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Should You Change the Publish Date of a Post for SEO?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

Today’s question is, “What criteria does Google look at when they are trying to figure out the last time a blog post or article was updated?”

“I have some blog posts that need updating. Some need a few tweaks. Others need major overhauls.”

“But I need to know what they are looking for when reconsidering the content of the page. Right now, we’re submitting them manually. We’ve heard that newer content gets a SEO boost.

So is that true? If you change the publish date of a blog post, does Google look at it differently? Does it get a SEO boost?

How Does Google Crawl Previously Indexed Content?

Google checks your pages against the last version it crawled and indexed. If the page changed, that new version of the page will be indexed.

How often does Google crawl your website?

It depends on how often you publish new pages. Most websites are crawled by Googlebot at least once a month. If you publish material on a consistent basis, that usually tells Googlebot to crawl your website more often.

Major media or new sites that publish several times per day will be visited by Googlebot every day.

A lot depends on the crawl budget for your website as well.

What Is the Crawl Budget?

The more important or popular your website is, the longer Googlebot will spend crawling the site when it visits. This is why page speed is important, besides making the site more user-friendly. The faster Googlebot can crawl and index pages on a large site, the more often the content will be updated in the Google index.

If you’ve ever seen old versions of your pages in Google search results, this is one reason. Every time you make a change to a page, Googlebot still has to come to your website, and crawl the new version of the page. It doesn’t happen instantaneously.

Googlebot has so much time allocated for each website on it’s regular itinerary. The more you publish, the more popular the site, the faster the pages render, the more often changed pages will be updated in the Google index — which is the pool of web pages that the search results are drawn from.

The Modified Date and Published Date

One of the things that your website may or may not output in Structured Data are the published and the modified dates. You can test pages on your own website by using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Below is a screenshot of a recent article published on this website.

Structured Data from a web page

Every website, Content Management System (CMS), or WordPress theme will be slightly different, but what Google looks for are the original date the page was published, and the date it was last modified.

Sometimes, in search results, you may see either the original publish date, or the date the article was last modified, if the page outputs Structured Data.

If there is no Structured Data to go by, Google will compare the page to the last version it encountered.

Content “Freshness” and SEO

Content freshness was something many people said affected the SEO of a website in years past. So, sometimes people will change the publish date of an article in order to make Google think the article is newer, even if no changes have been made to the page.

Google will compare the last version of the page to the version it recently crawled. So changing the date without changing the content of the page is not going to “boost” your SEO.

You would have to make significant changes to the page in order to improve it, to make it rank higher.

Best Practices for Publishing Content

To make Google see your site as authoritative, it is better to publish in-depth content on a consistent basis, rather than short articles on a daily basis.

Creating articles or resource pages that answer questions in depth usually rank better than short articles published “just to publish something”.

If you publish one a month or once a week, keep a consistent schedule, and focus on quality.

Changing the dates on your articles doesn’t fool Google.

Remember that websites that commit to building up a library of good content usually do better in SEO, because they have more opportunities to rank.

Every page of content you create is another page that has a chance to rank.

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

12 comments on “Should You Change the Publish Date of a Post for SEO?

  1. Thanks a lot for this. I have learnt that I should publish long articles once a month or even once a week, rather than posting short articles everyday. Once again, thank you!

  2. So in this article, I notice that at the top of the post, it says “Updated June 1, 2019.” So how was that achieved exactly? Was June 1 the last modified date in the admin? And you manually added the “Updated” word or does your theme have some conditional logic to add that automatically if there is a modified date different from the original publish date?

  3. HI,

    How to Update your Content Every week without changing the dates. I have seen some sites like that. Ex- gethuman com. This site updating his full site every week without changing anything. Not getting any change date penalty.

    Can you tell me how they can do it ?

    1. Hi Catys:

      Any site can change the publish date on their articles. There is no “penalty” for doing so. However, there is no benefit from changing the date either. Any signal that can be easily manipulated (changing a publish date) is not a good signal for what should rank highest.

      Many people still say changing the date can improve SEO, though I’ve never seen a study that proves this. “Content Freshness” was an idea that used to be floated in SEO circles about six or seven years ago, so that may be where it originated.

      What you are talking about is changing the content itself. There is no “penalty” for that either. In fact, I would say there is only upside in improving your content on a regular basis.

      Google only looks at the state of the page the past time it encountered the page (the last time Googlebot crawled the page). The page is assessed on that most recent state.

      Let me know if that makes sense.

      – John

  4. Hi John

    Really useful article – thank you very much!

    I have a dilemma. I want to publish some content to Medium as part of the Medium Partner Program. Some of my material is a few months old and Medium prefers new content. Would Medium recognize an ‘update’ or am I better off changing the date of the ‘published date’ of my post? It’s worth saying that I will be improving and updating the posts before I import them and add the canonical link.

    I figure I won’t be posting all my content on Medium, just a few select pieces so even if I need to change the published date it would only be on a small number of posts on my site.

    Your opinion would be much appreciated!

    Thanks

    HH

    1. Hi HH:

      As far as I understand it (and I’m not an expert on publishing on Medium), but they want new material on their platform.

      If you publish articles on your own website, then republish on Medium with a canonical to the original article on your website, that shouldn’t be a problem.

      If the goal is to maximize views on Medium, and views on your own website aren’t as important, than do whatever Medium says as far a publish date. But as far as I know, you shouldn’t need to change the publish date on your own website articles.

      Thanks,
      John

  5. Hi. I agree we should not change the date for Google. But here my point is, can we do it for the readers? Many readers’ mindset is that they see the ‘date published’ and decide whether to consider the article or leave. So keeping this point in mind can we change the date published (of course by updating it with fresh information). Please share your views.

    1. Hi Anchal:

      What I like to do is put both the published date, and the date the article was last updated. This way, the readers can see the information is not out of date, but current with new and fresh info.

      – John

      1. Thank you John for your guidance. I checked in WordPress, there is no option to show the ‘last updated’ date that I can show. It only has a ‘Date published’ option. Any suggestions for its solution? Sorry to bother you.

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