What Fresh Content Really Means to Google and How to Create It
We usually hear that having fresh content can help your SEO, but it’s not uncommon for us to see a breakdown of exactly what fresh content means and how important it is to rankings.
Therefore, in this article, we will cover:
- What is content freshness and how to measure it?
- When content freshness is a ranking factor.
- How to know when to refresh the content.
- How to improve your freshness score.
What is fresh content?
Fresh content is content that was recently released, updated, or rewritten. Google and its users love fresh content because it’s more likely to be accurate.
Since the freshness algorithm was updated in 2011, queries for trending or time-sensitive keywords trigger Google to prioritize new pages with the latest information. For 35% of searches, the freshness update affected at least one result on the page.
- We can identify four dates associated with any URL published online:
- Published: When the page is uploaded on the website.
- Indexed: When crawlers first discovered the page and added it to Google Search.
- Last Crawl: The last time these bots crawled the page.
- Modified: The last time the page was changed.
- Google Search Console URL Inspection
If a page is updated and republished after the first crawl, the publication time represents the last time the page was edited by the site. If the page was updated without a repost, it will show as modified time.
Page modification time metadata
How does Google measure content freshness?
According to Moz, Google estimates the freshness of your content based on several factors, including:
Page Start Date: The date it was indexed by Google.
Changes to update pages: Big changes mean more freshness.
Several changes to the core content of the page: Changes to the main content add more freshness than adjusting date/time labels.
Page Change Rate: Frequent changes to a page mean more freshness.
New Page Creation Rate: Sites that add new pages more frequently are likely to receive higher freshness scores.
The freshness of page backlinks: Links from sites with high freshness scores can improve your links.
Is content freshness a Google ranking factor?
The freshness factor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it is one of several factors or trust signals that search algorithms use to rank and users consider before clicking on any results.
And since freshness is more relevant to some queries than others, requests for fresh content should always be evaluated against your primary keywords.
Fresh and “stale” queries
The categories of queries for which Google will find fresh content include:
- Recent events (e.g. playoffs)
- Trending topics (eg Google’s page title updates – trending at the time of this post).
- Recurring events and reports (e.g. presidential elections, annual meetings).
- Continuous but changing information (such as product reviews).
The categories of queries where recency does not have a significant effect on the accuracy of the information may include:
- food recipes
- historical facts
- broad subject
- evergreen topic
Let’s look at some examples.
People interested in reading e-commerce trends may be looking for the latest trends in the e-commerce industry, rather than trends from previous years.
If not updated, pages targeting recent sensitive queries will slowly decay, while frequently updated content is more likely to re-evaluate its position.
But for keywords like “search marketing,” freshness isn’t necessarily one of the most critical factors. People searching for that keyword might want to understand the basics of search marketing and what it covers, which hasn’t changed over the past few years.
In this case, an older but still accurate page that keeps getting new backlinks but not updating can certainly compete with newer pages that have no inbound links or keep losing their existing links.
How to Improve Your Freshness Score: Best Practices
Now that we’ve identified how content freshness affects ranking for time-sensitive queries, let’s take a quick look at some tips and best practices for incorporating the freshness factor into your SEO strategy.
Check the SERPs
The easiest way to assess the freshness level a user might want to query is to look at the publication date of the top results. For example, you can examine the top 10 or 20 results and calculate their average age. Ideally, you should also give top-ranked results more weight in your calculations.
SERP query to enter google homepage
We can see from the SERP that recency matters, but not for the query “how to get to the Google homepage”.
Publish new (evergreen) content regularly
You don’t always have to post about new topics. But as we learned earlier, your new page creation rate affects your freshness score. So be sure to post new content regularly, whether it’s on evergreen or time-sensitive topics.
The more often you post content, the more Google will know to crawl your site.
Regularly update old content
The Google research publication noted that with so much new content being released every day, search engines can’t keep recrawling every page.
Therefore, Google prioritizes crawling pages based on the content update rate.
By regularly updating old content, you can improve your freshness score, making it easier for your time-sensitive content to rank.
Social media marketing brand report from ahrefs; as expected, they have to update their content very frequently.
Prioritize Content That Is Already Ranking
If your content isn’t at the top, an update won’t be enough to get to the top. Here are some resources to help you rank your content:
- 10 Free Ways to Get to the First Page of Google
- How to Rank for Keywords in 10 Steps
- The Complete Guide to SEO Basics
Update your content…
Changing an article’s publication date and year in the title is a common practice, but it’s hardly new to Google. As we mentioned before, changes to the body of the page are more important to Google than adjusting date/time labels. Therefore, you need to update the core content of the page.
