What Is the Google Freshness Factor?

Imagine searching for movie times in Google and finding results from a year ago. Or looking for a breaking news report but only seeing an article with the keyword from last month.

We take for granted that Google and other search engines often show us recent results for time-sensitive queries. And it’s no accident — search engines rely on the freshness factor to return relevant, timely results when they matter most.

What is the Freshness Factor?

Search engine algorithms consider the freshness factor when deciding how to rank results for certain queries. Often, content that’s newer will get priority over older content.

The purpose of the freshness rating is to prevent outdated, high-ranking pages from showing up toward the top of search results if there’s newer relevant content that can be shown instead.

One obvious place where you can see the freshness factor in action is in news search results. For obvious reasons, people looking for news will want to see the most recent results first, even if there’s older content that could potentially rank higher because it’s had more views.

Google will often prioritize fresher content when it comes to topics that are developing or changing quickly.

The freshness factor prioritizes weather-related content that's been recently published.

Why is the Freshness Factor Important?

While we don’t know exactly how the Google algorithm works, it’s widely believed that fresh content is crawled more regularly than stale content.

When those fresher pages are crawled, there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll rank higher for target keywords than their not-fresh counterparts.

Translation? Regularly updating your content gets Google crawling your site more frequently, which gives you a better chance of ranking.

And on top of making Google happy, fresher content is more pleasing for your audience. You’ll give them up-to-date, relevant information that they’ll want to engage with.

How Does Google Measure Freshness?

Over time, Google has tweaked the way it measures freshness and shows fresher results to users.

The Caffeine Web Indexing System

In 2010, Google launched a new search index called Caffeine , which provided “50% fresher results for web searches.” In other words, users could find newly published content sooner than before. This laid the groundwork for Google’s future freshness-based rankings.

Google Updates the Ranking Algorithm

In late 2011, Google made an announcement on its blog that it had updated its ranking algorithm. It began like this: “Search results, like warm cookies right out of the oven or cool refreshing fruit on a hot summer’s day, are best when they’re fresh.”

Building on Caffeine, Google was able to impact about 35% of searches and determine when users wanted timely results.

The Freshness-Based Ranking Patent

The freshness factor patent from Google.

The abstract for the freshness-based ranking patent filed by Google in 2012 explains it like this:

“A recent impression probability for the query for a recent time period and an overall impression probability for the query for an overall time period are computed. A ratio QtoA of the recent impression probability to the overall impression probability is computed. A determination is made that users prefer newer resources over older resources for the query based on QtoA and that the resource is a new resource.”

Google’s Current Freshness Systems

In Google Search Central, there’s a section for Freshness Systems that further explains the process of ranking for freshness. According to Google, there are several query deserves freshness (QDF) systems that show newer content for queries where newer content is expected (like with news).

Do I Need Fresh Content to Rank?

Not necessarily. There are plenty of search queries that are evergreen, meaning that the information won’t change much over time. An example of an evergreen search is “best ways to lose weight.”

Yes, there might be time-sensitive news results for this query if a recent discovery was made.

But most people aren’t going to care if an article on this topic was just published or not. Instead, they’re looking for the most thorough result, not necessarily the freshest one.

Now, if you have a listicle on your website that covers this topic, it may still pay to update it — but for SEO purposes, not freshness. And if you publish content that should be up-to-date and have a solid freshness score, then yes, you’ll want fresh content in order to rank.

Which Queries Are Time-Related?

There are four types of time-related search queries that Google will consider freshness for:

  • Frequent updated
  • Recent events
  • Regularly recurring events
  • Trending topics

Let’s talk about them!

Frequent Updates

Frequent updates search queries refer to time-related searches for topics that update often but aren’t an event or a trending topic. For example, searching for a review of the new iPhone is considered a frequent update query.

Recent Events and Trending Topics

Recent events and trending topics search queries relate to current and/or trending events. They’re typically news-related.

Regularly Recurring Events

Regularly recurring events search queries are newsworthy and time-sensitive events that happen on a regular schedule. Examples include corporate earnings reports, elections, sports games and TV shows.

How to Optimize Your Content for the Freshness Factor

When possible, you should optimize your content for the Google freshness factor. This can get you a higher ranking and more organic traffic.

Here’s how to determine if it’s time to update your content, plus ways to optimize it for freshness.

Evaluate the SERP

If you’re wondering whether or not users want freshness for a certain query, the simplest evaluation tool is the search engine results page (SERP).

Search for the query in Google and look at the top 10 results. If they’ve all been recently published, chances are freshness plays a role. If only a couple have been very recently published, and the rest are from the past few years, freshness may not matter as much.

Regularly Update Your Website

Unless you regularly update your website, Google will think that your content is old and no longer relevant. This will lower your freshness ranking and your SERP ranking.

To keep your site fresh in terms of content, you want to (a) regularly publish new evergreen content and (b) regularly update old content. And remember to update the publish date when re-publishing older content!

Resubmit Your Sitemap to the Google Search Console

When you make large-scale changes — for example, maybe you update several articles on your website over a weekend — resubmit your sitemap to Google Search Console.

Yes, Google will eventually find, crawl and index the new content. But resubmitting your sitemap could make that process happen faster.

Improve Dwell Time

Dwell time refers to the amount of time users spend on your website.

Google takes into account a user’s first visit dwell time and the dwell time of their additional visits. If the user’s dwell time is high, Google assumes that’s because you’re providing relevant, fresh content.

There are a number of ways to increase dwell time, like catering to search intent, posting long-form content and adding multimedia. Get more ideas here.

Check Keyword Data

If you notice that traffic to a web page is down, look into keyword traffic data for your target keyword. This is particularly important when it comes to trending topics because keyword traffic will ebb and flow with the trend. However, even non-trending topics can have fluctuating keyword traffic, so it’s helpful to look into it.

Track Your Performance Metrics

Tracking performance metrics for your top pages will give you an idea of whether or not they should be updated. Google Search Console is a free way to track important performance data, like clicks, click-through rate, impressions and SERP position.

You can also check out this article from Neil Patel with 10 website performance metrics you should understand.

Build Your Backlink Profile

Your freshness score can improve the more quality backlinks you get.

You want to build your backlink profile slowly, though. Consistency and quality are more important than quantity. If you somehow plan for a bunch of backlinks the moment your content is published, it won’t help your ranking.

Also, it’s best if your backlinks come from sites with a good freshness rating. Search engines look into the sites that provide your site with backlinks. If the content on that site is stale, it’s not going to have a positive impact on your ranking.

When Should You Publish or Update Your Content?

The more crucial freshness is for your content, the more attention you’ll want to give to updating it.

  • For content that relies on freshness, regularly publish new articles and frequently update existing articles.
  • For content that considers freshness but doesn’t rely on it, update regularly and save large revisions for when ranking dips.
  • When creating evergreen content, focus on long-form, thorough information that won’t have to be updated for a while.

If you have the time, updating evergreen articles regularly is still a good practice. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Adding a few internal links to newer content, updating imagery and adjusting your headings to incorporate more keywords can give it an SEO boost.

Wrapping Up

By considering the freshness factor of content, search engines are able to return timely results when punctuality matters to the searcher. While this mostly impacts queries revolving around events and trends, refreshing evergreen content can help Google find and rank your pages above older content. Plus, users like to click on results that are more recent, whether publication was an hour ago for a new piece or a year ago for an evergreen piece.

Once users have found their way to your relevant and fresh content, keep them there by following best practices for topical relevance.

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