There are countless strategies that can be implemented to boost SERP rankings, some of them take many resources while others not so much. Are you trying to get a competitive edge with your SEO efforts but are running out of ideas?
What if I were to tell you that with only 15 minutes of your time you could boost traffic for your entire website by as much as 45-66%, sounds like black hat territory right?
It is actually an entirely white hat tactic and involves updating your blog post dates.
Read on to see if it really does have an effect on SEO and what kind of benefits can be gained in SERP rankings.
There is no doubt that fresh content outranks older content in many situations , after all the end user in many cases wants content that’s up to date.
There are a few ways that search engines like Google and others determine the freshness of content. This includes the date that a search engine spider first came into contact with a webpage, or the number of links from fresh sites.
However, what might be surprising to website owners is that the blog post date, a value that can easily be altered, is also one of the important factors that determines freshness. This, in turn, influences a SERP ranking by a surprising amount.
Are you skeptical?
Case Study: Razorlight Media
A digital marketing company called Razorlight Media has some conclusive data indicating how a change in blog post dates gave a boost in rankings.
They updated the design of their website, and unintentionally changed the dates of all posts to just a few days ago. The result of that was a direct traffic spike of 62% and an increase of 45% in organic traffic only a week later!
Once they realized what was going on, they changed the dates back to the real ones and back to the altered ones several times in the name of science. They discovered that Google sent them more traffic when dates are altered to be just a few days ago.
However, a number of unanswered questions remain. Was the traffic increase because of a rise in SERP rankings or an increase in CTR?
What effect does turning blog post dates off altogether have on organic traffic? This last question will be answered in the next case study.
Another Case Study: Shout Me Loud
Harsh Agrawal at Shout Me Loud for the sake of the end user experience decided to add the date stamps onto all the site posts.
The idea was to improve the website user experience because there are posts several years old and the audience would like to know if the content they are reading is up to date.
So, blog post dates were added, and a result there was a drop from 10,000 daily views to 6,000 – a drop of around 40%.
This would cause any webmaster to panic, drop what they are doing and investigate. What’s interesting is that once the date stamps were removed, the traffic climbed back up again to normal levels.
This is a conundrum because while it’s great for the user experience to see dates on a post, it’s not in your best interests for search engines to see them (especially if they are really old).
Therefore, the best solution would be to show old date stamps to website visitors exclusively and allow search engines to see new ones.
You’ll get the best of both worlds: a better user experience without sacrificing your hard earned organic traffic.
How long does the boost last from updating the dates?
Moz.com experimented to see how long an SEO boost lasts for after dates were altered. The experiment was conducted on posts that were at least a year old, had a decent amount of traffic beforehand and the total number of posts in the experiment was 16.
The amount of traffic for each post did not bounce around but was static showing stability in the rankings.
After dates were altered every post reported a spike in traffic, some more than others. The overall jump in the organic traffic was 66%. This jump in traffic lasted for around 2 months, before coming back to normal levels.
It’s not a long period in the scheme of things, but when it takes a mere 15 minutes to alter the dates the pay-off is quite impressive. And what’s to stop you from repeatedly altering the date stamps to always be just a few days ago of the real date?
The study also concluded that an improvement in internal linking could be partially behind the rise in SERP’s.
The posts in the study, for example, were moved closer to the homepage navigation from deep within the archive. How internal linking affects your results will depend on the site structure you have implemented.
From the case studies above, we could conclude that altering the date stamps on blog posts does affect your SEO and possibly dramatically in some cases.
Moz.com reported a rise of 66% in organic traffic, whereas RazorLight Media a jump of 45%. It simply backs up what everyone already knows: Google loves freshness for some queries.
However, what most of you probably didn’t know is that this freshness can be faked by changing the date stamps on your website.
It is fair to suggest that you could get an even bigger boost if you actually upgraded the content and included other freshness signals. This may give an added boost but also mitigate the risk of getting some sort of penalty if Google were to realize what you were doing.
We also learned from Moz.com that the effect lasts for up to 2 months, but take that with a grain of salt. This can easily be different for each website. In any case, any extra traffic is going to lead to many more e-mail subscriptions, content shares and ultimately sales.
However, while the traffic boost from faked date stamps is desirable, you will have to sacrifice the end user experience. Your audience will be being misled, as the date the post was published doesn’t match what’s actually displayed (unless you implement some upgrades as suggested above).
Nevertheless, being aware of how blog post dates affect SEO is beneficial and allows you to craft an SEO campaign that gets more results.
As always, take the results of these case studies with a good dose of skepticism and do your own experiments.