Bad Dates in Google Snippets: Hey Google, I’ve Blogged a Little Since 2005!

In my RSS feed reader, I have a section that I labeled “Vanity.” The feeds that occupy it are things like web search and twitter search feeds for my name, my sites’ names, my business name, and some other searches that interest me on the Web. I don’t really consider tracking these things to be a matter of vanity, but instead of necessity – a way to find conversations that might involve me, my site, and my business, and a chance to possibly get involved in those discussions.

As a site owner, I’ve also developed a habit that many site owners likely also share, of performing searches for queries such as my name, my sites’ names, my business name, and some other queries that I’m interested in. The exercise isn’t one based upon obsession with ranking as much as it is about being concerned about those conversations that I mentioned above, and concerned about how the search engines might be portraying my sites. For instance, when I search for my site name (seo by the sea), and Google shows a snippet that starts off with the date “Mar 8, 2005,” I find myself concerned about what that might mean to people who see that date.

A Google search result for seo by the sea, showing a date of Mar 8, 2005 at the start of the description for the site.

Will people seeing that 2005 date assume that the information they will find on the site is old, stale, and not worth visiting? Will they assume that the last time the site has been updated was in March of 2005? Google, you don’t seem to be treating my site right by showing that date. This site started in June of 2005, and there have been close to 1,000 blog posts since then. Why would you include that date at the start of a snippet for my home page?

I know why.

When someone performs a search, and looks through search results, the titles and descriptions that appear in those search results for web pages can influence which pages a searcher decides to visit. A Microsoft study that I wrote about a while back in The Influence of Search Result Listings (Captions) on Clickthroughs, describes how those features can influence whether or not a page is clicked through by a searcher.

The search engines will sometimes use text from a page’s meta description in a snippet, especially if that meta description contains the keywords used in a query to find that page. But, it’s also possible that Google or Yahoo or Bing might show something else, like from the content on a page where that content includes the search query terms. Google’s Matt Cutt’s mentioned this in one of his webmaster help videos:

data="http://www.youtube.com/v/ueyrb1PhULg?fs=1&hl=en_US&hd=1">

Interestingly, the orginal question posed in that video not only asks why Google sometimes shows something other than a meta description as a snippet in search results, but also mentions that sometimes dates appear within a snippet for some unknown reason. While the answer does explain why Google will show a snippet that includes something other than a meta description, it doesn’t address why dates might sometimes be included.

I do know why Google sometimes includes dates in snippets, but that reason doesn’t account for the Mar 8, 2005 date presently displayed for the home page of SEO by the Sea in Google’s search results.

I’ve written a few posts in the past inspired by patent filings from Google and Yahoo which describe some aspects of how those search engines might decide what to include in a search snippet. If you want to explore that topic more fully, here are some links to those posts:

But none of those address why Google might sometimes show dates in snippets in search results, which is something that Google has been doing for at least a couple of years – especially in snippets for blog posts and forum threads.

When I perform a “site” search for my site in Google (“site:www.seobythesea.com/”), I see dates at the start of snippets for most blog posts listed for my site:

A Google search result for seo by the sea, showing a date of Mar 8, 2005 at the start of the description for the site.

I checked a number of those listings, and with the exception of the date in the snippet for my home page, dates displayed match the publication dates of my posts.

Google published a patent filing that describes when and why they might include dates in snippets for forum posts, and even blog posts. I wrote about it in the post Google’s Specialized Forum and Discussion Thread Search Results. While the patent application’s title, Providing Posts to Discussion Threads in Response to a Search Query sounds like it might only apply to forum threads, the patent filing makes it clear that the search engine might include dates (and other information, such as authors, number of posts, etc.) within snippets displayed for blog posts and blog comments and micro-blogging posts, as well as for forum posts.

The premise behind doing so would be to give searchers additional information about what they might find on a page so that they can make a more informed decision about whether or not to visit.

But that doesn’t explain the March 2005 date shown within the snippet for the front page of my site. The home page doesn’t have a specific publication date associated with it the way that blog posts on the site do.

So where did Google get that date from?

