By Jonathan Crossfield published February 5, 2014

Should You Date-Stamp Your Blog Content?

green stamp for dating thingsSometimes, 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?

Use-by date?

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impact the evergreen nature of a post is not the date it was written, but whether or not the subject matter itself is out of date.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.

Speed date?

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.

nine planets solar system post

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.

Blind date?

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.

Post-date?

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

Author: Jonathan Crossfield

If it involves putting words in a row with the occasional punctuation, then Jonathan has most likely given it a bash; from copy writing to screenwriting, blogging to journalism. He has won awards for his articles on digital marketing and his over-opinionated blog, Atomik Soapbox. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Kimota.

Other posts by Jonathan Crossfield

  • B2Bstartupmarketer

    I think every post needs to be dated so people can understand the context/environment within which the article is written. Even if something is date-stamped, the saavy readers would be able to assess what is ‘dated’ vs. ‘timeless’ content at the time of reading it by being able to connect the dots with other current trends. Frankly I find it deceiving and lazy journalism not to include a date.

    • Brendan Cournoyer

      Took the words right out of my mouth. For blog post especially, the date provides critical context to the content on the page. Forget about reader behavior or fear of “tricking the visitor”; removing the date simply limits the value of the page. Why would you want to do that? That context is part of the story. I feel like this is really a debate from a marketing standpoint, not publishing. I’d expect most people with a publishing background would never even consider un-dating their content.

  • Joel Harrison

    This is very interesting Jonathan, I was dealing with this debate a couple of days ago for my own blog. I didn’t think of it in terms of trying to trick the readers, I simply wanted the appearance of my site to be less cluttered. But it is a good point I often look at the date when searching Google results as well, especially if it is a tech and software type of search.

    Do you recommend typing the date at the top of the blog then? or using the default meta date tags if you’re using wordpress?

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      I use the default dating meta info in wordpress. It allows you to select from a number of dating formats so I choose something simple.

      I would always recommend having the dating info in the meta data under a post title (or above the title as CMI posts do) as that is where most people will look for it.

  • Peter Kortvel

    My words! Use the date and let reader decide if outdated article is relevant. If not it probably needs updating anyway…

    What date is shown on Google? Is it the date of publishing or updating? The latter would be much more convenient.

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Schema tags, supported by Google and Bing, include one for dateModifed, displaying the more recent date the post was modified.

      http://schema.org/Article

  • redcrew

    I think all posts should be dated. It’s a vital piece of information that provides context to the post. And adds a level of trust for the reader.

  • http://www.adamsherk.com/ Adam Sherk

    I agree that posts should be dated. I get trying to make content look more evergreen, but as a user I want to know the date as this gives the post better context.

    When I come across blog posts without a date, I tend to pay them less attention because 1) I don’t have that context and 2) I feel like they are trying to hide that info, which feels a little manipulative. That may be unfair in some cases, but it creates that impression.

    It’s also fair to say that the importance of the date is more applicable to some types of content than others. But on the whole I think including it is the right way to go.

  • John Booth

    Great read… but chardonnay in an Italian bistro…?

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Hey, I prefer a shiraz myself, but I know my wife…

  • Jeremy Swinfen Green

    The “undated copy gets more views” argument is a bit like saying you should SEO your web assets at the expense of the user experience: you might get more visitors but they are less likely to convert. I think posts and articles should always be dated if you want to present credible information to your readers. Having both “originally published” and “updated” dates is even more helpful to readers.

  • Debbie Pelzmann

    I find it fascinating this debate is cropping up largely in the context of Content Marketing—a sphere that prides itself in creating valuable, quality content the audience is asking for.

    To me, it’s clear removing dates for SEO reduces the value of content. When the argument turns to “But no! This is for the good of the reader because they’ll be so blinded by date prejudice they won’t realize how great this content is!”, we’re in trouble. That’s a sign we’re no longer trusting our content consumers to determine for themselves what they find valuable information.

