SEO: How Content Freshness Affects Search Rankings
Content freshness is a major aspect of search engine optimization (SEO). The age of your content, how frequently it is updated, and the scale of those updates is one of the most important signals that Google and other search engines use to determine the value of your site.
If you’re not updating your site proactively and frequently, you’re reducing your chances of gaining high search rankings. By understanding what content freshness is, you can turn it into a significant advantage to help outrank your competitors.
What is Content Freshness?
Any time you publish a new page to your website, search engines need to crawl it and add it to their index before it can be ranked. At the point that it is indexed, the initial crawl date and the page’s publish date are noted by the search engine and used to track any updates to the page going forward.
This serves two main purposes. First and foremost, it allows Google to better adjust its crawl frequency of your site based on how frequently your pages are updated. More importantly, however, Google can determine whether the content you publish is being kept up to date compared to other websites in your niche as the information on your chosen topic evolves.
When everything else is equal in a comparison of two websites, Google will typically prefer the site that has more relevant, up-to-date information on a keyword. This means that sites that update whenever new information becomes available will gain a ranking advantage in one of the most important signals. Sites that don’t update frequently enough see their rankings slowly drop over time as their content becomes stale.
What Determines if Content is Fresh?
Given the effect that content freshness has on your performance and general SEO efforts, you’d be wise to make use of the signal whenever possible. However, there’s no easy way to determine how often you’ll need to update your pages to remain ahead of the competition.
Content freshness is niche and keyword dependent, and the ranking signal derived from it is the result of Google actively tracking many sites and comparing them against each other. This means that you need to know your niche and the keywords that you’re using very well.
Keep in mind that even evergreen content that rarely changes needs to be updated from time to time. While the ranking signal is weaker for subjects that aren’t expected to need frequent updates, all information eventually becomes stale. A page ranking the best phones might become stale after only a few months, while a page about a particular phone’s specifications may not lose freshness for a year. Both pages will eventually need an update to remain competitive, though.
If you find yourself struggling to decide how often to update for your chosen keyword, one of the best ways to acquire this information is to make it part of your initial keyword research. Part of this should be performing a few Google searches and looking at the date listed for the highest-ranking pages.
How many of these rankings are for pages that have been published or updated recently? How large is the variation between the average date of high rankings and lower rankings further down the page or on the second page? This is the most effective way to sample the freshness that Google expects for a specific keyword.
It doesn’t mean you can’t outrank any of those sites if you have other advantages like a substantial backlink profile or social media following, but it’s much easier to go with the flow rather than against it. Gaining an advantage against your competitors is great but eliminating a potential disadvantage can be just as valuable in SEO.
How to Update Content Effectively
Many SEO experts have noted that even just updating the date of a page can have a mild but positive effect on rankings and traffic to old content after Google recrawls it. This is kind of a grey area, as search engines may eventually determine that this practice is a method of gaming their algorithms and choose to ignore it or even actively penalize sites that do it.
Updating your site properly is not only guaranteed to remain effective in the future but also has a much more potent effect in signaling to search engines that your content is fresh. The more extensively you update a page, the bigger the boost to freshness. To achieve this, you should look at a few things you can improve including spelling and grammar, accuracy, and relevancy.
Another aspect to consider is whether you can expand your existing content or add in more resources that enhance the value of your content further. Adding an infographic to help summarize some of the information on your page is one example of how you can achieve this. Not only does new content like this boost the freshness because a significant update has occurred, but it also gives additional freshness by adding totally new content.
While you don’t need to rewrite your page entirely, and you shouldn’t, always try to make some kind of substantial improvement to the page if you want to maximize freshness. This will give you the biggest advantage on the results pages, helping you to reclaim lost rankings or climb higher than your page has ever been.
Content that evolves and improves over time is better able to maintain high rankings in Google for many years. This is why you should actively update your pages dependent on how frequently information within your niche changes. Adding a few scheduled updates to older content into your SEO plan will help your site to maintain stability and successfully continue to grow well into the future.