It appears that Google’s snippet generation algorithm found a random date that appears on the home page of the site, and decided to use it within that snippet. It appears to have been taken from an excerpt from a blog post on Apple’s approach to Instant Search which includes the date of the filing of an Apple patent application – March 8, 2005.

An excerpt from a post presently showing on the SEO by the Sea home page which includes the date of Mar 8, 2005, which matches the date in the present Google snippet on a search for the name of the site.

Randomly including that date within the snippet for the home page of my site doesn’t make much sense. But it seems Google has decided that since this site is a blog, it should include a date in the snippet.

Conclusion

I’m not sure how likely it is that someone at Google will read this blog post, see the error of their ways (or at least the errors of their snippet algorithm), and fix this problem.

But there are a couple of ways I can take matters into my own hands.

When a page appears in search results for a certain query, a search engine might not include the best snippet that it can for that page. For instance, the snippet that it shows may be taken from somewhere within the content of the page rather than from a meta description.

One approach to pursue might be to rewrite the meta description to include the terms of that query. But if the query terms aren’t the main ones that you are focusing upon for the page, then you may not want to change your meta description. And there’s no guarantee that Google would choose to use your modified meta description anyway.

Another tact to follow would be to modify the section of the page where that query term appears so that if the snippet continues to be shown from that piece of content, it is engaging, persuasive, and more likely to get people to click through to your page.

In my example from my page, Google is showing my chosen meta description from my page on a search for the name of the site, but it is also showing a random date from the front page.

I can choose to do nothing, except for publishing more blog posts so that the excerpt where the “Mar 8, 2005″ date comes from no longer appears on the home page of the site.

I can remove that date from the excerpt so that Google hopefully will no longer include it in the snippet.

In the future, I’ll be more careful when I post information about a patent’s filing, publication, and granted date so that those don’t appear within an excerpt published on the home page.

There’s no need for Google to include a date within the snippet for the home page of this site, and no sense in Google showing a date within that snippet that is three months earlier than the first blog post published on the site.

The takeaway from this blog post?

Pay attention to what search engines are showing as snippets for your pages when they appear for different queries in search results. What they show may not be very helpful or wise or correct.

Make changes to the meta descriptions or page content that does show up in those snippets, so that people searching for what your pages have to offer will be more likely to visit.

Added 9/27/2010

Remediation and Another Example

A few minutes ago, I pushed down the patent filing information on the post where the Mar 8, 2005 date came from so that it no longer appears in the excerpt showing up on the home page. Will Google stop showing that date (Mar 8, 2005) in the snippet for my home page, and if it does, will a new random date from the page be chosen to display?

I wanted to find at least one other example of a misleading date being inserted into the snippet for the home page of someone’s blog, and fortunately found a good example on my second search.

A Google search result for Matt Cutts, showing a date of Sep 2, 2010 at the start of the description for his blog home page.

Matt’s blog displays his latest five posts, with the oldest dated September 2, 2010. If you looked at the date in the snippet, you might believe that the last time Matt’s blog was updated was Sept 2nd, and miss that he had blogged something new on September 20th, 19th, 17th, and 8th. While the date is misleading, at least it’s from sometime this month and year.

Added 9/27/2010 at 3:17 pm (edt)

I’ve had a few suggestions that I post a message about this on the Google Webmaster Central Help forum. Maybe it will help influence a change in the selection of dates to show as a snippet in search results for the home pages of blogs and on other kinds of pages.

I have read the FAQs and checked for similar issues: YES

My site’s URL (web address) is: http://www.seobythesea.com/

Description (including timeline of any changes made):
I’ve had a few people suggest to me that I should post a question about this issue here in Google’s webmaster help forum.
I noticed this weekend that Google was displaying a date of “Mar 8, 2005″ at the front of the snippet for my home page, on a search for my business name “SEO by the Sea” (without the quotation marks). The date appears to have been randomly selected from a blog post excerpt that was appearing on the home page. That date wasn’t the date that the excerpted blog post was filed, but rather was the “filing” date of an Apple patent on Apple’s approach to Instant Search that I blogged about.