    If we train ourselves (as researchers and consumers of content) to think that way, to make the assumption that “publishers know best,” it’s down the slide we go …

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      “Barman, please send the most expensive bottle you’ve got to Ms Pelzmann’s table.”

      • Debbie Pelzmann

        “But kindly not the Chardonnay. This is, after all, an Italian Bistro.”

        • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

          Huh. Our local bistro is BYO.

  • Chris H

    Who ever said content has to be dated? Do you date your sales letters, or your resumes? I agree that timeless content doesn’t have to be dated; but I ‘like’ the idea of using the ‘posted’ and ‘updated’ dating method. BUT, I also agree that some content should be dated; such as labour market information, social strategies and other information that changes with time.

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Ah, but my point is that even evergreen content should be dated. As many people have pointed out, the absence of a date is more likely to lead them to conclude that the information isn’t fresh rather than evergreen or timeless.

      At least by revisiting, revising and re-dating evergreeen content, we can make the content truly timeless and signal its freshness to the reader with the new date.

      • CharlesBiggs

        Have you got any studies or research that present actual hard facts and conclusive findings that ” the absence of a date is more likely to lead them to conclude that the
        information isn’t fresh rather than evergreen or timeless?” Not calling you out, just need data verify that stuff like this [not you personally, just generally on the web] is actually well fact and for the lack of a better word, not just gut-feeling.

        Typically myself I won’t date “evergreen” content. I mean does a tutorial article, for instance, presenting Newton’s Laws of Motion really need a date? I mean these types of scientific theories have been well accepted for hundreds-and-hundreds of years. Essentially it is non-changing (for the meanwhile, and likely for a long-long time to come) so why the need for a date?

        On “newsy” type content though, I always date-stamp because it makes sense to do so and likely a reader won’t want to read old news or potentially outdated material.

        An just lastly, initial post-date and revised-post date, is an excellent idea in my opinion. In fact I actually do this in some ways when I update an “evergreen” piece, typically I leave a line like “last updated on…” and such ‘n such.

        Kudos CMI, great piece and likely I will need to think some more on this.

        • CharlesBiggs

          I wanted to also add, that it isn’t even about SEO and getting more click-through, by stealth if I might add, by the non-inclusion of dates in evergreen pieces. It’s just about what what is logical and makes sense. Not every property on the web is a blog, where necessarily and by virtue a date on posts makes sense.

          Well, talk about Pandoras Box! Yikes.

          • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

            I know. It’s one of those topics that turns out to be quite a rabbit’s hole.

            I agree I’d love to see some hard data, but working out the methodology for a conclusive experiment isn’t quite so easy. However, in all the recent discussions, the number of people saying they ignore or discount undated content has been overwhelming, often for the reasons i suggest. The only people arguing to remove dates appear to be the content producers, which might indicate a difference in expectations.

            And we are primarily talking abut blog posts here. Although the argument would naturally extend to anything with stats etc, such as most infographics.

            As for things like an article on Newton’s Law of Motion, sure it might not have changed in hundreds of years, but scientific theories do change all the time. I used the example elsewhere in this thread of a medical student choosing a textbook for revision. Would they happily work from a second hand textbook published in the ’60s or would they be more likely to source a more recent edition?

            And no one would ever consider publishing a textbook (or any book) without a publication date and a list of the various later editions on the fly-leaf.

            Knowledge changes. Even science isn’t 100% evergreen.

  • Jules

    In response to the title I find myself shouting a huge YES! Content should always be dated to allow the reader to make judgements based on that date – for example, last week I was looking for some gig dates and was excited to find a list of ‘upcoming’ events only to delve deeper and find out that they were actually from 4 years ago! Number one-bad google for serving up four year old data in their number one spot and number two-bad site for not bothering to label their gig dates!!

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn
  • http://www.robbiesenbach.com/ Rob Biesenbach

    Before I share something I want to know if it’s fresh content. I’d be embarrassed to tweet something everyone already saw two years ago. When something is undated I go to the comments for a clue, and it annoys me that I have to do that extra work. I may still share it, but at least I can qualify it some (“just found this” or “a classic piece you may have missed,” etc.).

