Removing dates from Blog posts: Good idea or Bad Idea?

Recently the debate on whether or not post dates should be removed from blogs has heated up. This has been driven by research that shows users discriminate against older content and prefer newer content when clicking on search results. In this scenario, a user might bypass your content of higher quality and click on a newer article, simply because it is newer.

The recommendation is that if you are writing content about topics whose value is short lived (Timely) you should continue using dates, but if you have old content that is still of value (Timeless) and users are no longer clicking on your results in the search engines because they prefer to read a new article you can consider removing the post date from your posts.

The problem arises that the content creators can choose to remove the dates of their posts regardless of the nature of the content. Let’s take a look at an example.

Case Study

If you take a look at this post on Search Marketing Standard, you will find a very informative piece of writing on the new index, Caffeine, used by Google when compiling their search rankings.

Informative: Yes.  Timely? I don’t know.

Why don’t I know? Because there is no date on the blogposts. This causes a serious problem for me. How am I supposed to know if this technology is new, or if it has been implemented months ago and might have been amended in the mean time?

A news blogpost without any date - Useless?

That’s the problem with removing dates from blogs. Sure, this can help users click on your older content or blog in their search results, unhindered or deterred by a old date. But is that fair?

The argument for excluding the date of the Blog is that this way your timeless content will be discovered by your users, without them being prejudiced by the date, resulting in them thinking that your content is old and no longer relevant.

Fair enough – But who is to say your content IS relevant? Perhaps you wrote a stellar expose on the newest search technologies or the latest in ergonomically designed office furniture in 2008. It was a momentous piece of writing, it generated wide reaction and was well received. Is it still relevant 2 years down the line? Would it be ethical, or fair, to cheat users into clicking on your link in their search results, thinking they’ll find the latest info, when your content isn’t the latest?

In this case of the Google Caffeine blogpost on Search Marketing Standard, in order to determine whether or not this is timely news, I had to google ‘Google Caffeine’ and find other blogs and information sources that affirm that Google Caffeine was indeed launched on June 8 2010, making the news relevant to me, now.

This took extra time. FAIL.

When making the decision to remove dates from the blog on your website, do take into consideration what type of content you are handling on your blog. If, as in the case of the Social Marketing Standard, you’re blogging on current news events, it might not be the best move to remove dates from your posts.

Dates give context

Think of old fashioned newspapers. Yes, they are still around. And yes, it’s true that with more and more content moving online, that all news will ultimately be distributed online in the not too distant future. Newspapers mark their articles with dates, they take care to report accurate dates within their articles to better shape and communicate the context of the content. It can be argued that without a date, some if not all newspaper articles would be irrelevant.

Case in point:
If the results of a sports match was reported without the date, it would not have the same relevance or impact as when attached to the date of the match. Let’s look at this news snippet:

Sports: Australia beat South Africa 41-39 in the Tri Nations.

Without a date, this fact becomes a lot less valuable, as this could now refer to any match between these two teams in the entire history of the tournament. Removing the date actually devalues the content.

The final word

I think that a lot of Web writers can and SHOULD learn a bit from the practices of good journalism. If you’re going to blog, you still have a base responsibility of reporting your facts as accurately and within as decent framing context as possible.

If you are creating ‘Timeless’ content – a term that should be treated with some scepticism since what is timeless for you might not be timeless for the rest of the world – the argument can be made to not include dates. Just be sure that you are doing this because your intended audience is still people, and not our robot friends, the search engines.