I am concerned that someone searching for my business, and seeing the 2005 date in the snippet for my home page might consider my site to be filled with old and outdate content – if Google is showing a date in a snippet as additional information about a page listed, shouldn’t that date be somehow relevant to the page itself? Here it isn’t.

A few hours ago, I modified the post about the Apple patent so that the filing date for the patent no longer shows up in the excerpt that gets published on the front page of my blog. The 2005 date is still appearing in the snippet, and I expect that at some point in the near future, it will either disappear or be replaced. However, I’m concerned that Google may randomly select another date to display, from my home page.

Moving forward, I will now no longer include dates in the excerpts that appear on my blog’s home page until Google’s snippet generation algorithm improves, though I am concerned that the next snippet might randomly include a date from the posting dates on my blog which show when blog posts are published.

I noticed on a search for Matt Cutts blog, using the query “Matt Cutts” (without the quotation marks) that a date in the snippet displayed for his site is the publication date of his oldest post shown on his home page – September 2, 2010. Seeing that date in the snippet for his blog home page, I would assume that it might be the last time his blog was updated, but he has five “newer” blog posts on his blog home page, with the newest having been published on September 20th.

I’ve looked at a fair number of snippets of blog posts which show the publication dates of those posts in snippets for those pages, and the ones that I’ve viewed have appeared to be pretty accurate, but the home page of most blogs don’t usually have a specific publication date associated with them.

I’m not sure why Google would include a date, seemingly randomly selected, from the home page of a blog to display in the snippet shown on a search for that blog. If the snippet was showing a “last updated” date or the date of the latest publication of a blog post, that might make a little more sense.

Is it helpful to include a date for the home page of a blog?

If it is, does the random selection of a date to use really add to the value of search results?

From my perspective, I’m concerned that I might lose potential visitors when they see an old date like that in search results.

While I’ve taken steps to make that date change, and blogged about some remedial actions that others who are similarly situated might follow, I wanted to post this here in the hopes that someone from Google who works on snippets might see it, and consider the possible harm that a random date in a snippet might have.

Thanks.

Bill

Hopefully it will receive some responses there. The thread is located at:

Why is a random date shown in my home page snippet?

Added 9/28/2010

The March 28, 2005 date is no longer showing in a snippet on a Google search for the name of this site:

A Google search result for seo by the sea, without a date appearing at the start of the snippet shown for the site.

I don’t know if I can attribute the disappearance of the date in the snippet to my removal of the March 8, 2005 date from the front page of SEO by the Sea, or if the change happened because Google did something to keep the date from appearing. The most likely explanation is that it’s gone because of my removal, but I was assured in the Google Webmaster Central Help forum that the issue was reported to the Google Team that oversees those dates.

Google’s John Mueller also responded with the following in his response to me at the forum:

We’re constantly working on improving our algorithms, and from what I’ve heard, there are also improvements planned for better finding the best dates within the content.

That’s encouraging news, and hopefully their work in this area will keep misleading dates from showing up in snippets in the future.

In the meantime, make sure you check the snippets that show up for your pages every so often, just in case something odd shows up. :)

Added 9/2/2010

The March 8, 2005 date has returned to the snippet that shows for my blog home page, after disappearing for about a day. Not completely sure why it would return, but it has:

Another Google search result for seo by the sea, showing a date of Mar 8, 2005 at the start of the description for the site.

An ideal reason for showing a date in a snippet for a blog home page is to let viewers of those search results have a chance to see when the last time that blog was updated, like Google does with the snippet it shows for the Official Google Blog, with the newest post on that blog dated September 28, 2010.

A Google search result for Official Google Blog, showing a date in the snippet of September 28, 2010, which is the date of the most recent post on the blog.

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73 thoughts on “Bad Dates in Google Snippets: Hey Google, I’ve Blogged a Little Since 2005!”

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  2. Now you have me wanting to go through all my search terms and check for the date associated with them. Myself, only use the dates of the returned search results if I am looking for current information on something…I find that a lot of times I am looking for ANY information. Thanks for the post and I plan to explore more.

  3. Hi Bill – interesting. Try searching “effective internet marketing” probably near the top of page 2 on google.com. That’s a blog home page and the snippet has no date. The snippet is taken from the home page content of one of the more popular articles on the home page (now the seventh article on the home page) – probably because the search query isn’t represented in any text from those articles.

