Google Sheds More Light On Freshness As A Ranking Signal

    October 1, 2012
    Chris Crum
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There’s a new Webmaster Help video from Google’s Matt Cutts. In this one, he talks specifically about freshness as a ranking signal. The video is a response to the following user-submitted question:

Google has expressed in the past that frequently updated pages get a boost in rankings (QDF), that seems to favor blogs and news sites over company sites, which have less reason to be updated often. How important of a signal is “freshness”?

There’s no question that Google has put greater emphasis on freshness of content in many SERPs. Last November, Google launched the “Freshness” update, and since then, Google has made various adjustments to how it handles the signal.

In fact, just since this video was released, Google put out a big list of algorithm changes it made throughout the past two months, and there were some freshness signals mentioned on that (though not as many as in past lists. More on that here.

I’ve criticized the search engine’s emphasis on freshness in the past, as I’ve found more times than I can count, instances of results where fresher results were being shown, making it harder to find content that was actually useful to my search needs. Readers suggested that I was not alone.

“There’s a little bit of an interesting twist in this question, where it’s not just the case that just because something is frequently updated – in terms of the pages on your blog or on your site – that you automatically should sort of be ranking higher. I wouldn’t have that interpretation of freshness,” Cutts says.

“Sometimes people are looking for something that’s fresh-seeking, so if you’re searching for an earthquake or some event that just happened, that would be QDF (that would be query that deserves freshness)…not every query deserves freshness,” he says. “So…if it’s evergreen content – sometimes people are looking for long form content or doing more research, than freshness wouldn’t be counted as that much.”

I’ve actually encountered a lot of the questionable results in searching for things that did happen in the news at one time, but were not necessarily news any longer. Part of my job is finding points of reference for articles, so this is pretty much a daily task. Freshness, in my experience, has often outweighed relevance to a fault.

“We have over 200 signals that we use, and the thing that I would not do – the pitfall – the trap that I would not fall into is saying, ‘OK, I have to have fresh content, therefore, I’m going to randomly change a few words on my pages every day, and I’ll change the by-line date so that it looks like I have fresh content,” Cutts continues. “That’s not the sort of thing that’s likely to actually lead to higher rankings.”

“And if you’re not in an area about news – you’re not in sort of a niche or topic area that really deserves a lot of fresh stuff, then that’s probably not something you need to worry about at all,” he says. “It might be better to…like in SEO, it’s not like…there will always be some SEO events, but there’s some content that’s evergreen that lasts and stands the test of time, and it might be better to work on those sort of articles than just trying to jump onto whatever’s on the top of Techmeme or whatever the story du jour is.”

“I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about freshness just because it’s one of the over two hundred signals, that you sort of miss out on all the other signals,” he says. “Now, if you’re in a hot breaking area where you’re competing with Engadget, The Verge…you know, if you write about video games, there’s a lot of topical, breaking news, then it is good to try to be fresh and make sure that you have content that’s especially relevant.”

“But it’s not the sort of thing where you need to worry about making sure that you’re re-writing your pages or changing words on your page just so you look fresh,” he concludes. “Google is relatively good about trying to suss out when it’s more helpful to be fresh and when it’s sort of just regular search, where web pages that were good yesterday were also good today.”

You know what was really good for fresh results? Realtime search powered by Twitter.

  • http://cafepress.com/coolest_clocks Alan Foos

    Hmm, ok. I’ve put up four web sites the last three months, several Squidoo articles, but get close to zero traffic on any of them. My content should be good, it’s fresh, of course, though I’ll be running out of reasons to make changes, especially ones that nobody will see. My keywords should be fine, the content is just aok, so I sure hope there’s hope. Meanwhile, let me slip in this link, if that’s ok, CafePress clocks that I made up for my son, Roy.

  • http://www.randombyte.com George

    While I agree that freshness should be one of the ranking factors, I wouldn’t throw away fantastic, evergreen information that was posted on an authority website 5 years ago just because it isn’t fresh anymore. Let’s hope that Google tweaks this parameter wisely.

  • http://handdryerindia.com pelister

    What I say is google is trying to coin terms “Freshness”, “EMD” and every possible nonsense for the royal search engine screw up. Trying to impose the ideology of some stupid moron and failed.

    search engine is giving garbage, single page affiliate links in results, is this freshness, if google is providing quality results than I will show some ugly sites, with useless information standing on top, Google grew up to be a good search engine because of simplicity it followed, “Relevancy” where is it now? When someone search for some info, or some product it provided relevant results, but now its really frustrating to use this search engine..

    google has become greedy, “I am the big G so I can do whatever I want”, certainly that will not stand, Every website owners should stand up and say no to these. Everyone stop adsense altogether for a single day, than google will know what the loss is..

  • Kerk

    what the joke! Search engine exist to search content. It not about content freshness, it just about find most relevant urls for searchers. And searcher not care about freshness (in many cases), emd or not, links quality, etc – them just need to get urls which relevant (no place for penalty here) to query.
    But google now show wikipedia generic articles for almost all queries. So peoples not get what them looking for.

  • http://www.elemental-learning.com Mike C.

    Alan, I couldn’t agree more with your comment about frustration with driving traffic that has been optimized by virtually every factor deemed to be relevant to G: fresh content, good KW usage, good on-page SEO, good page titles, etc. It seems like the only thing left to do is to drive good inbound links, which IMHO, is not the best use of a small businessperson’s time. Sure, we’d all love to get CNN.com to write stories about us, but in the meantime we’re trying to run an enterprise. Good luck to you!

  • http://www.forexexperience.com Steve

    I already have the ability to filter results by time frame (24 hours, 1 week, etc), so why does Google feel the need to jam freshness down my throat? If I need something that was published in the past week I will search for it that way, there is no need to artificially boost the rank of some page just because Google thinks it is more relevant when fresh…let me decide if freshness is relevant to my search.

  • http://www.elemental-learning.com Private Tutoring

    Alan, we continue to struggle to stay one step ahead of G. While most small business owners can keep up reasonably well with major G algorithm changes (Panda, Penguin, etc) there are many other — some say daily — minor tweaks that render even the most thoughtful optimization techniques obsolete in the blink of an eye. A constant challenge, to say the least.