Sometimes, we might think our best content deserves a bunch of flowers, a reasonably-priced pasta, and a glass of chardonnay at the local Italian bistro. But, bad puns aside, the decision whether or not to date your blog content (*groan*) is also about making the right impression on someone you hope will still be around when the coffee arrives: the reader.
Joe Pulizzi recently triggered a conversation on Facebook on whether marketers should date-stamp their content. And it was very interesting to see a clear split in opinions emerge in the comments. Many declared that they routinely ignore undated posts. However, others argued that removing the date from blog posts dramatically increased search traffic. (Notice the “reader versus publisher” attitudes there…)
So, who’s right? Is the whole notion of evergreen content undermined by dates that gradually erode the value many readers place upon it?
Does dating your content actually *ahem* date it?
As a writer, I constantly use the internet for research. Therefore, it has become a habit for me to always look for the date on a post or article before reading, or even before clicking through from the search engine results.
The date is essential to help me assess the context of the information, as well as filtering the masses of content to find the most relevant facts and most recent statistics. This is why I commonly refine my Google searches to within the last 12 months.
Knowing when a post was written doesn’t impact the evergreen nature of a post if the content is still good, the information is still accurate, and the topic is still relevant.
What does impact the evergreen nature of a post is not the date it was written, but whether or not the subject matter itself is out of date. And without dating the post, the reader has no way of assessing that possibility.
Some topics constantly evolve, with every new day bringing new information, new ideas, and new rules. This makes the date extremely important to avoid mistakes.
My recent article for Chief Content Officer magazine on Facebook’s EdgeRank, Beware the Social Media Algorithm Chasers, was only in print for about a month before Facebook updated its algorithm, immediately making my column less relevant. With magazine deadlines running months in advance, and the digital landscape changing on an almost daily basis, I’m surprised that doesn’t happen to me more often.
Naturally, there are also many topics and categories of information that stay relevant and accurate for far longer. For example, the number of planets in our solar system can be assumed to be pretty much the same tomorrow as it is today. Therefore, can we assume any planetary themed content is evergreen? And if so, why date-stamp it?
Well, on August 24, 2006, that number did change when Pluto lost its membership card to the planetary club. What was nine became eight overnight. Importantly, the date became a line in the sand, marking every planetary article and textbook published before the 24th as a little less reliable and a little more outdated.
Yet, if you search the word “planets” in Google, the top listing (undated) is still The Nine Planets Solar System Tour. Granted, the site does include a correction further down to clear up the Pluto confusion; but by that stage, young Billy has already scribbled the wrong answer on his homework sheet.
The same website was also the number one listing back in 2009 when I used this example for a magazine column on how the internet can make bad ideas and outdated information immortal. Back then (thankfully, not now) the second listing in those results — clearly dated prior to 2006 — still ranked Pluto as one of the nine, with no correction. Sure, the offending page has probably seen its search ranking for the term erode over the last five years because of the date on the post. But isn’t that how it should be if the search engines are to avoid devolving into inaccurate collections of outdated information?
The mere fact that I’m able to make the same argument five years later by using the same example sort of proves my point. Dating content helps clean things up, both in the search engines and in the mind of the reader.
Sure, removing dates may mean more people click through to older content from Google (unwittingly so?). But the difference in click-through rate is most likely because people want to see dates and are less likely to click-through to something that the search listing indicates isn’t fresh.
The dating information merely filtered these readers out before the click, instead of after. When they don’t see a date on the post they land on, how many might click back to find something more likely to be fresh, or might continue reading only to view the content as potentially unreliable or less relevant?
If more search traffic is the prime argument for removing the date stamp from blog content, then doesn’t it also prove that people care about dates? And if so, aren’t we being slightly deceptive in trying to conceal the context or relevance of a post in the name of more traffic? Content marketing is about heralding the quality, utility, and relevance of content above the SEO tricks designed to merely drive less qualified clicks, surely.
But you can have your cake and eat it too.
By postdating blog content, I don’t mean that we should put future dates on our posts in the same way we might postdate a check. But why can’t we revise the dates on our content “ex post facto”?
Ian Lyons is one digital marketer who has made postdating a best practice. Until recently, Lyons was responsible for BeReady, a major content initiative targeting business travelers. The project ended last year, but I was fascinated with Lyons’ approach to content dating:
“We never considered not dating our content,” comments Lyons. “One thing we did do, however, is [have] both the original ‘posted’ date and ‘updated on’ date so people knew that we had at least ensured the latest information was presented.”
For example, an article on how to get a SIM card at Hong Kong airport was updated with the new locations of telco provider booths as the airport terminal changed. The post remained relevant, useful, and highly popular for months, if not years.
“In the CMS, I had a ‘to be reviewed date.’ which varied by article type, but defaulted to 3 months post publish date,” explained Lyons. “This gave the editors a nice moving calendar of stories to re-assign to writers.” The site constantly and systematically reviewed and refreshed its content — alongside new articles — to keep everything as current as possible. And the dating of the content was an important part of this strategy.
“One pet peeve I have is lazy date formatting. Unless you’re doing up-to-the-minute news, there’s no need to clutter the UI.” Lyons recommends a simple, concise, and unambiguous format: Posted: Jan. 12, 2013 | Revised: April 12, 2013.
The BeReady team also implemented the dating markup at http://schema.org/Article so that the right dating information, including updates, would display in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Remember, this is digital. And digital content has the ability to adapt and change, unlike the printed page. Why should our content be locked in amber, a fossilized record of some other time, unable to grow and evolve? If our content dates, or even becomes extinct, it’s only because we allow it to.
So maybe we need to think a little harder about how we use the dating of our content to signal context and relevance to potential readers.
What do you think? Does removing the dates from posts make the content “timeless” or less trusted?
Looking for additional best practice tips for creating quality content? Register now to join Jonathan Crossfield and many more content marketing experts at Content Marketing World Sydney, March 31 – April 2, 2014.
Cover image via Bigstock