    Google’s also ignoring dates from comments. I think I’ll try adding a date that isn’t the date of publication, to see if that has an impact – and I may try adding the keywords in the copy to steer the snippet content ;)

    You do find the *most* intriguing windows into Google’s ranking choices. Thanks!

  4. Whoa, I didn’t know this happens. But thanks for the information. I gotta go and check mine. But I hope Google would know about this and come up with a fix so we would not go into all the trouble.

  5. Very interesting issue. I wonder what will happen if you just replace “Filed” word in front of date with some other? I was trying to find similar issue for some other blog on Google SERP for different terms and didn’t succeeded. I supose it would need long research. But it would be great if we could compare few blogs with this same issue.

  6. I haven’t take much notice of the dates in the SERPs before but now that I know about it, I can’t stop checking them. Doh, I’m wasting my life.

  7. @Aleksander – I’ve just created a test on my blog, using a different piece of text (“Date:” rather than “Filed:”). We’ll see if that works. Otherwise, I’ll tweak it again…

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  9. lol. That’s a funny situation. Have you posted this at Google Webmasters forum?

  10. Hi Studio98,

    I am wondering how much the dates listed in snippets do influence how likely it is that someone might click upon one result over another. There are some posts I’ve made that I’ve gone back and updated, and some longer ones that I’ve been considering updating, and the thought that a date infront of some of those might keep people from clicking upon them makes me question whether or not a new post would be a better idea.

  11. Interesting. My site has been and is displaying the date. It’s not a blog or an news site either. I checked and it looks like it’s pulling it from a snippet that is displaying a date – this snippet thankfully displays a current date. I think I will leave it alone.

  12. Hi Jeremy,

    Interesting that the blog home page result you’re showing doesn’t have a date associated with it or a date of the excerpt of the post that it comes from (that might actually not be a bad idea if Google could pull the segmentation required to do that off).

    The Google patent I mentioned above in my post, Providing Posts to Discussion Threads in Response to a Search Query, might lead to showing results that are comments to blog posts, with dates attached to those comments rather than the original posts themselves – something that Google doesn’t seem to be doing now, but possibly could do in the future.

    I decided to add an extra space between sentences to the post where the date came from, to move the date out of the excerpt and off the home page – I’m keeping an eye out to see if Google changes the snippet to either remove the date, or to pick another one at random.

  13. Hi Andrew,

    You’re welcome. I don’t know if the date shown in the snippet is negatively affecting the traffic I receive, but the possibility exists that people might see the 2005 date, and think that my blog is outdated.

  14. Hi Aleksandar,

    I did see Google treating Matt Cutts blog a little oddly, by showing a date on a search from his blog from the oldest of the blog posts on the front page of his blog.

    I also considered changing the word “filed,” but decided that it might be as interesting to see what Google might do if I did something to remove that date from the home page of the blog. A number of hours after I have, Google is still showing the “Mar 8, 2005″ at the start of the snippet for the page.

    I also started thinking about a possible microformat for patent information, and what that might look like if I (or someone else) developed one, and what that information might do to Google’s decision to use or not use a date for a snippet.

  15. Hi Ray,

    I know what you mean. Once I saw the 2005 date in the snippet for my home page on a search for my site’s name, I started paying a lot of attention to other dates in other search results.

  16. Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for joining in on testing Google’s snippet algorithm. Hopefully someone at Google will be doing some of that, too. :)

  17. Hi Typhoon,

    I’ve been thinking about raising it as an issue on the Google Webmasters Help forum.

    Maybe later this afternoon. Thanks.

  18. Another common problem with Google queries is that it will often display the wrong page on a site for a specific expression, when the expression is used as link anchor text in intrasite navigation.

    So you publish an article titled “Snippy widget harvesters bungle latest collection” and that article scrolls off the front page of your site but still appears in the “recent posts” list. Your home page or a more recent article will appear in Google’s search results rather than the article itself when someone searches for Snippy widget harvesters bungle latest collection”.

    Why? Possibly it’s related to PageRank but I think freshness also plays a part in the algorithmic decision.

