You’ve surely heard that updating the content on your website is a surefire way to lure the Google freshness algorithm.
In this post, we’ll show you how we exactly followed freshness strategies to update our Amazon affiliate site’s content and saw increasing in organic traffic in just weeks after doing it!
We made use of the Google freshness factor to witness this surge in traffic.
Let’s get started.
Google has affinity to fresh content and ranks it higher in SERPs.
Amit Singhal once said in his blog post:
“Different searches have different freshness needs. This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up to the minute answers.”– Amit Singhal
It makes so much sense.
For example, let’s consider two search queries:
- Best DSLR cameras for beginners
- Anatomy of the human brain
Now, you can easily figure out that the first query needs more fresh content, as new DSLRs come and go.
Whereas, the human brain remains almost the same (except some neuroplasticity)! And needs little/no content updation.
Broadly speaking, Google has two types of freshness:
- Content freshness: Google prefers the old pages to be updated
- Sitewide freshness: If a site publishes content more frequently, then it contributes to sitewide freshness
Although sitewide freshness and consistency in new content are important, we’re gonna discuss solely on content freshness in this post.
There are various factors by which Google determines whether content is fresh or not.
- Content change
- Good user engagement
- Fresh backlinks
- Published date / Last modified date
- Presence of keywords that signal freshness
If you are long enough in this SEO industry, you may have surely tried changing the blog post date and expected a CTR boost. Although it sometimes works, it’s not that effective.
Because, sometimes even if you change the updated date in your blog post (by faking a change), Google will not reflect that date in SERPs if the content is not changed.
It is in the patent that Google filed in 2011.
“In order to not update every link’s freshness from a minor edit of a tiny unrelated part of a document, each updated document may be tested for significant changes (e.g., changes to a large portion of the document or changes to many different portions of the document) and a link’s freshness may be updated (or not updated) accordingly.”– Document Scoring Based On Document Content Update, United States Patent Application
According to the patent, Google may ignore small changes completely whereas the amount of change influences freshness.
So is it difficult to fake freshness?
Contrary to this, an experiment conducted by Moz in 2015, say something different. They just changed the publishing date of 16 blog posts on their site.
This experiment led to 66% lift in their organic traffic in a span of only four weeks, without any content changes!
They just successfully faked it exploiting only one of the Google freshness factors!
Another way by which Google determines the freshness of the content is by using Query Deserves Freshness algorithm.
Google can determine the exact intent behind a keyword using Rankbrain, and also categorize the keywords that deserve fresh results.
By definition, the QDF algorithm is a mathematical model that tries to determine when users want new information and when they don’t.
QDF algorithm comes to play whenever there’s a big buzz going on or surge in “mentions” around a specific topic.
For this, Google monitors the following sources:
- Search requests trend (sudden rise in some search topics)
- Google news (a new buzz)
As long as various websites and searchers are actively discussing a topic, the QDF algorithm holds true for that topic. Google tends to favor fresh results for that topic to fulfill users’ intents.
If your article has keywords that are currently actively discussed all around the places (I discussed above) where QDF monitors, your content may be seen as new by Google.
By analyzing the above sources, Google categorizes topic as one of the followings:
- Hot topics: This is the category of of topics that are currently in buzz. Think of Pokemon Go, PubG, etc.
- Regular updates: These are topics that Google expects to have regular updates like presidential elections, NFL, etc.
- Frequent updates: Topics that need frequent updates for freshness like smartphones, gaming, etc.
My views: Google has come a long way and it now assigns a degree of freshness that topics deserve. For example, smartphones as a topic may have more degree of freshness than psychology as a topic.
Google expects fresh content to be ranked on page #1 for several niches, what happens if you don’t update content?
In every non-evergreen niche, there’s a shelf life for the content after which Google deems the content is decayed.
As you can see in the above screenshot, for one of my Amazon affiliate sites, due to the fact that the old content was not updated for 5 months, the traffic slowly started declining.
I published roundup (top 10 products) kind of posts which often requires constant updates as technology changes. However according to my analysis, the individual product reviews which are relatively evergreen, did not decay much over time.
You need to consider updating the content for relevancy and freshness.
People think that it’s a pain to update existing content, they’d rather prefer publishing new content.
But the fact is that, once you create a content upgradation system with well-defined processes, it’s very easy than publishing new content.
Here are some of the reasons why we started upgrading old content and you also need to get started:
- More ROI than publishing new content
- It ranks content easily than the new content as you’re dealing with old content that is already ranking fairly well
- It increases the user engagement on your site
- It forces Google to update the timestamp for your content in SERPs and in turn increases CTR
- It increases earnings and traffic of your site prior to website flipping (if you do it) and increases the total valuation
These benefits when combined across multiple posts, have a compounding growth effect on your site.
What made us do what we did?
Here I’m talking about my affiliate site, where we review mainly Amazon products.
We started the content upgradation process from Feb 9th, 2019.
Below is the search traffic graph before content upgradation.
As you can see, in spite of the fact that we published at least 2 HQ posts every week, we saw a downward trend due to the content decay (except that seasonal spike).
The organic growth of the site was stagnant, slowly declining over time.
What triggered us to give old content a fresh spin?
Well, we saw an interesting pattern here.
The content that used to drive us good traffic was nowhere on page one. Recently published blog posts were driving most of the traffic.
In short, old content decayed a long ago.
