Fresh Content SEO Tutorial updated September 2019, minor update March 2020.

An SEO question that arises from time to time is, does Google prefer fresh SEO content?

Does Google Prefer Fresh Content?
Does Google Prefer Fresh Content?

And if Google does prefer fresh content, would simply changing the date or making minor updates result in a Google rankings boost due to some kind of freshness factor?

The above is the sort of SEO questions asked by those new to search engine optimization and on the various SEO forums where there’s a tendency to state as an SEO fact Google prefers fresh content vs old content without actually proving it’s true!

SEO Misinformation is Pervasive, Google Prefers Fresh Content is NOT an SEO Fact
SEO Misinformation is Pervasive, Google Prefers Fresh Content is NOT an SEO Fact

SEO misinformation is pervasive, concepts like “Google prefers fresh content over old content” is repeated over and over again on blogs etc… as a well known SEO fact by people who do NOT understand search engine optimization resulting in hundreds of thousands of webmasters being misinformed!

A Google search for “Google prefers fresh content” shows just how pervasive this is, a few select quotes:

  • 66. Page Age: Although Google prefers fresh content, an older page that’s regularly updated may outperform a newer page. –
  • This is because Google prefers fresh content to stale content. –
  • 2. Google prefers fresh content –
  • The reason for this being that Google prefers fresh content and this helps it rank higher up in search results. –
  • Remember, Google prefers fresh content to old one. –

All these and many more articles regarding SEO are wrong.

What is Google Fresh Content?

For this SEO tutorial fresh content would be an old webpage that’s been recently updated: not a new webpage, obviously a new webpage is always fresh content and Google loves new content under some scenarios like news sites.

This tutorial is looking at whether the act of updating already indexed webpages equals better Google rankings and possible black hat SEO ways to game Google by tricking the search engine into believing an old piece of content is fresh and so should be ranked higher.

If the SEO experts who state as an SEO fact fresh content is ranked higher by Google are correct, then by varying title tags, alt attributes, h1, h2, h3 headings, anchor text of links, basic body text etc… should gain a Google freshness boost.

Black Hat SEO Tricks
Black Hat SEO Tricks

A black hat SEO approach to generating fresh content might be along the lines of build a list of related phrases you want to target.

Take the list of related keyword phrases and every time a webpage is visited randomize parts of the content (not hard to do with a PHP driven website). This would be gaming Google, deliberately trying to trick Google into believing a webpage has been updated!

You might put the random phrases within a heading for example (that’s a H3 heading below):

Use A Random Fresh Content SEO Phrase Here

It wouldn’t be difficult to create a few derivatives of a heading and load them randomly.

Do this with other parts of the content** and IF the SEO experts who believe there’s a Google freshness factor are right, it should generate a Google fresh page in the eyes of the search engines ranking algorithm: Google will be tricked into believing you’ve been frantically writing new fresh SEO content.

** It would be easy to create content where words/phrases mean the same thing. In the text above “IF the SEO experts who believe” would have the exact same meaning if I wrote “IF the SEO consultants who believe” or “IF the SEO gurus who believe”. A simple PHP script which randomly chooses one of the three SEO experts/SEO consultants/SEO guru phrases on every page load would result in a unique page on every page load.

Every time Google visits a black hat SEO page like this it will think it’s been updated with new fresh content and give it a ranking boost for being so lemon fresh :-)

But does it actually work?

SEO Myth – Fresh Content = Higher Google Rankings

Unfortunately, there’s one enormous flaw in this “SEO fact”, most stuff you find on SEO forums, even the best SEO forums is a bunch of made up tosh based on circumstantial evidence at best (no real scientifically generated evidence to back up the SEO claims) the search engines preferring fresh content over never changing content is one of those widely believed SEO myths.

I wrote the above way back in 2008 when Google wasn’t that smart and didn’t have machine learning and hadn’t added news to it’s listings. In 2020 as I once again update this SEO tutorial, my original article, though still true in relation to gaming Google (don’t risk it), didn’t cover the changes to the ever evolving Google.

If you run a news site updates/freshness is where the traffic is, (though don’t use risky black hat SEO techniques to trick Google news into believing your news content is fresh) but for most other websites there’s no boost for updating content per se.

I have noticed with some news websites the tendency for them to add a piece of news content and for the news item to be updated with minor changes. I suspect they are to some degree gaming Google news: it works.

Fresh Content SEO Myth
Fresh Content SEO Myth

I’m afraid for most websites (non-news) it’s not a simple case of update old content = automatic SERPs boost due to the fresh content, Google isn’t that dumb.

Poorly informed webmasters come to conclusions like this in the following way.

Had this webpage for ages and not updated for years, doing OK in Google, but not great. Revamped the webpage/website and Google gave it better SERPs almost over night and sends it more traffic, Eureka Google prefers recently updated content (fresh content) over old static/stale content. Everybody should update their old webpages for better SERPs.