    This is not a reason for people to start sculpting PageRank. Rather, using recap posts once a week, once a month, etc. and turning on TAG and CATEGORY pages and allowing those pages to be crawled and indexed and followed by search engines tends to reduce this problem.

  19. I’ve noticed this a lot on google. It’s frustrating when your searching for something and all the top results are atleast 2 years old!

  20. @Michael Martinez – oh, Google can get *wayyy* crazier than that. Page order is often important. So make sure you have snippet-worthy text before those news extracts. Otherwise you might find that your home page has a snippet that appears to be about the news.

    Imagine that your home page ranks for “gazelle diseases”, but also for “camel saddles”. Hard to write a good meta description that covers both, especially when there’s so much more money in camel saddles (I’m guessing, wildly, that this is true). So you optimise the description for camel saddles – what will Google pick as the snippet when users search for “gazelle diseases”? The first text it can find about gazelles and disease. So if your news happens to mention gazelles or disease, those will be picked as the snippet – leading to some misleading snippets, just as you’ve spotted.

  21. Hi Michael,

    I’ve seen that issue a few too many times as well. I would agree with you that a combination of freshness and PageRank probably plays a role in the decision to show a page linking to the correct page rather than the page itself.

    Most of the times those links tend to be the ones at the top of a blog post, pointing to the previous post. Much less frequently, I’ve seen pages using anchor text in a link to a newer post be what shows up as a search result. Sometimes, anchor text in a link in a sidebar section, like the one I have with “recent comments,” will cause a page to be indexed as the search result for the page being linked to as well.

    Your suggestions to attempt to remedy that problem sound like good ones.

  22. Hi Rob,

    Sometimes older pages may still be relevant for a query, even if the dates being shown are older. And sometimes older pages may be all that’s available on a topic.

    I will sometimes add updates to some posts, when it feels appropriate, and Google hasn’t been showing the date of those updates.

  23. Hi Jeremy,

    It is often worth looking at what Google is showing as snippets for pages that are ranking for terms other than those that you’ve included in your meta description. It’s possible to rewrite what appears on a page where those terms appear to improve the snippet that does appear.

  24. Thanks, Aleksandar

    I’ve been thinking about putting a microformat like that together for a while, but wondering how many people might adopt it if I do. I think it’s worth trying.

  25. Wow, this right here was a great find. I never knew google did that, i always thought that date was the last time i visited the website. I am always looking to enhance my SEO knowledge, and this was very helpful. Thanks.

  26. Very interesting, I looked it up and searching for my site does the same thing, although in my case it is okay because it is a fairly recent and popular post. Still, I wonder why it picks a random date? And when they say they are working on displaying the “best date”, what does that mean? I think it should show the most recent date if it shows anything. Thanks for the post!

  27. I recently installed WordPress on the root URL of SF-Fandom. Google is showing the meta description from the previous index page (which is no longer being served to the search engine), a date that is older than the current post (but which is more recent than the post dates on the cached image of the page), and the current title data from the WordPress title.

    Four crawls/fetches over the course of 10 or more days = one listing

  28. Google’s date recognition is really quite broken and poor… I did some testing of it back in May when I first noticed it, basically what I found seemed to be happening was that Google used the first thing in the html that looked like a date as the published date to be used in the snippet…

    But i’ve not noticed a date appear for a start page like it did for you… that’s a whole new level of broken!

    You can read my post here: http://beantin.se/post/641715433/broken-date-recognition-google-serps

  29. I would agree that when you looks at the snipped, it kinda makes you think that the information is from 2005, or the last time the blog was updates is 2005.

  30. I’ve experienced this same issue repeatedly when searching, and occasionally when managing sites (but never really thought about it until now). For some sites, I’ll see a snippet that includes an incorrectly-*recent* date, coming from side-content that’s not associated with the main content on the page. This can be quite annoying – a wasted click and wasted time. However, even more annoying is to be digging through results, find nothing, and finally in desperation click on a link with apparently ancient content… and it turns out there is a recent (and relevant) answer on that site.

