Does content freshness matter? Answer: Definitely!

Does fresh content rank better?  Google filed a patent application in 1995 which was granted in 2008 titled “Information retrieval based on historical data“. It talks about scoring a document based on a number of factors, including a documents “freshness” which could be determined in a number of ways.

Does Google use this approach however?  Well, in the most shockingly short video by Matt Cutts I have ever seen, he gives a resounding “It’s a fact” to the question:

Given this, you may well ask, “what is actionable about this for me?”

As a result of the patent and Matt’s comment, some have interpreted this to mean “refresh your content often”. Obviously this is an expensive and high-effort proposition, potentially requiring many different versions of content, varying formulas for meta-tags, etc – with the idea being, if you can update the page, hopefully Google will perceive it to have changed significantly,  it will then be counted as “fresh”, and will hopefully then rank better.

However, this approach is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If you have a page that is ranking #1 for a term, the best thing you can do is to do nothing! Remember, Matt talks about “some queries”, not all. For some queries (like [Justin Bieber]), freshness may be very important to users – for others (like [magna carta]), freshness may not matter at all, or perhaps stale documents are even more desirable.

Let’s say you have 1,000 pages and 50 of those are ranking #1 (or say, #2 through #10 even) for various terms.  In this case, I would argue that for those 50 pages – you should do absolutely nothing;  if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

However, if you have other pages ranking down below position 100 for their terms, I would argue – do something – anything! Perhaps changing or refreshing the content is worthwhile in this case.   Maybe you’ll hit upon a better combination, or perhaps you’ll simply get another shot at breaking into the SERPs, and maybe you’ll just get lucky – who knows – Google moves in mysterious ways.

Let’s say you’ve frozen the 50 pages that are ranking well.  If you update the other 950 pages, perhaps you’ll see a few dozen more pages ranking higher.  Then you can freeze those and have a larger population of high-ranking pages – sort of a “Lather, rinse, repeat” strategy.

3 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I feel as if Matt was answering a different question than the article believes he was. Alas, I suppose only Matt knows for sure. (Well, he wouldn’t know what question, exactly, the article was responding to either. I guess we’re kinda out of luck.)

    But when someone asks “QDF: Fact of fiction,” I take the question to be whether QDF, as an algorithm, indeed exists. (Not that fresher content will necessarily rank better.) Our site has triggered QDF a time or two by updating the on-page content….the result pages started showing dates in the snippets, news results, all that “QDF” stuff. The rankings didn’t change (any more the the usual day-to-day shifting), but QDF was triggered and Google showed those time-sensitive elements that the triggering of QDF is alleged to cause. (I believe that in one of Matt’s videos he rattled off a few of the things you might see when QDF i triggered, but I may be fabricating that memory.)

    And, really, if I were to see a page increase its rankings after a content change, I’d attribute it to increased relevance of the new content. Not that I’ve ever tested that beyond casual observation (perhaps by triggering QDF with content with an intentionally lower LDA score or something).

  2. Gemma says:

    This original content is out of the ordinary. I appreciate that you’ve gone off the beaten path with your points and I agree with most.

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