Google Ranks: Does Freshness Matter?

by Jennifer Grappone on January 22, 2010

Q: Does Google care if I update my site frequently? Will doing so improve my ranks?

A:  “Yes” to the first question, and “maybe” to the second.

At this moment, the SEOs of the world are still getting used to the new Google landscape of real-time results, as well as searching options that include “Past 24 hours” and “Latest.”

Google Search Results

Google now can, and often does, notice and react to new or newly modified text on your site within hours of when you made the changes.

It makes a lot of sense that Google would favor freshness, as delivering fresh results is a big bragging point for Google these days. (And Google does have significantly fresher search results than slowpoke competitors Bing and Yahoo!.)

In our recent client work, we’ve experienced a repeated pattern: Optimize a page properly, rank better pretty darn quickly…in hours, not days or weeks as it used to be.

On the flip side, we’ve also noticed another pattern: The original ranking boost tends to be offset by a subsequent “correction” period, when ranks drop down. This drop is anywhere from a tiny slide to something more significant, but, at least in our experience, not back to baseline.

Why would Google first boost ranks for fresher pages and then kick them downward? It’s not necessarily to allow fresher content from competing sites to take over the top ranks. (That may be the case in high-chatter-level industries on the web, but it’s not the case in some of the sleepier industries in which we’ve seen this happen.) This phenomenon could be for a couple of reasons:

With the increased importance of real-time search, Google may be sacrificing quality assurance in favor of freshness. Google may have a “rank first, vet later” approach, and the downward correction may occur after Google takes the time to fully process the page relative to competing pages.

Just like a new text ad placed into rotation in AdWords, Google may be giving updated pages a little extra exposure, to get a chance to gain clicks and inlinks. In other words, Google may be temporarily increasing exposure to updated pages to quickly gauge their “performance.”  This puts additional pressure on you, the site owner, to publish useful, compelling, meaningful content that’s properly targeted to your audience.

What does this mean for your site?

  • Consider optimizing your site or launching new content in phases, not all at once, to keep a “rolling inventory” of your pages in play in Google’s search results, and to send a signal to Google that your site is frequently updated.
  • When you find that pages with fresh content have gained higher ranks, don’t be upset by a subsequent drop. (But DO be upset if you drop below your baseline!)
  • Don’t modify a page randomly (Change “the” to “a” in the page title, for example) and expect rank improvements. Google may be a lot of things, but it isn’t dumb enough to reward you for that. Make real improvements or real updates, or expect poor results.

We’d love to hear from you about your experiences with fresh content. Have you experienced this up-then-down scenario before? Tell us about it in the comments!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

bill January 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Been wondering about this as we’ve noticed the same phenomena. Freshness vs. quality debate is just heating up.

Catherine February 2, 2010 at 8:35 pm

So if you need to make a site wide edit like adding a link to the footer of all pages this will make your ranking plummet. Ouch! Any estimates on how long it will take to regain status?

Jennifer February 3, 2010 at 12:12 am

Catherine, not to worry! This article describes a LIFT in ranks, and then a drop that – at least for us – does not seem to dip below the original ranks. So if you are making edits that will improve page optimization, it’s not unreasonable to expect an overall gain. If you are making edits that are neutral with regard to site optimization, it’s reasonable to expect no change in ranks at all.

machbio March 31, 2010 at 7:17 am

i dont think google will loose thier integrity for the freshness… if they are business oriented.. then god help them

Xanthi April 5, 2010 at 11:36 pm

I’m actually experiencing this drop effect and I’m a bit worried. I read what you say and I hope it will go up again.
I’m at the moment optimising a client’s website and I was initially happy to see the rising in rankings, for a few certain pages. But now for the past few days, they have dropped and I’m worried cause I don’t spam and I’m very picky with having quality content and not just random keywords here and there.
We’ll see.

Gradiva Couzin April 6, 2010 at 8:42 am

Hi Xanthi – we sometimes do see an “optimization effect” rise in rankings, followed by a downward adjustment shortly thereafter. This might be what you’re experiencing.

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