  • Lee Pettijohn

    My suggestion is to date opinionated content and not date posts that can stand the test of time

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Ah, but my point is that even then dating becomes necessary to avoid ‘the Pluto effect’.

      How long does the ‘test of time’ stay valid? Five years? Ten years? Twenty? We’re still within the first two decades of mainstream mass internet usage. Add a few more decades of content that supposedly survives the test of time and we may find a great deal more that doesn’t, and therefore should be dated.

      If you were studying to become a doctor, would you feel comfortable basing an assignment on a medical text book written thirty years ago?

  • Traci Failla

    It’s all about the user experience, and not dating content makes it less valuable. One might consider it more efficient to forego a date on “evergreen” content, but if readers eventually train themselves to disregard content that has no date, then one is unlikely to achieve their goal.

  • Rob TheGenie Toth

    Posted the same in the FB thread. I’m not one for dating …

    I think the guys and gals who need the dates are in often-changing industries (tech, etc). If I need a solution for my hemorrhoid (it’s a hypothetical example people!), I don’t care if you wrote it on a brisk December 8th, morning 2013. I care about you solving my issue.

    And I agree with others (like Brian Clark), psychology would dictate that if I saw the article dated as 2 years ago, I wouldn’t even read it and I’d bounce.

    If I’m searching for Android apps , I NEED dates. Guaranteed. But I can often deduce this from comments (WP comments / Disqus / FB all leave time stamps) .

    But in most cases, I’m more likely to leave because I see your potato-peeling instructional article is now 2 years old. Even though “potato peeling” techniques haven’t really changed since the dawn of time.

  • http://sproutsocial.com/features/social-media-engagement Sarah @ Sprout Social

    I’m definitely for dating content. While the content might be evergreen, the date still reflects a viewpoint or facts at a specific time. I’m turned off when I don’t see a date stamp because I feel as though I can’t full trust or depend on the information provided.

    That said, when a post is even a few months old, I’m not as likely to share it. I think this keeps pressure on marketers to always be creating new and interesting content. Brands shouldn’t be able to do a minimal amount of work and ride the wave of a few good posts.

  • http://www.shannonhutcheson.ca/ Shannon

    Great post, great discussion too! This really helps me choose which side of this fence I’m on, so thanks! I had a concern regarding evergreen content. I agree that content, really great content, is more likely to be shared regardless of date. Of course, depending on the kind of content (the example about “needing” to see a date on app specific content makes sense).

    However, I see @sarahmordis:disqus’s point and admit to doing the same. When I’m seeking information, I’m going to look for the most recent content I can find. If that content is several years dated, it may not be relevant anymore.

    I guess the moral of the story is “it depends” lol. On the kind of content you are putting out there. Though the schema suggestion may help this in the future. If some of us could figure out how to easily put it on our WordPress blogs, that is! Makes me cross-eyed reading about how to use schema! lol

  • http://paulalay.com/ Paula Lay

    I share the same view as others – dating is important. I regularly curate content for sharing on social networks, and a non-dated article is automatically vetted as ‘non-shareable’. As well on the blogs I manage, I do not want the user experience to be tainted and have them left wondering when a post was published, if it is up-to-date, or if it is still valid.

    Many users aren’t savvy enough to search results by ‘within x months’, and it’s just one of those little things that add to the credibility of a site – it’s not noticeable when it is there, but when it’s missing, it dampens the experience and leaves them going back to search to find content they can rely on.

  • http://www.copywritematters.com.au/subscribe-copy-detective/ Belinda Weaver

    My name is Belinda and I don’t date my content.

    My argument is that I try and write evergreen content, one that’s been mentioned a few times already. I write about copywriting and I don’t think the techniques on writing great headlines are really going to change. But then, we didn’t think we’d lose Pluto either! My neighbour’s four-year old was FURIOUS when they did that.

    I’m intrigued by the idea that people wouldn’t read content that was recent, as so many people (including Joe) have said. I never check the date on the blogs I read.

