Content Freshness: Is it a Google Ranking Factor?
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Content freshness is an important Google ranking factor that is overlooked by many content creators and marketers.
Google scores freshness by using its QDF (query deserves freshness) algorithm to determine whether or not a particular piece of content is relevant for a specific search query that requires up-to-date search results.
According to recent data, many companies under-invest in the content updates/freshness aspect of SEO which leads to them experiencing mediocre results in their marketing.
The graph below shows that, in addition to content freshness, content quality/relevance and backlinks are also ignored by most companies – and these are all things that can be solved by implementing an effective strategy for maintaining content freshness (as you will discover below).
This article takes an in-depth look at content freshness as a Google ranking factor. Read on to find out everything you need to know to help you leverage the power of fresh content in boosting your rankings and growing your business.
Understanding Content Freshness
Fresh content refers to content that was published recently, has been recently updated, or that is updated frequently.
There are many different schools of thought when it comes to the topic of content freshness.
Some SEOs and content strategies consider content freshness to be an SEO best practice. They believe that updating your content frequently helps it get crawled more often, and therefore rank better in Google and other search engines.
Others argue that fresh content doesn’t necessarily result in better rankings in the search engine results pages, but that better-optimized content will perform better in the SERPs.
But what does the data say?
- Does Google crawl fresh content more frequently?
- Are rankings impacted by crawl frequency?
- Does content freshness matter more in certain industries than others?
These are all questions to consider when looking at content freshness as a Google ranking factor.
Why Content Freshness Is Important
Content freshness is vital because searchers need to see results that are recent and relevant. And since Google's main objective is to provide users with the best possible experience, that is the type of content that the search engine will want to serve them with.
Google's algorithm allows it to differentiate the different levels of freshness that users need for each of their queries.
For instance, when searching for information on a current event, you may be presented with content ranking at the top of the results page that was published just minutes ago. This means that in order to answer your query, Google's algorithm determined that age was less important than recency.
What do Experts Say?
Approximately 70% of marketers state that regularly publishing relevant content is the most effective tactic for search engine optimization. According to some of the leading experts online, there are many reasons why content freshness is considered a Google ranking factor.
For one, if the searcher needs fresh content in order to find value, then your rankings on Google will be impacted by the freshness of your content and if the content isn’t fresh, rankings may drop.
Here is what some experts in the digital marketing niche have to say on the issue of content freshness as a Google ranking factor:
What Moz Experts Say
According to Moz experts, there are many different ways in which fresh content may influence your Google rankings, including the following:
- Freshness based on the inception date of the webpage. The inception date is the date when Google first became aware of the page, such as when the bots first discovered a link to or indexed the document.
- The number of changes made on the updated content. For instance, if you only change 10% of your document, it won't have as much impact as updating over 50% of your document.
What Search Engine Land Experts Say
According to an article from SearchEngineLand.com, Google's new algorithm helps to make search results fresher in order to provide more relevant results.
The ranking algorithm now shows fresher results faster – something that impacted over 35% of searches and more efficiently determines when to give users more up-to-date and relevant results for the different degrees of content freshness.
It's clear that search engines love timely, up-to-date, and fresh information.
But, it's important to keep in mind that while content freshness is important, it doesn't mean that you can win by making minor changes to the pages on your site, or by publishing lots of new, low-quality pages just to get that freshness boost.
You will only be able to harness the power of fresh content to increase your visibility and ranking by creating high-quality content that is focused on fully satisfying the user's intent.
How I Approach Content Freshness
I believe that content freshness matters when it comes to ranking on Google. This is especially true when updating old content.
I’ve personally run A/B tests on my websites in an effort to understand how pages are impacted by freshness and in most cases, I’ve seen a positive correlation between updating content and ranking increases.
Below, I have outlined my personal process for ensuring that content freshness has a positive influence on my SEO.
1. Rank Content First
As previously mentioned, one of the ways that Google determines content freshness is by the inception date of the page. In other words, the search engine looks at the dates when it first became aware of the content. That's why it's important to rank content first before focusing on revisions.
After your content has been ranked, it's freshness score may give it a boost for specific search queries, but it will obviously decay over time. As your content becomes older, you can then use revisions and updates as a way to maintain content freshness.