    This is especially of concern for technology related sites. If you search for some programming technique that didn’t exist in 2007 and a result snippet includes a date from 2007, that searcher’s chance of clicking must be around 0.

    While I haven’t tried it specifically, I would think it worthwhile to include a date on the homepage (and other aggregation pages) that says “Last updated September 28, 2010″ or “Last post: September 28, 2010″. I would think there’s a good chance that using “last” and “updated” next to the date factors into Google’s date selection.

    Just my two cents… I just recently found your site and have learned a lot from your articles. Thanks!
    James

  31. @James Pollman – but Bill’s blog, like mine, includes a date attribution for each article on the home page – this article, on the article page and the blog home page, both clearly state “By Bill Slawski, on September 26, 2010″ above the article and after the title. So Google is selectively picking a date inside an article, that isn’t the first article, as the date to represent – quite an odd choice.

    FWIW, I have created an article for my blog with a date to appear on the home page from inside the article. It’s not showing up in my snippet yet. I’m continuing to experiment. It may be that the article from the date is taken should not be the *first* article.

    However, exactly *which* bizarre combination of presence, prefix labels, location in the article, and the order of the article, is irrelevant – Google is *NOT* taking the obvious article publication date, but some other unrepresentative string. Blogs very, very frequently carry a publication date (and some even carry the time, too).

  32. Yeah it can be very annoying when the date shown is incorrect as it gives off the opinion you’ve not posted in a while. It is interesting to see the amount of people commenting shows that this is clearly an issue across the board. It seems that the date recognition Google uses is broken, surely?

  33. Hi Nino,

    You’re welcome. There may be a few different ways that people might interpret the dates that they see in snippet, and you’ve pointed out one that I haven’t mentioned which sounds like it would be an interesting way to present people information if they were using personalized search or if Web history was set up to be a little more useful.

  34. Hi Michael,

    I’m still trying to understand why that date was chosen as well.

    The only thing that seems to make sense is that Google may have selected it because it was the last date appearing on the page, and a common practice on static sites in the mid and late 90s was to include a “last updated” date at the bottoms of those pages. Hopefully that’s not why they chose it, but that’s the simplest reason that I can come up with for choosing that date.

  35. Hi James,

    Thanks for sharing your article. If Google was just using the first date that they found on my page to include in the snippet, that would actually be an improvement on whatever they may be doing now. I would venture that there was some assumption behind the choice of that date, but I can’t think of a good one.

  36. Hi James,

    The potential for misleading someone by including a date that isn’t very accurate weighs somewhat towards Google reconsidering the wisdom of including a date within a snippet for the homepage of a blogt.

    I’ve thought about including a “last updated” date on the page. It may be worth trying if this problem continues.

  37. Hi Jeremy,

    I am very much interesting in seeing if Google bites on your experiment, and starts showing the date from the interior of your post as a snippet for your home page.

    The most recent blog post date is very clearly marked and available. Google doesn’t seem to have any difficulty finding that kind of date on the Official Google Blog. While that being published on blogspot might be a difference that makes a difference, WordPress is a common enough blogging platform that you would think they could find a way to use the publication date from the most recently published post if they wanted the date displayed in a snippet to be a reflection of how recently a blog was published.

    Of couse, even using that would be misleading because of my updates to this post over the past few days.

  38. Hi Rob,

    It does appear that the way that Google chooses a date is broken.

    And I am very happy to see so many people participating in this discussion.

    Thanks to everyone who has.

  39. Hi Michael,

    One of the things that came to mind when I read about the indexing difficulties that you’re facing is a Google poster from 2006:

    Applying a User-Centered Metric to Identify Active Blogs (pdf)

    While your blog already has a fair amount of posts, it really hasn’t been around that long yet. Is it possible that Google’s holding off on indexing the new blog pages for a few days until it determines that the blog is an “established” one? There may be other reasons, but after looking at the new version of your site, I suspect the pages should make it into Google’s index soon.

  40. Thanks Bill for pursuing this issue. I’ve been seeing the crazy dates on some our websites and a date from a few years ago doesn’t usually give a searcher the best impression. At least now I know how to try to get rid of them. Thanks again

  41. Maybe you should develop your own search engine Bill? I would jump aboard!

  42. I think that webmasters just have to accept that we can influence how Google lists our sites, but we can’t control it.

