In July 2013 Google announced that they had started taking freshness more into consideration with regards to deciding on where to rank an article.
They began displaying post-dates within the search results.
The idea was that the advanced algorithm would give priority to the freshest and most relevant posts. The problem was that people were playing this system. They discovered that if they changed the date of a post to a more recent date, then Google would view the article as new. They would then give more relevance to the article and boost it up the search rankings.
“Faking” the date was a common practice, and certainly played a large role in displaying out-dated content where it did not deserve to be.
So 3 years on how has the algorithm developed? How advanced is it?
The fact of the matter is that three years on and Google still haven’t got a handle on the problem. It is still incredibly easy to fake the article date in order to receive a search engine ranking boost.
In March of 2016 I was still noticing this trend so began to take screenshots of some examples I found. However this is still very much the case as I type in December 2016. As a test on one article I wrote previously, I changed nothing on the post other than add ‘Updated 28th March 2016’ at the beginning of the first line. Four days later this article had climbed 11 places in the rankings.
The article was no more relevant than previously, and that was the only change I made. However Google gave it priority. It turns out that this article is still up to date and relevant, however I’m pretty sure that Google didn’t and in fact couldn’t check that. I’m not going to out any articles or websites here, but I did find some results using this strategy which I do not agree with.
As just one example I found a 2016 laptop guide; apparently written on March 2nd 2016.
It is clear that this article has been updated; however some of the information is really not applicable to a 2016 article, and indeed a current audience.
I happened to read one of the comments and then decided to dig a little deeper.
This article was in fact released in 2013. However Google views it as being only one month old at the time. Therefore Google is providing a very nice ranking position for their effort. I am not hating on this site, because this kind of result is incredibly common. I found 13 examples of this within the first 20 minutes of checking; all within various niches.
It was very simply a case of changing the date at the top of an article to get this ranking boost.
Google have no way of picking up on this at present, other than a manual inspection. Honestly I can’t see this changing anytime soon. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to check each and every result before giving the article a freshness boost. It seems their current algorithm does not understand how to either.
It does however go to show that the algorithm is not as advanced as they would like us to believe. For now I think that people will continue to play this system, and continue to pick up ranking increases as a result.
Whether this is something you should do is completely up to you.
It is not something I am going to be continuing on the vast majority of my articles. As a disclaimer I may add updated dates on articles which are very much relevant to today; and would provide real value to anyone reading.
I however would never dream of doing this for an out-dated or irrelevant article. I would hate an audience to associate my name or brand with an article that has wasted their time due to a ‘miss-selling’ of the article if you like.
I can also say with certainty this is not a tactic that I will use on any of my client sites. It is just something I wished to highlight is still very much a common problem for Google. 3 years down the line there is certainly room for improvement with this ranking factor.
About the author
Alan A is the co-founder of Gaps.com, tracking successful online startups to uncover gaps in the market.
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