Believe it or not, Google has explored using freshness as a ranking signal through filing patents. Google engineers filed for the Information retrieval based on historical data patent in 2003 and it rocked the SEO world. This patent kindly provided insight into the minds of Google engineers at the time and also showed a roadmap for Google algorithms for years to come.
We can focus on areas most likely to influence SEO by using some of these patents as a guide. Keep in mind that while multiple Google patent filings describe these techniques, there’s no guarantee how Google uses them in its algorithm.
When a Search Justifies Freshness
It is well known that Google measures online documents for freshness and scores each page according to the type of search. There are types of keyword searches most likely to warrant fresh content:
- Recent events: “college basketball playoffs” “political climate”
- Regularly recurring events: “NFL scores” “dancing with the stars” “Brexit”
- Frequent updates: “best slr cameras” “ford 150 reviews”
Google could determine exactly which queries require fresh content by monitoring the web and their own huge warehouse of data for metrics including:
- Search volume: Are queries for a particular term spiking (i.e. “Earthquake Los Angeles”)?
- News and blog coverage: If a number of news organizations start writing about the same subject, it’s likely a hot topic.
- Social media: A spike in mentions of a particular topic may indicate the topic is “trending.”
While some queries need fresh content, other search queries may be better served by older content.
Fresh is usually better, but not every time. Below are some examples of how Google may define the freshness of your content.
1. Freshness by inception date
A web page can be assigned a “freshness” score based on the inception date of the page. It’s two-fold either boosting content for a particular search or lowering content as it becomes older. There is also an inception date when Google becomes aware of the document and indexes or discovers a link to it.
2. Change influences freshness
Search engines can score regularly updated content for freshness differently from content not updated. In this case, updates on your webpage are taken into account.
Google may actually decide to ignore small changes altogether. That’s one reason why when updating a link on a page, it’s smart to update the text surrounding it. This way, Google may be less likely to ignore the change.
3. New page creation
Over time, instead of rewriting individual pages, fresh websites often add completely new pages. Websites that readily create new pages could garner a higher freshness score than sites that add content less habitually.
Many webmasters promote adding 20–30% new pages to your site each year. This may not be necessary as long as you are sending other freshness signals and this includes keeping your content up-to-date and regularly earning new links. Reading Eric Enge’s excellent article about CTR as a ranking factor is a good summary of this.
Freshness best practices
The goal here shouldn’t be to update your site simply for the sake of updating it and hoping for better ranking. Instead, it should be to update your site for the benefit of your users and in doing so, you innately increase clicks, user engagement and fresh links. These are really not only the smartest but the clearest signals you can pass to Google to demonstrate your site is fresh and well deserved of high rankings.