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.