While creating fake freshness may increase your CTR, at least in the short term, if users still find your content to be somewhat outdated, it may result in a shorter dwell time on your page.
If you end up with weak engagement metrics, that will hurt your rankings.
…then actually change the release date
In his SEO Blueprint training course, Glen Allsopp emphasizes the importance of aligning the publication time Google associates with your URL with the year in your page title.
It is fairly common for articles to be published that do not match the title year.
Submit to Google via Search Console
After updating your core content, you can choose to resubmit your sitemap on Google Search Console if you want to expedite the process of having Google re-crawl the updated content. Google will eventually spot changes on its own, so it’s usually not worth it for smaller changes.
When to update, republish or publish new content
Whether it makes sense to update your content so Googlebot crawls your page more often and ranks it higher depends on how important freshness is to your query.
Here’s what Ahrefs suggested:
When freshness matters: Update pages frequently or publish new articles on the topic regularly to keep up with demand.
When freshness matters but not: Update pages regularly and consider revising and republishing if rankings start to drop.
When freshness doesn’t matter: focus on creating the best guide on the topic.
So when freshness matters or matters, let’s take a look at your options.
When to update content
While Google pays more attention to major updates, small updates to pages are still important because, as we mentioned, no matter how evergreen a page is, the freshness of a page will decline over time. Examples of small updates include:
- Add a new internal link
- Update platform screenshots
- Adjust the title
- Add a new item to list
This method is a great way to get more traffic from evergreen posts that don’t require major revisions.
When to modify and republish content
Modifying outdated posts/pages and changing the posting date is an effective way to improve freshness.
This becomes important when an article needs to be overhauled to meet visitor demand for up-to-date content. It should earn you a higher freshness score than a simple update.
This approach is best for evergreen topics that resonate with your audience for a long time; and pages where you want to retain backlinks and other beneficial SEO characteristics.
A great example of Sprout Social modding and republishing.
Whenever you republish revised articles, it’s a good idea to share them on social media, just like you would any other new article to increase engagement.
Pro tip: Another option is to combine several outdated articles related to the topic into one updated ultimate guide and redirect all traffic from the old page to the new one. You also won’t end up losing your existing traffic, especially if those old pages are performing well.
When to post new content
A good example of a topic that needs new content regularly is any article that lists and explains trends around a topic.
For example, at Supermetrics, we report on affiliate marketing trends every year. If you search for “affiliate trends,” neither the first or second page of results is older than 2020.
To keep this topic fresh, we write a brand new article every year, featuring new experts and presenting the latest developments.
Another reason for this is that we also target the query “affiliate [current year]”.
Another benefit is that the historical data provided by your old posts is useful for seeing trends over time.
How do I know if I need to refresh my content?
Keeping a close eye on page performance, including traffic trends and engagement, is critical to understanding freshness.
Track performance metrics
For example, a page that doesn’t rank high but attracts a lot of clicks, resulting in a high average visit time on the page and a low bounce rate, will signal to Google that users think your page is relevant and fresh enough for that query.
Over time, following these metrics for your content will provide useful insights into your page performance and whether it needs updating or revision.
You can track these metrics using Google Analytics or by pulling data into a spreadsheet using reporting tools like Supermetrics.
Check keywords and query data
Keyword traffic tends to fluctuate, not just trending topics. So if your page traffic is down, it could also be due to a recent drop in keyword volume for that query.
View position history
Or, there may be new competition for your target keyword and one of the new pages manages to insert fresh content. A brief look at the SERP position history can reveal whether this is the case.
Keep an eye on clicks and impressions
Keeping a close eye on clicks and impressions and the search queries that generate them can help you assess when you need to update your pages to improve freshness.
The purpose of keeping content fresh is to better serve users by ensuring your information is up to date. This should lead to more clicks and engagement, and organically attract links, all of which send a signal to Google that your page should appear at the top of search results.
We’ve covered a lot in this post, so let’s recap:
Freshness is a ranking factor on Google, but only for pages targeting time-sensitive and trending queries.
Frequent updates won’t help your page outperform older authoritative results if recency adds little value to the queries you’re targeting.
The best way to determine the importance of freshness for a particular keyword is to search for that query and look at the top 10-20 results.
If freshness matters, monitor your page performance and only update your content when its rankings start to drop.
Based on performance metrics, you can decide whether to regularly update the page, revise and republish it, or create entirely new content on the topic.