find out about a review of the best golf drivers for high handicappers. Which site is likely to be more trustworthy – one that published content on that topic a year ago or one that published something this month, or even this week?
Reviews of any item date pretty quickly. An article that talks about the best mobile phones in 2022 is going to look very different if you publish in January versus publishing in July. New phones are released in that period, and it is likely that your content will be out of date.
In these instances, Google is much more likely to trust the freshly published piece of content as it is likely to be more relevant and certainly more up-to-date.
How often should you update your content?
There is no hard and fast rule as to when you should update your content. In an experiment carried out as part of the Moz blogged linked earlier, they even tried simply updating the publish date of a content piece with no changes to the content at all and this yielded immediate improvement.
Whilst we definitely wouldn’t recommend this as an approach, you should look to make updates to your content as and when you think it is relevant and will add value to the user. If you are writing about things that are time sensitive, make sure you make a note of all the update dates so you can keep on top of things.
One thing we have found through trial and error is posts that include a date in the Page Title tend to perform extremely well for related queries. We discovered that the best approach was to exclude the date (typically the year), from the URL and only include it in the Page Title and the heading tags. That way, we could keep updating the post annually without having to create a new page every year, losing any page authority we had built up.
Most of our content is reviewed and updated on an annual basis at this time, however, there are exceptions, and these are noted at the time of writing so we can keep on top of them.
We also closely monitor keyword rankings and if we see a page starting to drop, we may look to revisit that post and update it to reclaim some of those declining rankings.
Content freshness is an often underrated ranking factor and it is one we should all be paying more attention to in the future. If you want help with your content strategy, planning and creation, drop us a line today and we can help you to take your content to the next level.