  43. I thought I read somewhere that there is a last update tag that you can attach in HTML or in the robot.txt file to say when the last time your page was updated. I wonder if something like that would change the date in Google next time it visited your page?

    Here is an example of what I found on the web I wonder if you added that it would change the date:

  44. Hi Winston,

    You’re welcome. I do appreciate that Google is trying to give people additional information like the dates that they put in snippets, so that they can make better decisions about which pages to visit, but it doesn’t always seem to work out the way that they may have intended. I hope you’re able to make the dates showing up in your snippets either disappear or improve without too much trouble.

  45. Hi Carl,

    That would be fun, and challenging. Right now, Google and Microsoft have fairly sophisticated search capabilities, and it doesnt’ appear to be very easy to challenge them head on – the recent demise of Cuil is a good example.

    A smarter approach might be to develop something else that people find useful, and develop into a search engine over time.

  46. Hi Leila,

    To a degree, I think that’s true – we do have control over our own sites, and we have some control over things outside of our sites, such as how we might be listed in some directories, and linked to in some places. The search engines are changing and evolving over time, and it can help to pay attention as much as we can to those changes.

    There are instances where we may be able to help ourselves when we see something from the search engines that might not be helpful – like keeping our eyes open to how they might be displaying our sites in search results, and making changes if they are appropriate.

  47. Hi Jay,

    There are only a limited number of meta tags that Google pays attention to. They list them on the following page:

    Webmaster Tools › Help articles › My site and Google › Search results › Meta tags

    Unfortunately, that Revised Meta Tag isn’t one that they consider.

    If you have an XML sitemap for your site, you’re also providing information about the last time that a page has been updated as well, but it doesn’t appear that Google is looking at that information either, when they show dates in snippets.

  48. Hi Scot,

    Thanks for the suggestions. The date is no longer showing up in the snippet on a search for the name of my site. My change to make sure that the date in question from the body of the post no longer appeared in the excerpt on the home page seems to have solved the problem.

    I would rather not use a static page for my home page, and I wouldn’t let Google’s problems with their snippet algorithm dictate that I make such a drastic change when a simpler one is available. My date based archives are noindexed, but I don’t think that would make a difference for this problem.

  49. You might want to tackle this by using a static page for your blog. This way the date will not show up. Using noindex date based archives or don’t use date based archives altogether will also help. Either way very cool write up and I do see your point.

  50. Interesting post. I actually have a client who insists in putting dates into his meta description. I tried to explain to him a few times that this will hurt his SEO efforts down the road, if not it will hurt his CRT for sure.

  51. Hi Vadim,

    What we put in meta descriptions can have an impact upon whether or not people decide to click upon pages. I’m not sure that I would put dates within mine.

    It looks like Google finds some value in including dates in snippets, but I don’t know if doing so provides as much value as they may think it does.

  52. Its great that you noticed this. As a constant search engine user I pay a lot of attention to the dates because I’ve frequently stumbled upon web sites that were out-dated, not tended to, and not relevant. It is terrible for someone’s website to be completely misrepresented on Google with a wrong publication date, good job on finding out this problem.

  53. Interesting as usual. I haven’t seen this issue myself, but I’ve dealt with clients who couldn’t understand why their outdated phone numbers were appearing within search snippets only to have us point out to them that their web developer had inserted it for some reason within their meta description. thanks for the cool post Bill.

  54. Hi Sasha,

    It was a little hard to miss. All of a sudden, Google was showing a date from 2005 in the front of the snippet. That stood out. I wouldn’t have clicked on the page if I didn’t know any better.

  55. Hi Jonathan,

    Updating information on the site of a business that have changed addresses can be a monumental task. The owners of one site that I worked on couldn’t understand why Google Maps wasn’t updating their old address information, even though they had changed their address in their footer and on their contact page. They also had the address in a number of press releases, PDFs, and old blog posts on the site, and Google didn’t seem to want to make the change until a lot of that information was changed as well.