Reality check: this doesn’t occur every time a webpage is updated (if it did, it would be easy to get to number 1 in Google for any SERP), sometimes a change will result in SERPs drops (less traffic).

Most likely real reason for the SERPs improvement is either coincidence: maybe new backlinks finally kicked in, Google changed it’s ranking algorithm or the new content is simply better search engine optimized and so does better in Google due to being better optimized content.

Think about it, a webmaster who frequents and posts on SEO forums etc… wouldn’t deliberately update a webpage with poorly search engine optimized content, when a webmaster like this changes an old webpage there’s a good chance it’s going to be better SEO optimized afterwards.

Even if it did result in worse rankings, they might not associate the SERPs drop with the update, people tend to look for positives in SEO, they want to find the next Google SEO trick to gain better Google rankings.

This also explains why changes don’t always result in SEO improvements, some changes aren’t always an SEO improvement: there’s a lot of bad SEO information out there, easy to make a webpage less optimized following bad SEO advice!

Google SEO & Fresh Content
Google SEO & Fresh Content

Fresh SEO Content Per Se Does NOT = Better Google SERPs
Better Search Engine Optimized Content = Better Google SERPs

SEO Benefits of Fresh Content

This doesn’t mean there’s no indirect benefit to updating content. If you use WordPress for example, updating the date of a Post puts it back on the Home page and/or to the top of the relevant Categories. In the short-term the old Post with a new date will be linked from the Home page and if you use a Recent Posts widget might be linked sitewide. The higher authority internal links will have a positive SEO impact, BUT it will be at the expense of the WordPress Posts which will lose their Homepage and Recent Posts widget links: some SERPs go up, others go down.

If dates are shown and listed by Google under your sites SERPs, updating the dates will make the content appear fresh to users. It could result in a higher click Thru Rate (CTR) from Google. This article was updated in September 2019 (rewrote a LOT of the content), but the date listed by Google was May 2008, would you be more or less likely to click the search result or go to another result with a 2019 date because you assumed this article was out of date?

Because of this user behaviour I updated the date of this SEO tutorial to the day I updated it. Update: I later modified the WordPress SEO theme I use to list the MODIFIED date rather than the published date, so even a small update changes the post date. I wrote this update on March 8th, 2020 and that was the date shown to Google and users after I clicked the Update button.

SEO Content Writing

Since there appears to be no DIRECT SEO benefit to having ever changing fresh content on an existing webpage, varying your content just to make it fresh could be a very bad SEO idea. Much better SEO wise to write what you think is the best SEO content for each webpage and only update when an update is needed.

This webpage for example first went live in 2008, I’ve updated it multiple times, but NEVER just so it’s ‘fresh’.

Disadvantages of Ever Changing ‘Fresh’ Content

If a webpage is targeting a set of related SERPs like:

  • What is fresh content?
  • Does Google Prefer Fresh Content?
  • Why fresh content is important?
  • Fresh Content SEO Tutorial
  • How do you write fresh content?
  • Fresh Content SEO

The above are some of the SERPs this SEO article is targeting.

The best title tag would be one of the above phrases or a derivative, I’m using: “Fresh Content SEO Tutorial”. I use the same main phrase for the H1 heading.

If this webpage ranks high for the Fresh Content SEO Tutorial SERP in Google, some of that rank will be due to the title tag and the H1 heading, why would I change the title tag/H1 heading just to make it appear fresh for Google?

If I built a PHP script (a WordPress plugin) to randomly change the title tag to the 7 target phrases above when Google re-indexes the webpage this webpages ranking for the “Fresh Content SEO Tutorial” Google SERP will vary based on how optimized the page is for that particular phrase.

Sometimes this webpage would be better optimized for the SERP and other times worse, this pages rankings would fluctuate overtime! That doesn’t sound like a good SEO tactic, how would I track which change resulted in the most traffic?

Since you are trying to trick Google into believing the content is freshly written, that’s black hat SEO and could result in a Google ranking penalty.

Yes you can probably make some small changes to a webpage that won’t impact it’s SERPs, but make the wrong changes and your going to have a negative impact on that pages SERPs and from my perspective it’s better to aim for one highly optimised page to using less optimised phrases in key areas of content in the misguided hope Google likes recently updated ‘fresh’ content.

Put your valuable time into actually updating your content, like I have with this tutorial many times over the past decade or so and write new fresh content on brand new webpages. You are more likely to generate fresh traffic from a new webpage targeting a new set of SERPs vs trying to game Google.

David Law

David Law : Technical SEO Expert with 20+ years Online Business, SEO, Search Engine Marketing and Social Media Marketing experience... Creator of multiple WordPress SEO Themes and SEO Plugins. Interests: wildlife, walking, environmental issues, politics, economics, journalism, consumer rights.

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