The bottom line is that with all other factors being equal, freshness degrades over time which makes the content less successful for some particular queries.
It's also important to note that in some cases, older documents could be more favorable for a search query than newer ones, as evidenced in the graph below.
Because of this, it may be beneficial to adjust the content freshness score of a webpage based on the difference of its age compared to the average age of the content in the results page.
2. Review Analytics and Google Search Console Monthly
Yet another approach I use to help maintain the freshness of my content is by reviewing Google search console and analytics every month. It’s important to watch analytics trends to see how they are positively or negatively moving.
Traffic and engagement are two popular metrics that can be used to signal freshness. When Google displays a list of results in response to a search query, the results chosen by the user, as well as the amount of time they spend on the result, are both good indicators of relevance and freshness.
For instance, if users consistently choose and click on a search result that is further down the results page, and if they spend a lot more time engaged with the content on that page compared to other results – including the ones at the top, Google sees this as a sign that the result is more relevant and fresher than the rest.
This can be interpreted to mean that the click-through rate (CTR) of a page is a ranking factor – although that is not always the case.
The bottom line is, if a web page is returned for a specific query and users with the same or similar queries spend more time on average on that document, Google can use this as an indication that the document is fresh and therefore rank it higher in the SERPs.
This is why it's crucial to review your analytics and Google search console monthly so you can keep an eye on the analytics trends to see how they are moving.
3. Revise Content Quarterly
The rate at which you change your documents is important when it comes to content freshness. If the content on your website is changed more frequently, it will score differently than content that is only changed every few years.
That's why I like to revise content quarterly. I use Google Search Console to review Impression and click data, but also pay close attention to average position and impressions to confirm that the phrases haven’t simply lost search volume due to seasonal searches or users searching less.
I’ve taken up this practice in the last year and, generally speaking, it has helped me make more money blogging than most of the other tactics I’ve learned over the years.
4. Revise/Publish Articles Completely
Another effective way I use for ensuring content freshness is to revise the articles in full and republish them as new. For this, don't forget to use proper tools for your blog so that you can update everything easily depending on what platform you’re on.
This signals to Google that a major revision has been done and will earn you a much higher freshness score than simply revising or updating some of the information on the page.
Although changes to core content are important, you will get a stronger signal of content freshness by revising and republishing the articles completely. On a side note, I also like to use a social media scheduling tool to push my content out on Social after publishing. While I don't have any data showing that this improves ranking, it's just something I like to do to signal a share soon after the revisions I completed.
According to a recent report from Social Media Examiner, over 58% of marketers state that original written content ranks among the most important types of content for experiencing high ROI from their marketing efforts.
This is not surprising when you consider the vast benefits that come with using fresh, original, high-value content:
5. Submit to Google Search Console
The final step I take toward ensuring the freshness of the content on my site is to submit the revised articles to Google Search Console to have them recrawl the content and potentially rank it higher in the SERP.
Once you have completed this step, you can then market your content like it's fresh and keep an eye on how Google sees your site and the different ways you can optimize your content to achieve even higher rankings on the search engine.
Freshness is a ranking factor that is dependent on the specific query of the user. This means that it's deemed more important in some search queries than others.
When it's important for users to see recent news, freshness plays a major role. For instance, if someone were to Google “latest developments in coronavirus vaccine” Google knows that the user will want to see the most recent news.
However, in other instances, freshness plays a less important role. For instance, if someone Google's “how to tie a bow tie”, Google knows that guides written 10 years ago may still be as good as one that was written yesterday since the process of tying a bow tie hasn't changed in the last decade.
So if your content is for satisfying a query that isn't time-sensitive, then this ranking factor may not be such a big deal.
The best way to leverage the power of content freshness as a Google ranking factor is to look at various search results for your target keywords in order to assess how important freshness is for each one.
If freshness is important for a particular keyword, you can choose between updating the page frequently or publishing new articles on the topic on a consistent basis in order to keep up with demand.
On the other hand, if freshness is of very little importance, you can focus your efforts on creating the best guide on that topic and then update or refresh the content when rankings begin to drop.
Ron Stefanski is an online entrepreneur and marketing professor who has a passion for helping people create and market their own online business. You can learn more from him by visiting OneHourProfessor.com
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