Content Freshness and Speed for SEO

Although Google changes its variables and calculations almost every day, one thing is for certain: fresh content still outperforms old content, when everything else is equal. The other major factor weighing in against my search ranking had been speed and instability issues. These two factors brought me back from page 10 to 3, so there is really just a small hill to get back to where this site used to be.

I was actually reminded of the importance of content freshness due to an editing error of my own. As I was updating my Dreamhost coupon list for 2015 deals, I accidentally set the publication date to Feb. 2014. Within one day, Google picked up the new (old) published date and set me back about fifteen spots on the search results. Now, with the 2015 publication date set in again, I’m right back at the page 3 spot.

A long way back

Compared to a year ago, however, the third page is a great place to be. Around the same time an old employer talked me in to taking a full time consulting job, someone decided they were going to hijack my server and turn it in to another zombie in a DDOS chain. It took me almost a full year to identify and fix every vulnerability and exploit they could find in a fairly standard WordPress install on a fairly standard LAMP.

So anyway, those constant attacks were screwing up my page load speeds and causing my server to shut down once or twice a day. When that was going on, I was set back to the 10th page of results.

Anyway, those two factors can seem small, but it says a lot about your website.

First thing first

Even before you start to worry about promotion and marketing, there are essential questions to answer: Are the servers running well? Can the site handle all the requests it gets, in a timely manner? Is it safe for surfers? These details provide a lot of information to Google about the competence of your technical team!

Is the existing content regularly kept up to date, or is it still showing 1999’s price list for beanie babies? Is new content being added in? These details also provide a lot of information about what kind of knowledge a website can provide. The world doesn’t stand still, and the web is only speeding things up. If you want to keep a monument to the Geocities days – that’s fine. You just shouldn’t expect to get a whole lot of attention from Google or the other search engines.

Speed, stability, and freshly updated content is an essential backbone to any successful website, but that alone still isn’t enough to top the search results. The next question I’ll have to face is whether or not I’ve got enough time in between consulting jobs to cross the real hurdle: a regular posting schedule and social engagement. As of February 2015, it really seems like the only way for a small publisher to crack in to the search results that are typically held by large firms with larger marketing budgets. In fact, realizing the full advantage large firms have now in a post-Penguin web had a lot to do with my willingness to take on a full-time contractual commitment.

Can a little guy still compete? Let’s find out!

Update 2020:

Content freshness has never mattered more than it does today! If your old posts are gathering dust for too long, Google is likely to ship them out of the index and off to the archives.

Information from five or ten years ago isn’t necessarily relevant anymore, and the algorithm is constantly on the lookout for posts and pages that haven’t been updated in a long time. If you’re not collecting comments and backlinks, and your information hasn’t updated, how is anyone supposed to know or trust that it is up to date?

Content freshness absolutely matters, and that means it’s always a good time to go take a look at your content. Some of it may age like a fine wine, but you’re more likely to find a lot of mess that needs to be cleaned up with the advantages of hindsight.

Oh, and changing the publication date isn’t enough to “update” it anymore. Google knows that if nothing else has changed, that date doesn’t tell us much about the accuracy and freshness of the content. Make sure to look for any outdated info and try to add some more context to your old work!

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