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To Date or Not to Date: That Is the Content Publisher’s Question

There’s an ongoing debate in the online publishing community, and while it may sound minor, the issue of choosing whether or not to date your content is one that should be considered. There is, after all, an effect to both sides of the coin. When publishing an article, you have a choice: attach a date or let it live in a timeless eternity.

Both, as we will see, have their advantages and disadvantages. But there is no right or wrong way to go about the dating dilemma. So long as almighty Google doesn’t give a definitive answer as to which is better, it’s solely up to the publisher to decide.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of having non-dated posts.

Pro: It Doesn’t Hurt Your Direct SEO

At the end of the day, for now, Google doesn’t care whether or not your post has a publication date. Google knows that people can change the dates of publications online, and they also are aware that posts can have dates much older than the actual publication date.

A red pen is circling a date on a calendar

Photo by Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Here’s the thing: Google doesn’t care too much about time. A study (by Ahref) found that the average age of posts that rank in Google’s top 10 searches is 2 to 3 years old. While fresh, new content is important when it comes to SEO, that doesn’t mean that older content is irrelevant. Older content still has value and can even grow in value over time.

Con: Readers Look for Dates

The truth is that people judge content by its date. Think about it, whether you’re simply surfing the web for the latest (emphasis “latest”) news or doing research, you’re going to be looking for a publication date at the top of the post. So, if you’re thinking about the interests of the reader, then having a dateless article is not to your advantage.

Most readers will say they prefer dated content. It puts the reader in charge, able to judge the content accordingly. Otherwise, they’re left in the dark as to how old the content truly is. And let’s face it: people like to feel like they’re in control.

Pro: Your Content Won’t Be “Dated”

What date stamping does is exactly that: it “dates” the content. Providing a date means taking the risk of your content being seen as outdated, even when it’s not. There’s a reason why many publishers opt for “evergreen” content – content that is timeless and forever relevant.

A date stamp, however, means some of that evergreen content might be overlooked, regardless of how recent and relevant it is. Readers can easily pass up compelling content for articles with that shiny date stamp on it.

Higher bounce rate: There are readers who will click out as soon as they realize the date is missing, or they’ll quickly recognize it as outdated information. Both lead to a higher bounce rate.

Con: Losing Out on Link Opportunities

When it comes to blogs specifically, time stamps are a benefit. Over two million blog posts are posted daily. And many of those posts involve external links. Writers tend to research supporting material and link that material to their piece.

That said, most writers will prefer to source the most up-to-date content. In other words, date stamps are a must. The last thing a blogger would want is to reference outdated information or data. So, articles without dates will probably go overlooked.

Pro and Con: Search Parameters

Search engines allow users to restrict search results to posts published within a time frame, be it the past hour, day, week, month, or year. If your content is dated, this is a “pro” as it will show up in the SERP (search engine results pages), if it fits the reader’s chosen parameters. Non-dated articles, on the contrary, most likely won’t.

Photo by Archive Holdings Inc.

A pile of tear-off calendar sheets

But date stamping can also be a “con” when it comes to search parameters. If you date your evergreen content, it will only show up in the SERP when it fits the parameters, even if it’s relevant. Without a date, your content might be completely excluded in date-restricted search engine results.

What About “Updated” Date Stamps?

Another thing to consider is whether to add an updated date stamp if the piece was edited after the original post date. Not too many publishers do this, but adding an “updated” date on your blog or article can be a simple way to attract readers to old content.

It’s also possible to update content without adding an update label and the same benefits can be reaped seeing as how the page is repeatedly cached and the small changes made will be reflected in a search engine’s index.

In the end, whether you date your content or not, nothing is set in stone. Almost all features can be altered online. So, go for it, and good luck.