  56. I’ve seen this happen in Enterprise and site search as well. My write-up on the various problems with indexing content from web pages, file systems, and other sources without accurate and consistent dates for the content change date (rather than file change date) is at http://www.searchtools.com/info/index-dates.html.

    I’ve had moderate good luck with convincing people to let me set the rules for CMS systems, push the date into file metadata, or creating a little lookup table for indexing, but sometimes we just have to write special cases.

    Snippets are much too important to throw out just for this though.

  57. I came across this post when trying to work out why Google suddenly (sometime in the last couple weeks) started showing a page date of “25 Apr 2006″ for one of my client’s e-commerce sites.

    This was an e-commerce site built on osCommerce. After taking a look there was some tiny text down the bottom that had “1306365 requests since Tuesday 25 April, 2006″, which must have been when he started the site. Obvious answer is to remove this which I will get him to do, but it’s still odd as on the page it also had a “last updated” date of yesterday. There were also three other dates on the page – dates of customer reviews – and all were from 2010.

    Now I KNOW, I KNOW, this “amount of requests” AND the “Last updated” are not good ways of doing things, and I will be making sure both will get removed. However it’s interesting that Google chose to pick out the far older of the the dates on the page to display in the search results. Also interesting as that none of the competitor sites show any date at all.

    One thing I may have to add re dates may either help the investigations or cause more confusion. On another different site I work on, there are NO dates displayed on the page at all, yet it always shows a date in the search results, and I know exactly when this started and two things that contribute to it.
    1) The site has a section on the home page that displays a random product from the “new products category of the site, complete with full description.
    2) The site has the an xml sitemap generator (The paid on-server version from http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/ ) that runs as a cron job every night and then submits to Google.

    Basically what the two things between them mean is that every night a new sitemap is sent to Google, including a “today” last updated date for the home page. I believe Google then visits the site, finds the page to be different to previous, believes the sitemap date, and updates the page in it’s system, including using the new date to show it’s “fresh” content. What I mean by the fact it believes the sitemap date is that lots of people put a date of “today” by default, but if Google goes and finds things the same as before, it basically doesn’t believe what the sitemap is saying.

    Matt

  58. Hi Avi,

    Thanks for sharing a link to your article. The last thing that I want to do is get rid of snippets, but if they are going to include dates – it would be really helpful for them to do so in as intelligent a manner as possible.

    I think it’s also possible that some dates associated with content change may be less relevant than other information that could be displayed within a snippet. For instance, your article has a “page created” date from 2005 near the bottom of the page, yet it’s still just as relevant today as it was five years ago. If Google were to show that date in search results, the page may get less clicks than it deserves on the strength of that date rather than the importance of the content.

  59. Hi Matthew,

    I really appreciate your taking the time to share your experiences with dates for snippets from your client’s pages.

    It is odd that Google decided to show the oldest date on the page, and one that sounds like it might have been the last date listed on the page. Don’t know if either of those are aspects of the snippet algorithm that Google is, or was using, but they could be.

    Removing the “number of requests” and the creation date both sound like reasonable responses – they probably don’t add much to the page in terms of conversions or content or credibility, and if Google is using them in snippets, they may influence negatively the number of clicks to pages on the site.

    Interesting thought, that the other site isn’t explicitly showing dates on the page, but the “new” content from the featured product, and the “last updated” date on the XML sitemap may be acting together to reinforce a timely date to display. That sounds pretty reasonable – it’s possible that Google might be taking clues from the sitemap for a date when the change in content corresponds to the new date.

  60. When I’m looking for content that’s time sensitive, I automatically weed out results based on that date. I wonder how many other people are doing this/how much traffic the top results lose in those situations. Any idea if the date range specification on the ‘search tools’ side bar is any more accurate?

  61. Wow, it is troubling that a date that may not even really relate to when the post was written will show up in a Google search like that. I think it could potentially turn off visitors…

  62. I love that two years after you wrote this the problem STILL exists. I don’t mind the date appearing on posts, honestly, but I hate the fact that it might actually appear on my homepage. It happened to me this past week when I changed a WIDGET on my wordpress site. One little date and suddenly we’re back in the dark ages, on a business site. Wonderful!

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