Final trigger: We realized that if we left that old content as it is, it may hurt our expected ROI on the content spent. Also, we came to know that ROI with content upgradation is far more than the ROI with new content, as we are dealing with old trustworthy content here.
We made up our mind to lower the production of new content from 2 posts every week, to only one.
Instead, we spent time on updating the old content.
We headed over to Google Analytics and identified the posts on our site which satisfied all the below conditions:
- Drives good traffic to our site – top 20% of those posts
- Declined in rankings and traffic recently in 3 months – but still preferably in top 10
- May have content that has become outdated according to our intuition
It made so much sense for us to test the waters of content upgradation with these conditions.
We made a list of 10 such high-traffic blog posts (most of them are product roundups), which needs updation.
Then we created a Notion page called “Content Upgradation”, and created pages for each post inside it.
For every post we asked these questions and created an outline:
- What outdated content we have in the posts (if any)?
- Are there any newer versions of the products we’ve reviewed? If so, what specs we need to change?
- Are the product rankings order still accurate? Is the #1 or #2 product we’ve featured still #1 or #2?
- Are there any products we’ve reviewed out of stock?
- What products need to be demoted? (We demoted rankings, instead of deleting old products)
- Are there any disruptive new product arrivals for roundup posts?
- What are the freshness factors that our SEO keyword competitors have in common?
- What are the LSI keywords we can include to signal freshness to Google?
- What title can we come up with for signaling freshness?
- What should be the revised product rankings for each post?
Based on this, we filled out all the details and outsourced content creation.
If there were any outdated products, we removed them or demoted their rankings, and asked the content writers to add additional products and reviews.
The writers submitted us additional product reviews we need to add or the sections of the blog post we need to update for freshness. Once we receive, the content, we started updating content.
We did the content upgradation on our 10 posts, and on average 30% content was altered/added for each post. The content upgradation was carried on for 20 days, from Feb 9th 2019.
That’s all we did when it comes to content upgradation.
- 9th Feb: Started upgradation
- 28th Feb: Completed upgradation
- 30 Mar: Prepared this case study
We started this content upgradation on February 9th, 2019 and made it till the end of the month. It took us passive 20 days to complete the upgradation.
Above is the report of how the traffic was like – before content upgradation, while doing it, and a month after it.
You can see, the traffic boosted within a week of upgrading the content.
Here’s another graph comparing the traffic we got a week before starting content upgradation, and the week of me writing this blog post.
Note: I’m doing weekly traffic comparisons in the screenshot, as there are traffic variations depending on the day of the week.
You can see the increase in traffic is +57.02%!
Along with that as expected as also saw a boost in engagement metrics like Pages/Session, bounce rate and also session duration (different than page visit duration). The difference is quite great!
Well, here are the keyword rankings of the content we upgraded.
Below is the screenshot of how the rankings evolved over time. As you can see, we saw a considerable improvement in rankings and traffic within a week of us starting the upgradation process.
The rankings were at peak after like 1.4 months of content upgradation.
Note: I only tracked rankings for main one or two keywords of each of the upgraded blog posts. I’m pretty sure that I got good rankings for related keywords as well.
In the coming days, we’ll be working on upgrading our other blog posts as well, after strategically selecting them.
First off, you need to have a proper budget set for content upgradation along with new content publishing.
In order to implement this strategy effectively, you need to identify the content’s shelf life on your blog.
Here are some niches, and I’ve assigned a probable content shelf life:
- Entertainment news – 24 hours
- Best smartphones – 1 month
- Best headphones – 5 months
- Best treadmills – 7 months
- Best SEO tools – 1 year
- Best supplements for anxiety – 2 years
Like this, you need to determine the shelf-life of your content.
If you are in a niche that is at the peak of the technological exponential curve, Google expects more fresh content.
If you are finding it hard to find the shelf life of your content, take note of 5 popular keywords in your niche and look at the timestamps of your competitors. If most of the top ranking pages are updated in a time span of less than 5 months, it means your content shelf life maybe 5 months.
Every time you think that the content is decaying, you need to update the content making sure that at least 20% of the content is changed.
If you are in a very competitive niche, where there’s a tie across various contents, Google will take the freshness factor seriously into consideration.
You need to first prioritize updating your top performing posts and boost their rankings for exponential gains instead of starting with low traffic content as I explained above in “the process” section.
You may need to answer the questions I described in the “Process section”, when creating an upgradation plan for every blog post.
After doing the content upgradation, if the update is big enough, I would suggest you to republish the post with the current date, get some social traffic, social signals, internal links, and inbound links.
You also need to display the last updated date in your post instead of the published date for Google to pick it up and show in SERPs.
You can make use of the plugin WP Last Modified Info, it also comes with dynamic fields support if you are using page builders like Elementor.
With updated date you also get a CTR boost from people who come across your blog on Google.
You need to remember that fresh backlinks and social media engagement of your posts signals freshness to Google.
Expectations: I recommend you to have fairly low expectations in terms of traffic as not all niches are created equal. But usually, if everything goes right, you will see improvements within a week or a two depending upon the crawl rate.
These days, I’m witnessing over and over again that Google is abnormally favoring fresh content, especially if the SERP competition is fierce.
So, I highly advise you to schedule a proper content upgradation cycle regularly according to your content shelf life.
Hope you found this post on Google freshness and the case study helpful.
What about you?
Have you ever tried leveraging Google freshness factor?
Let me know in the comments below.