Google has put out a blog post explaining how it determines the dates displayed by listings in search results and outlining helpful guidance and best practice on how to get these right.
Google shows a date when its systems determine it would be useful to do so, so for example for news and other time-sensitive content.
Google wouldn’t be Google without a bit of obfuscation and it was less than precise about defining exactly the factors govern which dates shown:
“Google determines a date using a variety of factors, including but not limited to: any prominent date listed on the page itself or dates provided by the publisher through structured markup.”
To be fair, Google says all factors can be prone to issues which is why it doesn’t depend on a single one. Publishers might not provide a clear date or the structured data may be lacking or incorrect. So, it looks at multiple factors to determine a best estimate of when a page was published or significantly updated.
Google offers the following guidance for publishers and site owners.
How to specify a date
- Show a clear date prominently on the page.
- With structured data, use datePublished and dateModified schema with the correct timezone designator for AMP or non-AMP pages.
Google says these items clearly require a correct date for when they were created or substantially updated and specific guidelines for Google News are available via Google Help. Google also reminds publishers not to artificially freshen articles without a significant update.
Further best practice
In addition to the significant information above, Google says publishers should follow these best practices:
- Show when a page has been updated
- Use the right timezone
- Be consistent in usage
- Don’t use future dates or dates related to what a page is about
- Follow Google’s structured data guidelines
- Troubleshoot by minimizing other dates on the page
For more details on the above, see Google’s blog post.
We know Google values relevant, up-to-date content, so it’s advisable for webmasters to get their dates right and Google’s aim is clearly to encourage publishers to improve in this area. In case you were in any doubt, the post was followed up by Google’s Danny Sullivan who tweeted
“Suffice to say, we didn't do a fresh post with guidance without the intent of wanting to improve.”
Showing the wrong date, whether inadvertently or by design, can lead to a loss of credibility for your site so it's worth following Google's best practice guidelines outlined above.