Why we date stamp posts (and why you should too)
Blog posts on Conversioner are date stamped for a reason. Date stamping is an easy way for you to judge the newness and relevancy of our posts in the rapidly changing world of optimization.
So why would you not want to date stamp your posts?
Well there is a lot of debate amongst bloggers about date stamping, and the advantages and disadvantages of not date stamping posts. Jo Pulizzi triggered a lengthy discussion on Facebook when he made the comment that posts without a date drive him crazy. Lots of people responded with comments about the pros and cons of publishing a date on content.
This debate is only likely to continue as the number of blog posts published every day increases. There are almost three million published every day and it’s impossible to know how many do or don’t have a date stamp.
The case against date stamping
The main argument for not having a date stamp on blog posts is the fear that people will dismiss an evergreen post unfairly just because it is not newly published. The worry is that human psychology subconsciously means that a person reading something that is timeless will see a date and automatically think “old” or “out of date” and dismiss it.
This type of dismissal not only applies when someone reads a post, but also prior to them landing on the site. With dates appearing in search results does this mean that people will skip clicking on results with older dates?
The following illustrates the argument.
Here are the four search results from the second page of doing a search for “Wordpress Ecommerce Plugin Reviews”. As you can see three of the four results show a published date ranging from October 2013 back to October 2011. The result from Hongkiat for example doesn’t show a published date.
The argument is that if you’re looking for relevant results you’re more likely to click on a recent post or one without a date; that this will result in sites with recent published dates or no dates getting more visitors. Interestingly in this example, the post on Hongkiat is actually over 2 years old based on the age of the comments on it.
The other unknown is whether Google treats date stamps as a variable within its algorithm. If it does it might give higher relevance to newer content over older published posts. Again this is the source of a lot of speculation.
There are a number of high profile bloggers who I suspect don’t have dates on their posts for these reasons, for example Jeff Bullas, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, Razor Social, Write to Done, and Copyblogger.
But before you decide to remove your published date, consider the counter argument for having dates on posts. Having a published date offers a degree of credibility and provides a higher trust factor.
The case for date stamping
It enables a person when looking at their search results to make a more informed decision on which results they click on. They can decide on the relevancy and whether the information may be sufficiently up-to-date.
By removing the timestamp from your article you reduce the ability for the reader to decide whether they are reading something that has current information or outdated information.
Take the situation where you are looking to add a shopping cart to your website. You do a search for “shopping cart comparisons” so you can compare the different ecommerce software available. Shopping cart solutions are constantly adding or updating features all the time. A post with reviews of different ecommerce solutions written over a year ago could be out of date with newer entrants or new features now being available. You’d be pretty clueless on the relevancy of the post if you couldn’t see the date the review was published. The person reading the post could end up making a bad decision based on out of date information or think the site is woefully misinformed.
Either way it is not exactly a recipe for building long-term sustainable relationship with a site. Timestamp is like a food use by date. By using them you arm your readers with the information that enables them to decide how useful your information is.
There are a growing number of people who have the habit of always looking for a date on a post before clicking through on search results or reading it. Or if up to date information is essential they might refine their Google searches to within a period like the last 12 months. Either way, not having a published date on your post means your content will be excluded.
Refreshing evergreen content
A good idea if you do publish evergreen content with a published date is to regularly review and update any sections if out of date. You can then show an “original” and an “updated” published date so at least people know the information was refreshed.
There’s an absence of any factual consensus on whether it is better to publish a date stamp or not. The key then is to make a decision based on personal preference and what you believe to be best for your audience. Personally I prefer having a date and enabling the reader to make up their own mind on whether the post has passed its use by date.
If you have a blog, have you made a conscious decision about date stamping? Or do you have a personal preference when reading other people’s content? We’d love to hear your perspective on the debate.
by Geoff Austin
Geoff spends his time writing about entrepreneurship, startups and ecommerce. He is CMO at ecommerce company Selz.com which makes it seriously simple for entrepreneurs and small business owners to sell online in minutes with no coding. You can follow Geoff on twitter or Google+.