Last November, Google rolled out a ranking signal developed to reward fresh website content. The algorithm, dubbed the freshness factor, helps organizations creating timely articles, blog posts and other content improve their search ranking based on the time they published it.
For news outlets or small businesses using news content marketing, the freshness factor was a welcome addition to search rankings. As Google fellow Amit Singhal wrote in Google’s Inside Search blog last November, “Given the incredibly fast pace at which information moves in today’s world, the most recent information can be from the last week, day or even minute, and depending on the search terms, the algorithm needs to be able to figure out if a result from a week ago about a TV show is recent, or if a result from a week ago about breaking news is too old.”
When does freshness count for SEO?
Thirty-five percent of search queries felt the initial effect of the freshness factor. More than anything, the impact demonstrates the value of timeliness on the web.
The development of search and the evolution of its use demanded the algorithm’s creation, Singhal suggested. There are, of course, times when the most recently published information isn’t necessarily the best result. The freshness factor only applies to queries demanding timeliness.
The examples Singhal initially provided speaks to the technology’s application of this signal. When searching for a recipe or a definition of some technology, it’s unlikely that freshness will impact the answer a user wants. However, a search for a sporting event or a trending news story requires the most recent developments. Matt Cutts, Google’s distinguished engineer, said in a recent Webmaster Help video that Google’s algorithm, including the freshness factor, actively seek out any “query that deserves freshness.”
“Sometimes people are searching for something that’s fresh-seeking,” he said. “If you’re searching for an earthquake or something that just happened, that would be a QDF – query that deserves freshness.”
How news content marketing helps capture meaningful freshness
Small businesses that opt for a news content marketing strategy as part of their SEO campaigns can generate favorable search results by covering the latest industry news. Publishing relevant articles and blogs keeps readers and prospects informed, while frequently updated content shows a site is up-to-date on important topics. Identifying topics important to a target audience and relating them to an industry are two cornerstones of effective news content marketing.
Earlier this year, Contentlead highlighted news content marketing as one of several strategies SMBs use to stand out in search. Aside from the SEO benefits of publishing content, it conveys an element of trust among readers. It suggests someone people behind a brand keep track of industry developments and actively offer relevant insight and perspective to a target audience. The freshness factor exists to highlight this content in these situations.
Moreover, data from HubSpot found fresh site content often leads to more visibility and new business opportunities for companies. Seventy-six percent of respondents who said content wins new customers update their site at least two to three time per week. These organizations bring relevant content to their target audiences, and they make sales as a result.
Strong SEO isn’t just about freshness
Even as standing out with freshness helps companies in search, it’s important to remember news content isn’t for everyone.
Cutts said in his video that the freshness factor can be problematic when sites focus too heavily on it. More than anything, he refers to unnecessary site page updates not solely designed to offer users something new and relevant.
“There are over 200 signals that we use,” he said. “The thing I would not do is say ‘so I need to have fresh content, therefore I’m going to change a few words on my pages every day and I’m going to change bylines so that it looks like I have fresh content. That’s not the sort of thing that’s going to lead to higher rankings.”
“The thing I would not do is say ‘so I need to have fresh content, therefore I’m going to change a few words on my pages every day and I’m going to change bylines so that it looks like I have fresh content. That’s not the sort of thing that’s going to lead to higher rankings.” – Google’s Matt Cutts
News content marketing is just one way a small business can stand out in search. If it’s a strong fit, then industry updates should inherently add value for prospects. However, publishing content less frequently that still offers users important information is still beneficial. Google’s search algorithms understand when a more timely article is the best fit. The reverse is true as well. A high-quality article or blog post related to less timely topic will rank well when it applies to a query.
“It’s not the sort of thing where you need to worry about rewriting your pages or changing a few words on your page just so you look fresh,” he continued. “Google is relatively good about trying to suss out when it’s good to be fresh, and when it’s sort of regular search where the web pages that were good yesterday are also good today.”
Don’t focus too heavily on any ranking signal or algorithm
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that SEO is about content and websites that are good for users. Contentlead has frequently highlighted the differences between Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms. While it’s important to deliver high-quality content , focusing too heavily on even Panda and Penguin can lead to lost traffic and dropped search ranking.
“If you’re not in an area about news or in a niche that deserves a lot of freshness, then that’s probably not something you need to worry about at all. In SEO, there is some content (driven by recency), but there is some content that is evergreen that lasts and stands the test of time.” – Google’s Matt Cutts
Like Cutts said, there are more than 200 different ranking signals factored into any search results page. If small businesses publish high-quality news content, some combination of these ranking signals, including freshness, will highlight their content. Moreover, a company opting to deliver weekly content of a more educational nature will appeal for other queries. As long as the focus is always the same, helping users find the best information, a content strategy will engage readers and work toward its desired goals.
“If you’re not in an area about news or in a niche that deserves a lot of freshness, then that’s probably not something you need to worry about at all,” Cutts said. “In SEO, there is some content (driven by recency), but there is some content that is evergreen that lasts and stands the test of time.”