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Displaying Both the Publication and Update Dates on Webpages

2023-09-30
, most recent update.

The manner in which we present dates—such as publication, last updated, and written dates—on webpages may not only impact our readers' perception of content relevance but also how search engines rank and display our pages.

TL;DR

Display Only the "Last Updated" Date. To ensure clarity for both readers and search engines, consider displaying only the "Last Updated" date on the public-facing side of a webpage.

Use the HTML5 <time> element for a clean and semantic way to mark up dates in HTML without the added complexity of structured data attributes.

Last updated: <time datetime="2002-02-02">September 2, 2002</time>

Add a meta if possible with your CMS

<meta name="date" content="2023-09-25">

This way we should be able to ensure our content remains both relevant and easily discoverable.

Introduction to Problem

Is this post I just found current?

Little do I find more annoying than not being able to judge if the information I found is still relevant and how to judge it. A date is a super important indicator.

Dates are crucial in conveying the timeliness and relevance of content on a webpage, particularly for blogs or articles. However useful for readers, search engines might have problems to identify the correct dates. This has implications for user experience and search engine optimization (SEO).

  • Publication Date: This is the original date when the content was first made live on the website. It helps readers understand when the content was first created.
  • Written On Date: This indicates when the content was originally authored. It might differ from the publication date, especially if there was a gap between content creation and its eventual publication.
  • Last Updated Date: This signifies the most recent date when the content was reviewed or modified. It gives readers an idea about the recency and relevance of the content.

The importance of correct dates becomes painfully obvious when you look at something like Arxiv, an open-access archive for scientific articles. Whenever you are working with information you want to know when it was last updated – even be informed about that via email – see if it is WIP, under review or submitted.

But unfortunately search engines seem to have their trouble with identifying and assigning dates correctly.

Implications of Date for Search Engines

Search engines use a ton of different algorithms to rank and display content on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). The exact workings of these algorithms are proprietary, but it's understood that recency and relevance are influential factors.

As of 2023 displaying multiple dates on a page might lead to confusion for search engine crawlers or the ranking algorithms building the SERP. Incorrect implementation can result in Google displaying the original publication date in search results instead of the more recent update date.

Meta and Schema: Machine-Readable Date Information

Both meta and schema can be utilized to convey publication and update dates. However, even with these machine-readable formats, there can be confusion or misinterpretation by search engines.

Schema-data for Dates

Schema is form of microdata that offers a detailed description of content on web pages. It aids search engines in understanding the context and significance of content, including dates. schema.org/Date provides you with an overview of where instances of “Date” may appear.

Example

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Article">
  <span itemprop="datePublished" datetime="2001-01-01">2001-01-01</span>
  <span itemprop="dateModified" datetime="2002-02-02">2002-02-02</span>
</div>

The HTML5 <time> element represents a specific period in time and can be used to encode dates in a machine-readable way, which makes it a great semantic tag for this purpose. It can be combined with the datetime attribute to provide the specific date or time in a standardized format.

The itemscope and itemprop attributes are part of the Microdata specification and are used to define and assign properties to specific items within the HTML content. They're crucial when using Schema.org vocabulary for adding structured data to web content. This structured data helps search engines better understand the content of the page and can improve the display of search results.

However, if your primary goal is to semantically mark up the dates for human readers and their screen readers (accessibility!) and not necessarily for structured data purposes (like for search engine optimization with Schema.org), then you can skip the itemscope and itemprop attributes and just use one (1!) <time> element:

Last updated: <time datetime="2002-02-02">September 2, 2002</time>

This is a clean and semantic way to mark up dates in HTML without the added complexity of structured data attributes. It's perfectly valid and will be understood by browsers and many tools. However, search engines might not pick up on the specific semantics (like "datePublished" or "dateModified") without the Microdata attributes.

So, whether or not to use itemscope and itemprop depends on your goals and the importance you place on structured data for search engines.

Meta-data for Dates

Metadata inserted into the HTML of a webpage to offer additional details about its content. This can encompass meta tags for description, keywords, and authorship.

Example:

<meta name="date" content="2023-09-25">

While both meta and schema can indicate publication, written, and update dates, there can still be confusion or misinterpretation by search engines.

Recommendations

**1. Display Only the "Last Updated" Date
**To ensure clarity for both readers and search engines, consider displaying only the "Last Updated" date on the public-facing side of a webpage.

Use the HTML5 <time> element for a clean and semantic way to mark up dates in HTML without the added complexity of structured data attributes.

Last updated: <time datetime="2002-02-02">September 2, 2002</time>

Add a meta if possible with your CMS

<meta name="date" content="2023-09-25">

Other than that:

2. Maintain All Date Records: For archival purposes, keep a record of all dates (like the original publication) in the Content Management System (CMS) or backend, but refrain from publicly displaying them.

3. Avoid Manipulating Dates: Ensure transparency and honesty regarding content dates. Any perceived manipulation or inconsistency could potentially damage a site's reputation or ranking in search results.

Conclusion

Dates are more than mere chronological markers; they communicate the freshness and relevance of content to readers and search engines alike. By implementing best practices in displaying these dates, you can enhance user trust and optimize their content for better visibility in search engines.

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