Freshness is one of the more recent factors that Google has added to its algorithm in the last couple of years. In fact, the Caffeine web indexing system was meant to help it find and identify fresh content among the massive amount of stuff that gets published every day…an impact that affected 6-10% of searches.
Let me show you what this looks like in practice.
Take the US Open. Search for “US Open” and you’ll see these results:
The top news query is only 16 minutes old. The next one is one hour old. More importantly, the scores from the latest games are at the very top, which is Google’s way of trying to guess semantically what the user wants.
But not every piece of content published needs the relevancy that a good freshness score can deliver. Here are some examples of content that could benefit from the freshness score:
- Current news – Whether it’s a riot in Syria or the bailout of a country, you want the most relevant and the freshest piece of content out there. This means the most relevant content could be less than ten minutes old even though it is not the most authoritative.
- Seasonal or bi-annual events – These events include elections or the US Open – events that occur periodically but predictably. Before Caffeine, you might have searched for elections and gotten results from four years ago when you wanted today’s news.
- Practical, but aged content – Some content is really practical but old, and so Google wanted a way to evaluate competing pieces of content based on freshness. Recipes and historical stories are really relevant even if they were written two years ago.
More than likely, you will fall into that last category…useful, but old content. So, let me tell you how to reach the top of the rankings by increasing the freshness of your current content.
Tip# 1 – Creation of new pages will impact freshness
Search engines will judge a website with more pages added differently than a website with fewer pages added. In other words, a blog that publishes content seven days a week will get scored differently than a blog that publishes once a month.
There are pros and cons to each approach. For example, the advantages of more frequent content are:
- Indexing your content frequently - The frequency of your content will train the crawlers when to come back to your site. If you publish content once a month, then the crawlers will more than likely only come back a few times a month. If you publish content on a weekly basis, then they may come around a few times each week…or even daily.
- Raising your authority – New content on a regular basis will suggest to the search engine spiders that you are relevant or at least trying to remain relevant. While not conclusive, that relevancy may indicate to the search engine spiders that you are an expert. The other piece to indicate authority is the credible links coming into your pages and the social signals.
- Increasing your traffic – Study after study indicates that more frequent blogging leads to increase in your rate of traffic.
The disadvantage of publishing frequently is that it is hard to publish quality content consistently. Some of your posts will suffer.
If you publish on a weekly or monthly basis, on the other hand, you may not get the bump in traffic, but you can create high-quality content consistently. Popular blogs that publish less frequently are Useit and Kaiser the Sage. The quality is always exceptional.
You can get the advantages of both approaches. Here’s how:
- Invite other writers – Both Social Media Examiner and KISSmetrics’ blog publish high-quality articles on a daily basis by using guest writers.
- Create a schedule – If you don’t want to use guest writers, you’ll need to discipline yourself. The first step is to have a schedule of posts.
- Brainstorm new ideas – That schedule is going to be full of new ideas you will generate. Pick one or two days a week when you sit down and research and create blog post concepts.
- Write a month-long series – Choose an over-arching theme for a particular month and write one section of that theme each day. At the end of the month, you’ll have a quality guide like 31 Days to Blogging.
Tip #2 – Document changes affect fresh content
Another way you can use freshness to influence rankings is by updating past documents. Let’s review the three elements of updating past documents and how you can influence each element.
The first is the size of the change:
- Review your posts daily – The day after you publish an article, re-read it and make all the changes you find necessary.
- Modify posts when linking to them – When you link to one of your posts from a new article, quickly review that post. Are there any changes in structure you can make? Any new ideas you can add? Do you need to change the headline or image?
- Audit your content – Schedule periodic reviews of old content so that every year you are auditing all of it. For example, every three months you could review 25% of your content.
The second is the rate of change. How often changes are made to a page will also matter how they are scored.
- Design your home page to change daily – If you have a blog, this will happen naturally. An online magazine like Wired changes its home page daily too. Drudge’s home page changes as he updates the headlines. Can you change the image? The headlines?