    Will my post on writing headlines be ignored because I wrote it last year, in favour of a post with the same content from last week?

    The discussion here is compelling. It’s definitely food for thought. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

    I suspect I’m worried that dating my content means I won’t be able to drive traffic to old, but still relevant posts and will, instead, have to write new ones about the same topics. How many posts about writing headlines can I write?

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      I don’t think dating your content erodes it if the content is genuinely still relevant and useful. Hey, I have read and commented on your blog many times. ;-) My point is that the readers are able to make that assessment for themselves.

      Nothing annoys me more than getting half way through an undated article only to discover a potentially evergreen topic is coloured by some outdated case studies or stats. Their overall point may still be accurate, but the supporting evidence may not be.

      I still have some highly successful posts on my blog. The most traffic on my blog every month is a post I wrote 6 years ago – still going strong and still pulling in plenty of search traffic. And it’s dated.

      Sure, an article on crafting headlines won’t date nearly so fast. But if you include case studies and examples in that post, they might. Or if other articles on the same blog cover more topical topics, (such as SEO copywriting tips. with mentions of Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird etc.) then consistency becomes an issue too as most CMSes are ‘date all’ or ‘date none’.

      • http://www.copywritematters.com.au/subscribe-copy-detective/ Belinda Weaver

        Case studies and examples… I hadn’t considered those. You make an excellent point sir. I was conscious of timeliness after Penguin and Hummingbird and even post-conference posts and removed them from my reposting schedule but that doesn’t mean they weren’t available of course!

        Hmm I think I’m coming around. I might pop a date up there and see what happens. Thanks for the nudge.

  • Ruckus the Eskie

    Thanks for sharing. Will consider it on my website!

  • Jay S Daughtry M.Ed.

    Thanks for this insightful article published on Feb 5, 2014. I am now reading it on Feb 6, 2014 and still find it relevant. Seriously, you presented a great argument, particularly with regard to how digital content doesn’t need to become a “fossilized record”. I’m now posting on Twitter.

  • http://annieandfrederick.com/ Donna Neumann

    I definitely favour dating material. It is very frustrating to get halfway through material and find it is outdated. If the material is evergreen readers are smart enough to know the date does not matter and that the content is still relevant.

  • Carol Casey

    Great post. Content marketing is about “help, not sell.” Is it helpful to prospects to wonder about when a piece of content was created? No. It’s irritating. Leaving the date off is about “sell” more than help. Love the idea of updating older content and adding a revised date to the original post date. Smart use of existing content in a way that is honest and transparent.

  • http://carstories.neue.ca/ Stephen Jeske

    I too favour dating posts. As a writer I need to know if the information is current. I hit the “back” button on an undated post quickly because I don’t want to spend time determining if it’s outdated.

  • http://southparkscribe.com/ Bonnie

    I believe in dating content, because I cover new and annual happenings in my community. However, I have wondered whether I should remove the date from my URL, because it makes it awfully long.

  • Amal

    Great post! Thanks Jonathan

  • Brendon Livingstone

    Thanks Jonathan, useful to get some thoughts on this topic. We talk about posting content regularly, and it seems to me that not dating content is like a black hat approach to trick readers into thinking that content is current and regularly updated.

  • Lauren_McDonald

    This is a very good question to address. And while I think that it would be great to have content that never “expired” to the customer eye, marketers know that users are looking for the freshest information, so the lack of a date may drive them away.

    I would have to agree with dating a post – you don’t want your users to have to work for fresh, relevant content.

  • http://cubicmushroom.co.uk Toby G

    I think I use the date of articles differently depending in the content. Sometimes I’m it fussed, but other times I find the date extremely relevant, especially, as you mention, with information that evolves quickly. I’ve done a lot of work with the Facebook API and that has evolved so much over the years that I need to know if an article is recent in order to know if it’s content is worth reading or not. But as you also point out, some information I don’t bother checking the publish date, as it’s less likely to expire.