I’ve been blogging for 15 years, but I’d never given much thought to the best way to timestamp my blog content.
Then I started writing a book called Confidence signals: the new PR, which required almost daily online research. The experience has turned me into someone with surprisingly passionate opinions about timestamps.
Where’s the fresh stuff?
When I go to the supermarket, I tend to shop on the periphery rather than the inner aisles. That’s because supermarkets are generally laid out the same way, with fresh foods — meat, fish, produce, dairy — occupying the outer walls. I go to the middle of the store when I want canned goods that can support my family after a zombie apocalypse.
However, while doing my book research, I discovered that no such separation standard exists with most blog content – for brands or publishers. When I search to learn more about a topic, I randomly come across the following:
- Timestamped messages that provide current information
- Timestamped posts and updates to ensure freshness
- Timestamped messages that provide timeless information
- Undated posts that provide current or timeless information
- Timestamped messages that provide outdated information
- Undated posts that provide outdated information
The relative usefulness of such posts closely matches the order in which I’ve listed them. Let’s take a closer look at each category to understand why.
1. Timestamped messages with timely information
This is the gold standard. If your post has a timestamp of 2020 or 2019, I know it’s new content.
The only downside is that a new timestamp doesn’t tell me much about your own research standards. Sometimes I find links to “recent studies” from 2012 that have outlived their usefulness (even well-known publications are guilty of this). I was pleased to see that when producing content for Forbes Councils, they not only timestamp posts, but also require cited research to be no more than three years old.
Publishing standards vary, but a recent timestamp is the best first step to identifying relevant, quality content.
2. Timestamped posts and updates to ensure freshness
Of course, if you have a blog that has been around for a while, not all of your content will have recent publishing dates. So how do you keep it relevant? The best way is to update your posts periodically and include a timestamp of the most recent update in addition to the original timestamp.
Most advanced publishers know that the majority of blog traffic comes from older posts, so if you can keep them current, both your visitors and Google will reward you for it.
Make it a point to go through all of your posts — at least the ones that received traffic — at least once a year to read and update the content.
3. Timestamped messages with timeless information
This one is a bit tricky. If the message has a recent timestamp, I know it’s fine to use. But if it has an old timestamp, I’ll have to read the piece to determine if it’s relevant enough to still use it because it’s about high-level trends that don’t change that often, historical research, or general marketing wisdom. .
Even if your information is truly timeless, it’s still a good idea to add an updated timestamp on a regular basis. It tells me that you’ve recently vetted your content for relevance, so I don’t have to do it for you.
4. Undated posts with timely or timeless information
This kind of content can be helpful, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. If your post is undated, I have no idea when you wrote it, so I’ll have to find out for myself if it’s still current or relevant to me. I may be able to tell from the context whether it is recent (for example, if you mention that Trump is president, I know it is more recent than if you mention that Obama is president).
I could click on a link and find that it points to an interesting study from 2020. Pay dirt! Or maybe I’m clicking on a link that throws a 404 error because the outdated research the post links point to isn’t even online anymore. Frustrating.
5. Timestamped messages with outdated information
The bad news is that I can’t use outdated information. The good news is if you tell me that right away with a timestamp from 2011, you won’t be wasting my time.
6. Undated messages with outdated information
This type is the worst of all. I have to scan your post, click the outlinks, check for comment timestamps, or do other detective work to determine that your content is worthless to me. Please don’t make me check your source code or the Wayback Machine to see when you published a post.
Time-stamped and trusted content
Since writing about the ways brands build trust online, it’s occurred to me that content timestamps can be an important trust signal for brands.
To return to the grocery store metaphor, what’s the first thing you do when you pick up those steaks for dinner? You check the expiration date.
“Best before” or “best before” dates are a relatively new phenomenon, having emerged in the UK in the 1970s. You may be surprised to learn that the USDA in the United States does not require foods to have an expiration date, except in the case of infant formula. Yet food manufacturers add those labels to their products.
To build trust.
Research has shown that consumers view best before dates as quality indicators. And it’s not that hard to see timestamped content in the same light.
Let’s face it: why do so many brands and publishers refuse to timestamp their posts? In the early days of blogging, all content was timestamped. It wasn’t a blog if the posts weren’t clearly dated and in reverse chronological order.
At some point, someone got smart and said, “You know what? Visitors bounce when they see old content, and Google doesn’t like it either. So let’s just scrap the dates and no one will be the wiser.”
That may be smart, but it’s also deceptive. Your visitors – and your buyers – may be wondering what else you are misleading about.
When you spend the time and creativity it takes to create quality content, it’s well worth the relatively small extra effort to keep that content up to date and share that status with your visitors. They will trust you all the more for it.
More resources on using content to build trust
How to Gain Customer Trust and Loyalty with Unfiltered Marketing: Stephen Denny on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]A 12-step checklist for creating great website content [Infographic]
Content lifecycle management: the key to transforming your customer experience