- Create and update hub pages – A hub page is a location where you centralize articles around a topic. As you publish more articles on these topics, update the hub page with the new links.
- Encourage comments – Comments are a way to generate keyword-rich user-generated content, but they are also a great way to indicate to search engine crawlers that your content is relevant, engaging and valuable. If people aren’t commenting on your articles, then the search engines predict that you are not an authority and will downgrade your page. For a good guide on generating more comments, see the article How to Grow Your Blog by the Rule of 10.
The third is the importance of a page. Your freshness score is influenced by what page you change and how much change you make to that page. Large changes to less important pages might equal very small changes to very important pages. But it’s generally agreed that updating less important pages is better. Here’s what to do:
- Identify your less important pages – The first way you can split your content into important and less important is this: your high-navigational pages like Home and About are important while everything else is less important. Next, identify those posts that don’t get a lot of traffic or social shares.
- Remedy the problem – Ask yourself why the less important posts didn’t get as much attention. Not detailed enough? Was the headline lame? The structure cluttered and unorganized? Whatever the problem is, fix it.
Tip #3 – Time on-page
Google will consider a page on which visitors spend more time fresher than a page on which visitors spend less time. In other words, Google knows that people spend more time on new and relevant content.
Here’s how to increase time spent on-page:
- Use images – BuildZoom discovered that SEO-optimized press releases with images outperformed press releases without images when it came to time on-page. The outcome was 2:47 versus 2:18. By the way, don’t forget to optimize your images for high page load speed.
- Use video – While results may vary, you can expect a bump in time on-page of about 10 percent by using video. The key is placing it in the middle of your content and not at the top of the post.
- Use Facebook plug-ins – Use Facebook social plug-ins, and you can potentially increase time on-site and on-page. This form of social proof helps keep people on a site and can even encourage more comments.
- Increase page load speed – From both an SEO and user perspective, page load speed is important. Search engines can get their cues on page load speed from users. In other words, if users are bouncing from your site while a page is still loading, that could count against you. Here’s how to decrease your page load speed.
- Write compelling copy – Increase your time on-page by writing great content and SEO-friendly posts, which is just another way of saying, “write in such a way that makes people love your content”. Check out the Quick and Dirty Guide to Content Marketing and How to Write SEO-friendly Blog Posts with These 13 Questions.
- Design to highlight content – Another way you can boost time on-page is by displaying your best content with hub pages or “most popular posts” plug-ins. In addition, you could use a WordPress slideshow plug-in to display “Featured” content on the home page.
Tip #4 – New links to page
Your freshness score is also influenced by the rate at which a page gets links and the age of those links. In other words, if you are getting links from new pages, Google will adjust your freshness score more positively than in cases of you getting links from older pages.
That means the way to increase your freshness score is to get more new links. Here’s how to encourage fresh links:
- Stay on top of trends – If you can respond to the hot topic of the moment, then you’ll attract links and social signals. For example, when the Penguin Update rolled out, you could have attracted links by writing a post explaining how to recover from the update. Use Google Trends and Google Insights to help you discover trends.
- Quote authorities – Interview an expert in your industry and then post that interview on your blog. The expert will probably link to it as will some of the bloggers in his or her audience.
- Update an old post – To increase the freshness score for an older post, try to update it in such a way that will encourage people to link to it with new blog posts. Then promote that update.
For the most part, you’ll get most of your links from new pages. It just makes sense…people will be responding to your new content with their new content. But there are times when an older page (like a hub page) will link to your content.
Freshness is just one piece of the Google algorithm puzzle. Learning how to influence it will only get you so far, so it pays to have a comprehensive SEO strategy. That strategy should focus on developing valuable content, which will naturally influence freshness and other factors.
But as you saw, there are some tricks you can use to influence freshness directly and thus influence your search rankings. These tricks specifically address the issue of increasing time on-page, which is why a guide like this is important.
What other methods have you used to influence rankings through freshness?