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Keeping up to date with the Google Freshness Update

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Malcolm Slade

Head of Technical SEO

For a long time Google has been trying to overcome the issues of a stale index. Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) was implemented to cover breaking / topical news and Google Caffeine was specifically designed to provide quicker indexation of new and more varied content. Now with the imaginatively named Freshness update, Google takes freshness to a whole new level.

Out-of-date content is a major issue for both search engines and users. If the creator of the content chooses not to explicitly state when the content was created, how can a search engine or user ensure that the content is still valid? Query Deserves Freshness was a major leap forward in ensuring that for trending topics (topics that have a burst of activity), a mixture of fresh and authority content was shown. Here Google takes a risk in saying that we are willing to make X% of the top ten results available for the latest content rather than relying on the algorithm to order results. Google Caffeine was a major infrastructure update aimed at allowing Google to improve all areas of their search functionality including breadth and speed of indexation. Suddenly it became common place for new content (especially on blogs etc.) to be indexed within seconds. The new freshness update, announced officially by Google on 3 November, takes QDF to a whole new level, in effect switching QDF on permanently for a range of queries. This makes a whole lot of sense in that a vast amount of search queries are directly targeted towards the most up-to-date results. “Jamie Oliver Book”, “Leeds United Result”, “Olympics” etc. all have an unstated intent to find the latest information, and these are the queries that Google is targeting with the freshness update. Although Google originally stated that the update will affect 35% of searches, they later clarified this to be in-line with how it expressed the impact of past updates. So six to ten per cent of searches will be noticeably affected by the update. When you consider the kind of searches this is meant to target, it makes more sense.

How will this affect sites?

The vast majority of commercial sites will be unaffected as their primary goal is not to provide time critical information. A search for “beds” or “accident claims” will remain static as there is no noticeable benefit from having fresher results over authoritative. Information providers such as the press, blogs and niche / fan sites will be affected as they sit firmly within the domain of this update.

How can sites benefit from this update?

For sites affected, this update is a double-edged sword. Long term rankings will be easier to achieve through good content without the need for a massively trusted parent domain. That being said, fresh content will rank and provide traffic but this will diminish over time as fresher content appears. To gain any kind of benefit you have to timestamp your content. In an ideal world every piece of content should have a date on it but this is never going to be the case. Google understands this so will be likely looking at three key areas: 1. Date Created – a web server passes details of the document you have requested along with the actual document. One of these details is the creation date, another is the last modified date. Ensure these are correct (you server may be set to 1990 without you knowing it) via checking your header information. 2. XML Sitemap – keep your XML sitemap up-to-date but not only by including new pages. Also ensure that the last-modified field is used whenever a page is updated. 3. RSS – Google own Feedburner. This means they have had access to a massive quantity of RSS data for a long long time. It therefore goes without saying that at some level this update was born out of the analysis of RSS data. Ensure that any form of time critical content is presented via RSS, be it blog content or news. This leads back to a particular gripe of mine when sites have “blogs” that are not actually blogs as they don’t use any standard blogging software and therefore can’t be recognised easily as a blog. Solutions such as Wordpress automatically handle pinging and RSS which all assists with the Freshness update. So in a nutshell, ensure you produce an RSS feed, an updated XML sitemap and your server is time-stamping correctly. Then keep on producing great content that positions you as a thought leader and authority in your particular niche. Good luck! - @SEOMalc