Don’t relabel your old content as new; it’s a lousy SEO tactic

Content freshness is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm and has been that way for years. Google tends to favor unique, recent, and timely content on the search results page. However, there’s a repercussion stemming from this – many websites would relabel their old content as new to try to game the algorithm. This is not a good SEO practice, and we’ll discuss why that won’t help you rank better in this post!

Google likes fresh content, and so do we

Why does Google favor fresh content? It’s because we, as users, like new content. 

We always want the most recent and up-to-date information. Whether it’s about the latest fashion trend, the latest face massager, or the latest SEO tips. Freshness is even more important for some topics, like medical information or breaking news. Of course, Google wants to meet its user’s demands. That’s why the search engine has introduced algorithm updates to help rank fresh and timely content.

What does Google mean by “fresh” content?

Google introduced the “Freshness update” way back in 2011. Since then, there have been multiple updates to the algorithm. But some things stay the same – fresh content is more favorable to rank high.

But what does Google mean by “fresh”?

Google defined three categories of fresh content in 2011, including:

  • Recent events or hot topics, such as scientific discoveries, an earthquake, or a new movie. 
  • Regularly recurring events, such as football matches or government elections.
  • Frequent updates, such as a new phone or new Google updates.

Google also broke down the type of queries that demand “fresh” information in Google’s Search Quality Rating Guideline:

  • “Breaking news” queries, like a natural disaster.
  • Recurring event queries, like a sporting event or fashion show.
  • Current information queries, like the population of a country or inflation rate.
  • Product queries, like the new iPhone or new TV.

It’s good to know that not all queries and topics need the most recent update. For instance, queries that aim to learn about the history of World War 2 don’t require the most recent articles. An extensive report from years ago can contain just as good information.

Can you change the date of your content to make it fresh?

Many websites try to trick the algorithm into thinking they have fresh content. One way they do this is by changing the date on a page’s title or publishing date.

Some websites even go so far as to change the date/year on their page title or in their content in advance so they’re ahead of other competitors when that date hits.

For instance, if you search for ‘Best TV to buy’, you might get a search result like this:

At the time of writing this post, it’s not 2023 yet. And you can even see the publish date of one link is December 2022. Most likely, it’s an evergreen article that lists good TVs in 2022 and was frequently updated throughout the year. But since new TVs in 2023 don’t come out until later in the year, and people will search for ‘the best TVs in 2023’, these sites use this approach to stay ahead of the competition.

For the most part, this hack doesn’t work, and we advise you not to do the same! You won’t get a ranking boost by doing so. Even if you do, you’ll eventually fall off when other websites start to write better content on the same topic.

And we’re not saying this out of the blue, either. Take the word of Google’s Search Advocate John Muller, who pointed out in one of his tweets:

And that wasn’t the first time he answered that question:

Now, you shouldn’t always flat-out believe everything Google says, but in this case, they are right. Don’t “fake” your fresh content. A ranking boost doesn’t happen that easily. You’ll have to work hard and create fresh and valuable content to improve your ranking.

Fun fact (or just a fact) – We used to support current month and current year variables in the ‘SEO title’ field in the preview tool of Yoast SEO. But we decided to remove those altogether, partly because we don’t want our users to use them to “fake” refresh old content without putting in the work!

Does updating existing content make it fresh again?

Yes, it does! But it depends on how much you’ve added to that content.

If you only fix a few typos and add a few sentences here and there, that doesn’t count as making it fresh. On the other hand, if you make a significant update to a page, or frequent updates with new information, that does matter.

For instance, we’ve recently updated an article on page speed, adding much more information. The ranking for that post improved significantly after the update. That’s due to Google’s algorithm having to re-evaluate the post and compare it to other articles on the same topic.

The search performance chart of one of our recently updated post

In conclusion

Don’t try to trick the algorithm into thinking that you have fresh content while you don’t. You won’t gain any SEO benefit from relabeling your old evergreen content as new. Instead, put in the hard work and update your content with new and useful information. If your content is great, Google will give you the ranking boost you deserve! Want to learn how? Check out Marieke’s article on keeping your content fresh and up to date.

Coming up next!


4 Responses to Don’t relabel your old content as new; it’s a lousy SEO tactic

  1. George
    George  • 1 month ago

    I always wondered: if an article didn’t get in search top results, and I’ll add more related text and other useful information, then can it put my article higher in search results? Or is it better to make a new article for the same topic?

    • Tyler Nguyen
      Tyler Nguyen  • 1 month ago

      Hi George,

      Yes, adding new and relevant information to a post may get it to rank higher in the search results. This is often our advice – to update an existing post instead of writing a new one. But it’s not a guarantee that you’ll rank higher. It depends on the pages that you’re competing with. So you’ll want your page to have more relevant and unique information while being faster and easier to use.

      In some cases, it is okay to just delete a post and write a new one. For instance, if you have an old post that is ranking really low or not ranking at all, and you have no backlink pointing to it, it’s perfectly fine to delete it and write a new and better post.

      I hope this answer is helpful!

      Tyler

  2. Retired SEO
    Retired SEO  • 1 month ago

    Hello,

    Nice article, but you are missing the point.

    We don’t change the date to get a “boost”, we change it to get the page re-crawled.

    The header, sidebar and footer are parts of a page, and they get changed very often, enough to make Google change the way it evaluates a page, even if the page content area itself has not changed.

    And unless you change the date, Google may not come back for months or even years on a very large site to recrawl that particular page, which has in fact changed, simply via normal site maintenance, where links are added or removed and content is added or removed from the header, sidebar or footer.

    Just saying,
    Retired SEO.

    • Tyler Nguyen
      Tyler Nguyen  • 1 month ago

      Hi,

      Thank you for sharing your opinion on the topic!

      Firstly, we’d like to understand the motivation/requirement to get a page re-crawled. If you want the page to be re-crawled so Google can re-evaluate it, then you probably won’t see a big ranking increase if the main content is not up to par with other pages that rank higher.

      Secondly, we do believe that artificially changing a post’s publish date or changing the date in the post title won’t help it be re-crawled (for the most part).

      We have the XML sitemap to assist with crawling. The XML sitemap is automatically updated with the ‘last changed’ value, and we ping Google when any post is saved/updated regardless of what was changed. That almost always triggers a crawl. Next to that, if you’re having problems getting your pages crawled, you probably have other/bigger (quality/ authority/technical) problems to work on.

      I hope this answer is helpful!

      Tyler